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Durham University

Department of Sociology

Completed Projects

Focusing on the Case in Quantitative and Qualitative Research (2004-2005)

A research project of the Department of Sociology.


A central project of any science is the elucidation of causes. In the social sciences it is often contended that quantitative work is concerned with cause whilst qualitative work is concerned with meaning. However, the separation of qualitative work from the investigation of causes is misconceived. Traditional quantitative methods are based around a notion of simple causation whereas almost all causation in the social world is complex and contingent. Interaction is the norm. Comparative methods recognize that outcomes are the product of configurations of causes, of how causes work together and that there is more than one trajectory which may generate a given outcome.

The essential technique for establishing cause through the interpretation of qualitative materials has been the comparative method in which careful comparisons across a range of cases do seek to establish distinctive characteristics of the case and explore how those characteristics taken together are causal to the current condition of cases. There is always at least an implicit and usually explicit process of categorization in which cases are grouped into categories and there is a qualitative examination of historical trajectories in order to ascertain which trajectories produced which outcomes. The essential point is that the starting point is the case rather than the variable.

The first and most fundamental issue in the development of the methodological capacities of UK social scientists is that procedures are related to their own understandings and problem areas.


There are two main aims:
. to engage in a dialogue with researchers to develop their understanding of a range of case-based methods in relation to their own at the same time we are 'researching the researchers' in that we are undertaking qualitative research on their views about the methods and how far they think that they are applicable and useful to their own research.


Four residential workshops are being held in Durham between July 2004 and January 2005. The workshops involve 'dialogical learning' and take place over a 36 hour period. In each workshop, the leaders engage in a dialogue with researchers which is founded around exposition and demonstration of techniques but which is also an exercise in which we engage with participants' knowledge and understanding as a way of developing how these techniques can be used in causal reasoning. In other words the workshops combine 'training' with 'education' (in the classical sense of the latter word) in the context of dialogical action-research project. The workshops consist of exposition, demonstration, hands-on sessions using innovative software where appropriate, reflective presentations and focus groups. All discussion is recorded and processed interpretatively using nVivo.


Interest in the workshops has been high such that many researchers had to be turned away. Participants were selected on the basis of achieving a group from a wide range of subject areas and with varying degrees of expertise.
The main findings will emerge from analysis of transcripts (ongoing).


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