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Approaches to sampling and case selection in qualitative research: examples in the geography of health


  • Curtis, Sarah
  • Gesler, Wil
  • Smith, Glenn
  • Washburn, Sarah


This paper focuses on the question of sampling (or selection of cases) in qualitative research. Although the literature includes some very useful discussions of qualitative sampling strategies, the question of sampling often seems to receive less attention in methodological discussion than questions of how data is collected or is analysed. Decisions about sampling are likely to be important in many qualitative studies (although it may not be an issue in some research). There are varying accounts of the principles applicable to sampling or case selection. Those who espouse 'theoretical sampling', based on a 'grounded theory' approach, are in some ways opposed to those who promote forms of 'purposive sampling' suitable for research informed by an existing body of social theory. Diversity also results from the many different methods for drawing purposive samples which are applicable to qualitative research. We explore the value of a framework suggested by Miles and Huberman [Miles, M., Huberman,, A., 1994. Qualitative Data Analysis, Sage, London.], to evaluate the sampling strategies employed in three examples of research by the authors. Our examples comprise three studies which respectively involve selection of: 'healing places'; rural places which incorporated national anti-malarial policies; young male interviewees, identified as either chronically ill or disabled. The examples are used to show how in these three studies the (sometimes conflicting) requirements of the different criteria were resolved, as well as the potential and constraints placed on the research by the selection decisions which were made. We also consider how far the criteria Miles and Huberman suggest seem helpful for planning 'sample' selection in qualitative research.

Suggested Citation

  • Curtis, Sarah & Gesler, Wil & Smith, Glenn & Washburn, Sarah, 2000. "Approaches to sampling and case selection in qualitative research: examples in the geography of health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 50(7-8), pages 1001-1014, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:50:y:2000:i:7-8:p:1001-1014

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    Cited by:

    1. Anthony Onwuegbuzie & Nancy Leech, 2010. "Generalization practices in qualitative research: a mixed methods case study," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 44(5), pages 881-892, August.
    2. English, Jennifer & Wilson, Kathi & Keller-Olaman, Sue, 2008. "Health, healing and recovery: Therapeutic landscapes and the everyday lives of breast cancer survivors," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 68-78, July.
    3. Anne Spencer, 2000. "Testing the Additive Independence Assumption in the QALY Model," Working Papers 427, Queen Mary University of London, School of Economics and Finance.
    4. Foggin, Peter M. & Torrance, Marion E. & Dorje, Drashi & Xuri, Wenzha & Marc Foggin, J. & Torrance, Jane, 2006. "Assessment of the health status and risk factors of Kham Tibetan pastoralists in the alpine grasslands of the Tibetan plateau," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(9), pages 2512-2532, November.
    5. Anthony Onwuegbuzie & R. Johnson & Kathleen Collins, 2011. "Assessing legitimation in mixed research: a new framework," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 45(6), pages 1253-1271, October.
    6. Dy, Sydney Morss & Rubin, Haya R. & Lehmann, Harold P., 2005. "Why do patients and families request transfers to tertiary care? a qualitative study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 61(8), pages 1846-1853, October.
    7. Allison Hayes-Conroy & Elizabeth Sweet, 2015. "Whose adequacy? (Re)imagining food security with displaced women in Medellín, Colombia," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 32(3), pages 373-384, September.
    8. Davidson, Joyce, 2010. "'It cuts both ways': A relational approach to access and accommodation for autism," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(2), pages 305-312, January.
    9. Cristian Parker & Mario Letelier & Juan Muñoz, 2013. "Elites, climate change and agency in a developing society: the Chilean case," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 15(5), pages 1337-1363, October.
    10. repec:eee:proeco:v:198:y:2018:i:c:p:104-118 is not listed on IDEAS


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