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Abrams - 2010 - Sampling 'Hard to Reach' Populations in Qualitative Research the Case of Incarcerated Youth | Qualitative Research | Sampling (Statistics)

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Case study in qualitative research.
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    http://qsw.sagepub.com/   Qualitative Social Work  http://qsw.sagepub.com/content/early/2010/06/29/1473325010367821The online version of this article can be found at:DOI: 10.1177/1473325010367821published online 30 June 2010 Qualitative Social Work  Laura S. Abrams Incarcerated YouthSampling 'Hard to Reach' Populations in Qualitative Research: The Case of Published by:  http://www.sagepublications.com can be found at: Qualitative Social Work  Additional services and information for   http://qsw.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Email Alerts:    http://qsw.sagepub.com/subscriptions Subscriptions:    http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Reprints:    http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav Permissions:   by Ashlar Trystan on September 20, 2010qsw.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Qualitative Social Work ! The Author(s) 2010 Reprints and permission: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav, Vol. 0(0): 1–15www.sagepublications.com DOI: 10.1177/1473325010367821 Sampling ‘Hard to Reach’Populations inQualitative Research The Case of Incarcerated Youth Laura S. Abrams University of California, USA ABSTRACT Sampling is an integral component of all research designs.Several qualitative research texts offer practical guides onhow to theorize, recruit, and retain a sample to fulfill theaims of a given study. However, there is far less publisheddiscussion among qualitative researchers about sampling‘hard to reach’ populations such as transient youth andyoung adults, homeless people, IV drug users, sex workers,and incarcerated, institutionalized, or cognitively impairedindividuals. In this article, the author presents an overviewof qualitative sampling, including its underlying assumptions,major methodological traditions, common characteristics,and standards of assessment. Next, the article identifies sev-eral challenges related to sampling hard to reach populationsthat are of particular relevance for qualitative research.Drawing on an example of a longitudinal qualitative studyof incarcerated youth, these challenges are then discussed inrelation to the assessment of ‘quality’ in qualitative research. ARTICLEKEY WORDS: human subjectsqualitativemethodssamplingsocial workresearch 1   Qualitative Social Work OnlineFirst, published on June 30, 2010 as doi:10.1177/1473325010367821  by Ashlar Trystan on September 20, 2010qsw.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Sampling is a cornerstone of research integrity in all forms of social science.Whether quantitative or qualitative, grant proposals and methods sections in journal articles are routinely evaluated by reviewers at least partially on thebasis of their proposed or implemented sampling strategies. For qualitativeresearch projects more specifically, several textbooks have offered practical road-maps on how to define, recruit, and retain a sample to fulfill the overall goals of agiven study (cf. Marshall and Rossman, 1999; Miles and Huberman, 1994;Padgett, 1998). These texts have defined the major types of qualitative sampling,offered pragmatic information about sample recruitment and retention, andattended to the role of the researcher and ‘use of self’ in recruiting potentialgatekeepers and participants and the ethical boundaries involved in these inter-actions. However, there is far less discussion among qualitative scholars aboutsampling ‘hard to reach’ populations such as transient youth and young adults,homeless people, IV drug users, sex workers, and incarcerated, institutionalizedand cognitively impaired individuals. Given social workers’ prominent interest inthese populations, a more robust conversation about the practical and theoreticalconstraints involved in sampling hard to reach populations is needed.This article attempts to begin this dialogue. First, I present an overview of qualitative sampling, including its underlying assumptions, major methodologi-cal traditions, common characteristics, and standards of assessment pertaining toqualitative sampling. Next, I identify several challenges related to recruiting andsampling hard to reach populations in qualitative research studies. These con-cepts and challenges are then illustrated through an example of a longitudinalqualitative study of incarcerated youth. Drawing on this case example, the articleculminates with a discussion of sampling hard to reach populations as in relationto the assessment of ‘quality’ in qualitative research. QUALITATIVE SAMPLING: ASSUMPTIONS ANDCOMMON CHARACTERISTICS Qualitative and quantitative research methodologies have different underlyingassumptions, leading to major differences in sampling goals and strategies. On abasic level, qualitative sampling is not typically intended to be ‘representative’ inthe sense of seeking to approximate known population parameters. This is thecase for a number of reasons. As Marshall (1996) explained, random samplingassumes that population parameters are normally distributed. But in qualitativestudies, researchers usually have no basis to assume a ‘normal distribution’ of theexperiences, interactions, or settings that are of interest to them. Moreover,random sampling assumes that one person is ‘as good as the next’ as a datapoint so long as they contribute to representing the larger population.Qualitative researchers, on the other hand, recognize that some informants arebetter are situated to provide key insight and understandings than others. 2 g Qualitative Social Work 0(0)  by Ashlar Trystan on September 20, 2010qsw.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Similarly, while random sampling tends to discard outliers, qualitative research isoften interested in extreme or ‘negative cases’ for their unique insights (Milesand Huberman, 1994). In sum, probability sampling simply does not fit the goalsand assumptions of most qualitative research questions.Within the qualitative research paradigm, there are many variations insampling procedures, goals, and strategies. Several authors have suggested that‘purposive sampling’ (also referred to as ‘judgment sampling’) and ‘theoreticalsampling’ are the main categories defining qualitative sampling approaches(Coyne, 1997; Curtis et al., 2000; Marshall, 1996). To clarify, purposive sampling  refers to strategies in which the researcher exercises his or her judgment aboutwho will provide the best perspective on the phenomenon of interest, and thenintentionally invites those specific perspectives into the study. Theoretical sampling  is associated more specifically with grounded theory, in which sampling strate-gies are developed iteratively based on properties and categories that emerge inthe process of data collection and analysis (Charmaz, 2006; Strauss and Corbin,1998). Although there is some merit to the claim that these approaches aredifferent, the boundaries between them are not entirely clear. For example,some have argued that within the broader rubric of theoretical sampling, acertain degree of judgment or intentionality is almost always applied – particu-larly in the initial stages of sample selection (Curtis et. al., 2000). Similarly,purposive sampling strategies tend to be well thought out ahead of the study,but, akin to theoretical sampling, are also subject to change as the studyprogresses (Padgett, 1998).Sampling in qualitative research also varies according to paradigmatic anddisciplinary traditions. Phenomenological research, for example, tends to involvesmall samples of carefully and purposively selected individuals who share acommon experience, with the goal of generating detailed patterns and relation-ships of meaning (Moustakas, 1994). Ethnographers tend to use layers of sam-pling decisions, based on the researchers’ judgment and knowledge of a cultureor setting to achieve a thick description of a culture, community, or socialcontext (Lofland and Lofland, 1995). In case study research, the mostpivotal sampling decision is made when the researcher selects the case or setof cases to be studied. Following this decision, a researcher may use any number of strategies – including both probability and non-probability sampling – about how to study various elements of the case, such as archival documents,people, or events (Yin, 1994). Each tradition carries a set of sampling conven-tions that are adapted to the particular study topic and population (Creswell,1998).Within these broader methodological genres, qualitative researchers mayuse several techniques to achieve their overall sampling goals. Patton (2002)defined many of these strategies, such as ‘maximum variation’ (i.e. seekingcases that maximize a range of perspectives and differences); ‘homogenous’  Abrams Sampling ‘Hard to Reach’ Populations in Qualitative Research g 3  by Ashlar Trystan on September 20, 2010qsw.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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