Multiple perspectives on the 'family' lives of young people: methodological and theoretical issues in case study research

Ribbens McCarthy, Jane; Holland, Janet and Gillies, Val (2003). Multiple perspectives on the 'family' lives of young people: methodological and theoretical issues in case study research. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 6(1) pp. 1–23.




The use of interviews from related individuals has become increasingly common in social research. This is particularly apparent in the area of family sociology, which has previously been criticized for relying on research of family lives based solely on interviews with mothers. Obtaining such accounts can raise postmodern ontological and epistemological themes of multiple perspectives and multiple realities, but there has been little explicit discussion of how to tackle the analysis of such related interviews. This paper explores approaches to the analysis of interviews with nine individuals drawn from three case study 'families'. An ideal typical categorization of possible approaches is developed, based on the cross-cutting themes of (1) degree of similarity/divergence, and (2) an objectivist/ interpretationist ontology. The powerful role of the researcher's 'bird's eye view' is highlighted, involving the active interpretation of both disagreements and agreements between related interviews. A major feature of these approaches is the complexity of the data generated and the time involved in the analysis. Such analytic choices yield different forms of knowledge and lead us to 'see' varying patterns and themes according to the focus we take, whether we reveal the possibility of 'family cultures', the relevance of standpoint differences around gender and generation, or wider structural issues of class and ethnicity. Within individual accounts we can see how these different aspects are interwoven in particular histories. How we represent such complexities and tensions between related accounts is a further choice, which may depend upon the audience and purposes involved. Even where we choose to weave the threads into one apparently coherent overall story, we argue for openess and reflexivity concerning the difficult analytic choices that underlie such a production. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

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