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Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research

Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research
A Realist Approach

November 2013 | 192 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
All qualitative researchers sample, yet methods of sampling and choosing cases have received relatively little attention compared to other qualitative methods.

This innovative book critically evaluates widely used sampling strategies, identifying key theoretical assumptions and considering how empirical and theoretical claims are made from these diverse methods.

Nick Emmel presents a groundbreaking reworking of sampling and choosing cases in qualitative research. Drawing on international case studies from across the social sciences he shows how ideas drive choices, how cases are used to work out the relation between ideas and evidence, and why it is not the size of a sample that matters, it is how cases are used to interpret and explain that counts.

Fresh, dynamic and timely, this book is essential reading for researchers and postgraduate students engaging with sampling and realism in qualitative research.

Introduction From Sampling to Choosing Cases
Theoretical Sampling
Purposeful Sampling
Theoretical or Purposive Sampling
The Basics of Realist Sampling
Purposive Work in a Realist Sampling Strategy
Purposefully Choosing Cases
Interpretation and Explanation
Sample Size
Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research

This text provides a clear guide to realist qualitative methods and also offers plenty of practical examples to illustrate its central argument that qualitative research would benefit greatly from a realist approach. It will prove helpful to researchers as well as those interested in teaching qualitative methods.


Bob Carter
Professor of Sociology, University of Leicester

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 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


In a nutshell, the book remains a valuable piece that completes the body of literature of qualitative research mainly that deals with the issue of sampling. It is original since few works dealt with the movement from sampling to casing in realist qualitative research. Its unique content, simplified through rich illustrations and simple language, makes the reader able to understand qualitative research and sampling strategies within it in social sciences.

Nadia Idri

This book presents an overview of sampling and casing strategies for qualitative social science inquiry alongside systematic consideration of the foundational ontological and epistemological issues driving decision-making when conducting research. The book is most suited to practitioners and postgraduate students seeking to develop their understanding or manipulation of the principles and procedures that underlie rigorous qualitative case-based inquiry aimed at generating theoretical insights.

Emily St Denny
LSE Review of Books

This is one of the most lucid and accessible reviews of qualitative approaches to sampling – or as the author prefers, choosing cases, that I could recommend to students and colleagues.  It is also a carefully constructed argument for a scientific realist approach.

Rosalind Edwards
International Journal of Social Research Methodology

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter One: Theoretical Sampling

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