At the end of their chapter Sensemaking, Lindlof and Taylor introduce a relatively new qualitative approach called crystallization. Posed as an alternative to triangulation, which uses a combination of multiple sources, methods, and even researchers to articulate a truth or a statement about a research object, crystallization takes almost precisely the opposite tack. It incorporates “artistic and scientific sensibilities” (Lindlof & Taylor, 2011) into an edifice whose purposeful incompleteness practically coerces the interpreter into accepting that all the evidence it contains is relational, contingent and historical, not absolute, essential and enduring.
It is an interesting theory, to be sure, and it certainly provides a solution, or at least a handy escape clause, for qualitative researchers vexed by the continually elusive nature of an objective reality. But is it good practice? I cannot say for certain, not having seen an actual sample, but my instinct is to proceed with caution. The goal of scientific inquiry should be to advance knowledge, not obscure it, and crystallization, with its Rashomon-like use of multiple perspectives, seems to belong more the sphere of performance art than to actual research. For a discipline that has already largely abandoned the concept of reliability and gleefully embraced self-reflexivity (Lindlof & Taylor, 2011), the adoption of such a practice could further call into question the legitimacy of certain social science studies. What do you think? Can researchers use crystallization to say something useful about a subject, or is it a practice best reserved for art exhibitions?