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 2012–2019

Page updated 17 June, 2019

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2019, Researching the Real World, available at
All rights belong to author.


A Guide to Methodology

CASE STUDY: Critical moments in the transition to adulthood (Thomson et al., 2002)

In our research we have developed a working definition of a 'critical moment' as an event described in an interview that either the researcher or the interviewee sees as having important consequences for their lives and identities. [This is a similar to critical case analysis but refers to more specific incidents or events.]

[Our] interviews were designed to allow 'critical moments' to arise in the narrative. We also addressed the question directly towards the end of the interview when young people were asked whether there had been particular experiences or events that they considered to be important or to have had important consequences (p. 339).

[Referring to three case study biographies, the authors stated:]

Although each of these young people are positioned similarly in terms of their transition points, on the verge of formal or informal exclusion from mainstream education, their structural positions, including the resources on which they draw, are very different. Each identifies this moment as being critical in biographical terms. Yet while they all describe a critical moment, these moments and their responses to them cannot all be understood as 'fateful', involving risk assessment, reskilling and identity work. Expulsion or exclusion from mainstream schooling clearly has important consequences for young people's opportunities, yet we suggest that such objective circumstances can only be made sense of in relation to individual biographies and the extent to which different young people have access to the requisite resources to enable them to respond constructively to events and changing circumstances. (p. 350)

In identifying critical moments in young people's narratives we have been able to capture a sense of how they experience the world. In comparing these critical moments across our sample and noting the relative presence of agency we gain insight into the ways in which social structures are manifest at the level of the individual and in the construction of individual narratives.

Adapted from Thomson et al. (2002, pp. 339–50)


Return to Analyse and deconstruct social processes and transitions (Section