Using qualitative methods

Hammersley, Martyn (1981). Using qualitative methods. Social Science Information Studies, 1(4) pp. 209–220.



This paper is an in-depth discussion of one particular qualitative approach—ethnography. The author makes the point that the distinctive character of this kind of work derives not so much from the methods used as from a set of underlying methodological principles. These are defined as (1) a concern with discovery and with the generation and development as well as the testing of theory; (2) a commitment to learning the culture of those being studied—in other words, not assuming that one understands the social meanings even of familiar settings but treating events as though they were ‘anthropologically strange’; (3) a recognition of the importance of context, in the sense that to understand actions or events one must view them in the light of related actions and events, and one must be alert to contextual variability in people's behaviour, including that of putting up a front to deceive others (whether other actors or researchers). Against this background, the author goes on to outline some of the techniques of the ethnographer—grounded theorizing (the two main components being theoretical sampling and the constant comparative method), and two techniques for testing theory (triangulation and analytic induction). He stresses that this is a research tradition still in the throes of development.

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