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Encyclopedia Entry

Generalization/Generalizability in Qualitative Research

Malcolm Williams

The issue of whether one should or can generalize from the findings of qualitative (interpretive/ethnographic) research lies at the heart of the approach, although it is discussed less than one would expect. Its relative absence from the methodological literature is likely attributable to it being seen by many qualitative researchers as a preoccupation of those who take a NOMOTHETIC , specifically quantitative, approach to research. For many qualitative researchers, it is a nonissue because the role of qualitative research is to interpret the meanings of agents within particular social contexts, rather than measuring, explaining, or predicting. Those who deny the possibility of generalization argue that individual consciousnesses are free to attach different meanings to the same actions or circumstances. Conversely, different actions can arise ...

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