The art of generalisation in real life research

Mason, Jennifer (2008) The art of generalisation in real life research. In: Vital Signs: Researching Real Life, 9-11 September 2008, University of Manchester. (Unpublished)


Official URL:


Qualitative researchers have traditionally and convincingly argued that their methods provide a distinctive insight into the rich complexity and nuances of social life and experience. The recent tide of research using methods that aim to capture the tangible, intangible and sensory dimensions in everyday ‘real life’ experience arguably brings yet greater possibilities for insight. This is because these approaches can provide data and knowledge that seem ‘vital’ and evocative in a way that the more sterile abstractions and categorisations (in text and number) that social science sometimes deals in may not. But these approaches also raise in stark form questions about how such insights can judged and weighed as ‘social science’, and whether they have any resonance outside of the particular situations and circumstances under scrutiny. Of course qualitative researchers have always been haunted by the accusation that although their work may provide fascinating insights, it is ‘only’ anecdotal, because the methods do not allow for generalisation, according to conventional (statistically derived) conventions. However, the conceptual separation of generalisation from insight that this implies (or at least suggests is possible) is worrying. In this paper I shall outline a case for generalisation as an art, in which the concept of ‘insight’ is central rather than incidental. I shall draw on ‘real life’ data and insight from projects on Family Resemblances and Family Backgrounds, conducted as part of the Real Life Methods programme of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects:4. Qualitative Data Handling and Data Analysis > 4.23 Qualitative Approaches (other)
ID Code:1030
Deposited By: Realities user
Deposited On:21 May 2010 15:49
Last Modified:12 Oct 2010 17:44

Repository Staff Only: item control page