Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Jyväskylän yliopiston Koppa

HUOM! Kopan käyttö päättyy 31.7.2024! Lue lisää.


Exploring background

by Tanja Tuulikki Välisalo last modified Mar 09, 2010 11:24 AM


circle_aims aimsExploring BackgroundTemporal ProcessesRelationships and ConnectionsCause and EffectModels and TheoriesPredicting the FutureCritical Views and ChangeCaseCategories, Classes and TypesExperiencesBelieves, Opinions and AttitudesConstruction of MeaningsInterpretationPhenomena


Humanistic research explores the cultural, ideological, political and economic backgrounds influencing a phenomenon. Understanding and explaining the history of a phenomenon and the factors influencing a phenomenon’s development and formation are central issues in humanistic research.

The aim of research of a phenomenon may either focus on explaining:historical circumstances, processes involved, patterns of thinking or on: indicating these factors’ influences on the phenomenon and discussing the outcome of these influences on the phenomenon. Backgrounds can be researched on both past and present phenomena.



Research aiming to explore a phenomenon’s background by examining concrete materials such as text documents, audio recorded interviews, images and objects, can be defined as empirical research. The most commonly used strategy of empirical research aiming to explain the background factors is qualitative research.

Background factors can be researched looking at a large group of phenomena. A case study enables you to focus on either a particular or small group of research objects. Cross-sectional research enables you to conduct a broad exploration of the background factors in different areas of culture and society at a certain point in time.

Other research strategies suitable to background factors are historical research and ethnographic research.


Data Collection

Research into background factors can use different types of data collected by a variety of methods. You can use either data collected for previous research by another researcher (existing concrete materials) or collect / produce your own data during the research process. Research explaining historical backgrounds in the distant past relies on existing documents often stored in Archives and Collections.

You can use a variety of research strategies. Population research is suitable when the quantity of available data on a phenomenon is small. Sampling is suitable when the quantity of available data on a phenomenon is too large for you to analyse all of it. Random sampling enables you to select a subgroup of the population without bias. Purposive sampling (goal-directed sampling) enables you to select samples that match the aim of the study. For example, archival  texts and documents are typical in historical research and are usually available in large quantities. While the majority may be relevant to your research, you can regulate which documents you want to analyse.

You can also collect data about background factors of current or recent phenomena through interviews, surveys or by inviting people to write down their narrative account of the phenomenon.


Data Analysis

Qualitative analysis methods are useful for analysing the background factors of the phenomenon. Typical qualitative methods in historical research are:

Hermeneutic analysis

Close reading of the data enables you to gain a deep understanding of the phenomenon.

Thematic analysis

However, there are in different academic fields, various discipline-specific methods, which enable you to explain historical background factors.


Philosophy of Sciense

Qualitative analysis methods in the humanities are based on interpretivism. Views emphasizing interpretation in the formation of meanings as well as subjectivity in the meaning-making processes are based on relativism. Hermeneutic analysis modes and different types of close reading methods, which are often used in historical research, are based on the concept of hermeneutics.