Mixed Methods: An International Journal of Social Research Methodology Virtual Issue

Editorial: Julia Brannen

This first Virtual Issue of International Journal of Social Research Methodology is about mixed methods, a fitting choice given that this approach has been a perennial and popular focus of articles since the Journal’s beginning, with around 16 articles and a special issue on the subject published to date. Some articles republished here reflect upon the ‘big issues’ raised by this methodological strategy. A key issue is how mixed method research (MMR) redresses the false dichotomy between qualitative and quantitative research orientations and associated assumptions of a one to one correspondence between epistemology and method (Onwuegbuzie and Leech 2005). Another issue concerns the spirit of pragmatism engendered by combining methods (Bryman 2006), with the result that MMR has become widely accepted in the social sciences in the recognition that some research questions or combinations of research questions can only be addressed through MMR. A trend reflected on by Fielding (2010) is the way MMR has secured a place in the growing field of applied policy research, a development that may have as much to do with the policy environment and political process as about changes in methodology itself. Important issues of how to assess the quality of MMR are raised by Bryman (2006) who argues that each method and data set should be assessed not according to a set of overarching MMR criteria but according to the goals and nature of the investigation.

The ways in which different methods enter into the research process are discussed by Brannen (2005) who points to ‘tricky’ issues at the analysis phase in which different data analyses suggest tensions, ambiguities and dissonance. Rather than seeing this as a problem Brannen suggests that MMR can illuminate the complexities and contradiction of social reality. In a similar vein, Perlesz and Lindsay (2003) employ ‘triangulation’ to their investigations of family life in which no one story is produced by each family member; working in this way, they argue, generates complex and meaningful analysis.

The remaining articles have been selected to reflect some of the breadth and innovation in the application of MMR. MMR is employed by Browne et al (2014) to address important theoretical developments in the study of ‘practices’ and the formation and salience of routines and habits. The study  which investigated habituated forms of mundane consumption (i.e. water usage) demonstrates how making practices the unit of description in both quantitative and qualitative research can refocus an inquiry from individuals and offer sophisticated descriptions, suggesting the ways in which old practices (e.g. bathing) die out and new ones (e.g. showering) come into being.  A contribution suggesting a further innovative direction for MMR is provided by Botha (2012) who argues that MMR may constitute a vehicle for engaging with indigenous research in order to reflect its distinctive epistemology and its knowledge axes. Another contribution by Thompson (2004) represents an example of, and a plea for, investment in qualitative studies that are allied to large scale quantitative studies, longitudinal research in particular. Among other things, Thompson points to the benefits of this MMR strategy to qualitative researchers in producing more systematic samples (including the recruitment of those ‘lost’ in the course of longitudinal studies) and the benefits to quantitative researchers who tend to impose meaning on to their findings. In bringing quantitative and qualitative researchers together, a MMR strategy indicates however the need to develop joint practices throughout the research process.

The Journal also suggests further directions for combining methods that include visual methods, the development of new MMR designs and the application of MMR to a variety of fields. MMR strategies are increasingly likely to follow the demand for interdisciplinary research programmes that will in turn present new challenges, in particular how to support and sustain interdisciplinary communities of research practice.   

The articles below are free access until 29th February 2016. To claim your access, simply click on the articles below.