This article discusses how the teaching of qualitative research in higher education is threatened by the effects of new public management, by academic culture wars and by a growing belief in big data. The controversy over Alice Goffman's book On the Run presents one recent example of this. In an effort to counterbalance these developments, this article stresses the importance in social science curricula of ‘naturalistic inquiry’ – the artisanal core of qualitative research. Explicitly acknowledging emic viewpoints, naturalistic inquiry upholds the emancipatory ideal of making society transparent to its members. Teaching naturalistic inquiry as a craft may be the best way to assure ‘qualitative literacy’ among graduates in their various careers as socially responsible professionals.