William Molnar

Think about extensive and intensive research. Remember, this is a research question, not a personal one. Discuss “extensive” and “intensive” in terms of research. 1. For each, describe the benefits and drawbacks that are most salient to you. 2. Can, or should, they be used at the same time?

There are both benefits and drawbacks that are salient to me in using intensive and extensive research. At the methodological level, Sayer is careful to describe the differences between the extensive techniques required for generalization and the intensive methods associated with concrete research (Sayer 1992, 241-251). Sayer states that the nature of the object of interest must be kept in the back of the mind when designing concrete research. The questions surrounding intensive research versus extensive research do differ although, according to Sayer, the distinction is more along the scale of depth versus breadth. Intensive research is concerned with causal process and how it works out in a certain number of cases. In extensive research, which, according to Sayer is more common, concerns itself with finding out common properties and patterns of a population as a whole. Extensive research methods include descriptive and inferential statistics along with numerical analysis. In addition, it includes a questionnaire that is formal and largescale for a population or representative sample of the population. Each research design also works with different conceptions of groups. For example, in extensive research, the focus is mainly on groups that share similar characteristics but don’t have the need to connect with each other. Each member of the group is only of interest in the fact that they represent the population as a whole. Intensive research however, focuses on groups whose members can be similar or different but do relate to each other. The individual’s identity is of interest. A causality is studied

William Molnar

by exploring actual connections. The criteria of the samples must be decided in advance in extensive research and supported consistently to ensure complete range of samples. But in intensive studies, the individual do not have to be typical and can be selected one by one during the research procedure. In intensive research, the researcher does not have to specify the entire design and who or what is going to be studied in advance; this can be established as the research is progressing so that this allows the researcher to learn about the object in question and gives them the opportunity to create a picture of the structures and the causal groups they are a part of. In extensive research, the use of a standardized questionnaire and interview surveys is possible because by asking each individual the same question under a controlled condition, then a comparison is possible and bias is kept to a minimum. For this reason, where extensive research may rely on standardized interviews among representatives of a class of subjects, intensive research is not concerned with the representing of research subjects. Techniques such as rolling interviews, in which each interview subject might lead the researcher to the next subject, may be preferred. The result is an explanation of events that may not be generalizable to other cases, but which provides an explanation of the causes of the case in question. Unfortunately, when applying this process to characteristic samples of social science such as a heterogeneous group, the techniques forfeit explanatory diffusion in the name of ‘representativeness’ and getting a large enough sample. Sayer makes it a point to state that consistency that disregards the differences in types of respondents can make comparisons meaningless because the researcher does not realize that the same question can have a different significance to a different person. If the researcher uses a less standardized kind of interview, he/she will increase their chances at learning from the

William Molnar

interviewee what the different significances of circumstances are for them. Using a less standardized interview does not force the interviewee to respond into what Sayer calls a “one-way mode of communication”. Using a less standardized interview also allows the researcher to build on prior knowledge about characteristics of the interviewee. There are different types of tests that are appropriate only for intensive or extensive research. With regards to intensive research, a distinction must be made as to how the findings are in the wider population and to decide if the discovery of results apply to the individual that were studied. Sayer gives an example of an intensive study at an institution. He states that the researcher should connect with others at that institution to agree with the information about common practices. But then to test in another institution, a switch to an extensive study would be needed. Sayer states the extensive studies are weaker because of the formal discovery within the relations with regards to similarity, dissimilarity, and correlation, as opposed to causal, structural and substantial relations of connection. Causality is difficult to determine as mentioned by members of the class in week 10 discussion question. The reason for this difficulty of determining causality is due to the “interactions between objects that are often recorded in a total or whole made up of different parts in which the specific individuals entering into relations cannot be identified” (pp 246-247). Additionally, extensive methods abstract from the “actual forms” that individuals or processes interact even though these processes cause a difference to the outcomes. As a result, few social scientists, in relation to the explanations of specific phenomena that extract from form, do not recognize the problem although variations in form are an important feature in the failing of causal mechanisms leading to a production of major

William Molnar

factor in the failure of causal mechanisms to produce observed regularities As Sayer points out, to look concretely at the production of events would require a very selective intensive research design. The problem can be reduced by spatially separating the information into parts. Intensive research does have its disadvantages. To avoid the “ecological fallacy”, it must be mentioned that the roles are not representative of the whole population. Although representation is a problem that arises from the over-extension of intensive studies, the research design needs to avoid the belief that the study of any individual is not of interest unless it is a representative of a large entity. Those in favor of extensive research tend to argue that intensive research does not produce objective results because the results are not representative and not reproduced elsewhere. Although benefits outweigh the drawbacks in using intensive and extensive simultaneously, I believe that if possible, both research designs should be used at the same time. Each of their roles, though different, is more complementary rather than competing. As I have stated earlier, a positive attribute in intensive research is the fact that the researcher does not have to specify the entire design and who or what is going to be studied in advance; this can be established as the research is progressing so that this allows the researcher to learn about the object in question and gives them the opportunity to create a picture of the structures and the causal groups they are a part of. Extensive research is weaker for the purpose of explanation not because they lack a sensitivity to detail, but because the discovery of relations are “formal, concerning, similarity, dissimilarity, correlation, and the like, rather than causal, structural, and substantial, i.e. relations of connection” (p 246). Another important factor to remember is that in

William Molnar

extracting from form, it is recognized in a way that the researcher does not generate any unreasonable expectations of concrete explanations in social science based on inappropriate analogies with closed system natural science. If very concrete explanations of events are required, using intensive research designs become extremely helpful. In regards to intensive studies, there is no need for a great level of detail that is overwhelming because the individuals that do not interact with the group can be excluded but on grouping of criteria, they would have to be included. Not all causal groups are small and have nonphysical boundaries and change radically during the study. Sayer stated that in intensive research, although it does not provide a pretence that the whole populations is represented does not lend itself to reason why intensive studies should be any less objective about its subject matter than extensive research. Because social structure exists on many scales, “intensive studies of their reproduction, transformation and effects need not be merely local in their interest” (p 249). Extensive methods can also be used on a small and large scale. Extensive methods produce representative results but the question remains a representation of what? Both intensive and extensive research methods are needed in concrete research although extensive research usually becomes undervalued. Many scientists are reluctant to admit that more is gained through intensive studies in terms of examination because they fear the possibility of being unscientific. Testing a theoretical claim about a certain phenomenon under a controlled experimental condition warrants the use of both intensive and extensive research. Arriving at a reasonable expectation of social research, the research and the research design must account of the things it has to explain.

William Molnar

Reference Sayer, A. (1992). Method in social science: A realist approach (2bd ed,). London and New York: Routledge.

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