A review by Prof Ray Pawson

The starting point of all social research, at least according to the methods ‘cookbooks’, is to consider who and where to study – a decision usually known as sampling or case selection according to the researcher’s preferred paradigm. The job is done according to the first approach if one can show that the sample chosen is typical of the population to which one’s findings will apply. The second approach trades on atypicality. The researcher’s job is to understand and remain faithful to the unique, neglected characteristics of the situation under study. Stuff and nonsense, declares Emmel. He sees any individual study as a mere staging post in the wider body of social science investigation. Inquiry thus zigzags back and forth between bodies of explanation and bodies of empirical research. Accordingly, researchers should choose who and where to study according the zigs and zags already accomplished in that body of inquiry and their efforts should add a further zig or zag. He is perfectly correct, of course, and let us hope that one day these twists and turns of study selection will be recognised in the cookbooks.

Ray Pawson

Professor of Social Research Methods, The University of Leeds

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