Orientation Observation In-depth interviews Document analysis and semiology Conversation and discourse analysis Secondary Data Surveys Experiments Ethics Research outcomes



Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2018

Page updated 16 November, 2018

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2018, Researching the Real World, available at
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A Guide to Methodology

CASE STUDY: Urban working-class schools (Grace, 1978)

The study aimed to gain an understanding of the social and pedagogic situation of some contemporary teachers of the urban working class. As has already been shown, these teachers have historically been the strategic agents of social and symbolic control. The aim was to show how the social world of the urban working-class school related both to characteristics of teachers' immediate work situation and to their position in relation to ideological formation.

The head teachers of the ten co-operating schools were asked to identify 'outstanding' teachers. The interpretation of the category was left entirely to the head teachers. This provided insights as to how teachers were defined by their occupational superiors. It also provided a sample of teachers who would represent the epitome of what was taken to be 'good' in inner-city education.

Seventy teachers agreed to participate in the project. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with these teachers, each interview lasting on average for one and a half hours. In an attempt to minimise the imposition of research categories upon members of a particular social world, the co-operative nature of the enquiry was stressed and the teachers were asked to introduce issues, which seemed to them to represent real concerns in an urban school, and were generally invited to take a critical attitude to any of the questions.

The interviews were, in most cases, tape-recorded and completed transcripts were returned to the teachers in order to provide a further opportunity for them to reflect upon what they had said during the course of the interview and to invite them to make positive suggestions for the focus of the enquiry. By these means it was hoped that some notion of the authenticity of the teachers' accounts could be established.

All this activity generated a considerable number of 'accounts' of various aspects of contemporary inner-city schools and education. The problem of how these accounts might be interpreted now had to be faced. Interpretation was based on the following principles and procedures.

1. Theoretical saturation
Assuming that teachers 'theorise' about their social world the 'accounts' were read closely and repeatedly so as to obtain an empathetic entry into the teachers' social world. The aim was to become 'saturated' with the teacher's theoretical perspective.

2. Central meanings and categories
It was hoped that the initial theoretical saturation would help in grasping the meanings and categories used by the teachers. The research was clearly not an exercise in phenomenological analysis, since the categories of the researcher remained important. However, there was an attempt to be phenomenologically sensitive to the teachers' central meanings and categories. These were taken to be the things they talked about most in the interview.

3. Ideological articulation
The analysis of teachers' central meanings and categories were related to an ideal-type ideological positions. Some teachers provided accounts that were ideologically consistent. Others were much more varied and revealed uncertainty and changes in consciousness. Initially, teachers were classified on the basis of their overall ideology but subsequent analysis addressed how they related to major issues.

Adapted from Grace (1978, pp. 10915)


Return to Identify and deconstruct respondents' understanding of power and control (Section

Return to Analysing in-depth interview data (Section 4.5)