Interrogating the
Martyn Hammersley
The Open University
NCRM Research Methods Festival,
St Catherine’s College, Oxford, July 2012
How To Define the Divide?
• The difference between using qualitative or
quantitative data, along with the methods
typically employed for these?
Or as:
• The difference between the methodological
ideas to be found amongst qualitative
researchers versus those that are found
amongst quantitative researchers?
Narrowing the Focus
There are some ideas that are to be found
amongst qualitative researchers today that I
am going to rule out right at the beginning.
These claim that the task of research is to:
1.Capture ‘lived reality’.
2.Critically evaluate social institutions and make
recommendations for change.
3.Directly engage in bringing about some
practical improvement in the world.
4.Question the credibility of all social knowledge
and expertise.
The Task of Social Research?
To answer descriptive and explanatory
questions about social phenomena.
In practice, most social research is concerned
with producing explanations.
This means that, wittingly or unwittingly, it
engages in causal analysis, if we interpret
that phrase in broad terms.
However, it is a premiss of my discussion
that, generally speaking, this task is not
achieved very effectively.
A Reconceptualisation of the Divide
Identifying the options available in relation to
each aspect of the research process, namely:
• Formulating research questions
• Planning the research
• Selecting cases for investigation
• Collecting data
• Analysing data
• Writing research reports
The multiple ways in which these options can be
combined must also be recognised.
Within-case and Cross-case
• There can be investigation of associations and
sequences within a particular case, and of
participant ideas about what causes what there.
This evidence serves as a resource that, along
with theoretical interpretation, allows
explanatory ideas to be developed and tested.
• Cross-case analysis: examination of similar and
different cases, along the lines of J. S. Mill’s
methods, in which theoretical interpretations are
developed and tested against the evidence.
Combination of, and Variation
Within, these Strategies
• These two strategies can be combined,
and very often this will be necessary in
order to develop and test explanatory
hypotheses effectively .
• There are also some alternative options
within the two strategies. In the case of
cross-case analysis, we can draw a
distinction between single-factor and
configurational approaches.
Single Factor versus
Configurational Approaches
• Single factor: For example, ‘Do
differences in social class background
determine level of educational
achievement over and above
differences in ability?’
• Configurational: ‘What combinations of
factors seem to determine differences in
educational achievement?’
Differences in Assumption about
• A deterministic approach to causation requires
that the set of factors identified must always
produce the specified type of outcome when
certain specifiable conditions are met; and that
this is the only set of factors that will do this.
• A contributional approach is concerned with
identifying factors that significantly increase
the likelihood or size of some outcome,
without their being either necessary or
sufficient conditions for it.
Two Currently Influential
Approaches to Cross-Case Analysis
• Correlational analysis of the kind used in much
quantitative (and some qualitative) work
involves a single-factor approach, perhaps with
other factors being controlled to estimate the
candidate factor’s contribution to the likelihood
or level of the outcome.
• Qualitative Comparative Analysis adopts a
configurational strategy and a deterministic
approach to causation, though this is
moderated via notions of quasi-sufficiency and
• Causal analysis is a central task in social
• It is a very demanding one.
• Neither side of the divide currently deals
with it in a very effective manner.
• But there are resources on both sides that
can be developed, and in some cases
can be combined, to improve the success
of our efforts.
Select Bibliography
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