Qualitative Research Design across Different Cultural Communities

Carolin Demuth, Alessandra Fasulo

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Introduction: The purpose of a research design is commonly to plan a study and ensure its feasibility. Within the field of qualitative research, research designs need to be able to be flexibly adapted in the course of the study (see Alvesson et al., Chapter 2, this Handbook) in order to do justice to the non-linear and iterative nature of the research process and thus contribute to the validity of the study. Researchers are hence challenged by planning a research design and being able to adapt it where necessary based on the ongoing research process. For qualitative research, design may be understood as giving an orientation for planning and moving forward rather than sticking to a strict pre-defined plan (Flick, 2018a). Similarly, Hammersley and Atkinson (1995: 24) understand research design in qualitative studies as a ‘reflexive process which operates throughout every stage of the project’ (see Hammersley, Chapter 4, this Handbook).
Constructing a research design is influenced by a variety of factors, such as theoretical knowledge, research perspective, selection of methods available, and necessary resources (Flick, 2018a: 97–122). These aspects will have an impact on sampling, intended generalization, intended comparison, audiences and writing, criteria and strategies for quality, and possible combination with other methodological procedures (e.g. triangulation, see Flick, Chapter 39, this Handbook). When planning a design for comparative research across different cultural communities, researchers will encounter a number of additional challenges related to the nature of their study, which we will address in this chapter.
Before addressing questions regarding research design, one may ask what the purpose of research across different cultural communities is and what is specific about it. Generally speaking, comparative research aims to identify similarities and differences between social entities. Comparative research across cultural communities goes beyond that in that it aims at understanding the role of culture with regard to the phenomenon under study. How the notion of ‘culture’ is approached in this endeavor varies across (sub-)disciplines, as we will outline later. Comparative research across cultural communities may also contribute to overcoming ethnocentric assumptions by understanding the interplay of societal and ecological structures and corresponding historically evolved practices on the one hand, and the specificities of a phenomenon under study on the other hand.
In the following, we will give a brief overview of the history of qualitative research across different cultural communities and discuss the purpose of comparative design, as well as its basic theoretical assumptions. We will then consider how comparing cultural communities has become relevant for designing qualitative research and discuss practical aspects of designing a qualitative research project across cultural communities, providing practical examples from our and others’ research. We will end by addressing criteria for best practice and presenting new developments and perspectives of qualitative designs across different cultural communities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research Design
EditorsUwe Flick
Number of pages451
PublisherSAGE Publications
Publication date11 Apr 2022
ISBN (Print)9781526484321
Publication statusPublished - 11 Apr 2022


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