Sampling Knowledge: The Hermeneutics of Snowball Sampling in Qualitative Research

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During the past two decades we have witnessed a rather impressive growth of theoretical innovations and conceptual revisions of epistemological and methodological approaches within constructivist‐qualitative quarters of the social sciences. Methodological discussions have commonly addressed a variety of methods for collecting and analyzing empirical material, yet the critical grounds upon which these were reformulated have rarely been extended to embrace sampling concepts and procedures. The latter have been overlooked, qualifying only as a ‘technical’ research stage. This article attends to snowball sampling via constructivist and feminist hermeneutics, suggesting that when viewed critically, this popular sampling method can generate a unique type of social knowledge—knowledge which is emergent, political and interactional. The article reflects upon researches about backpacker tourists and marginalized men, where snowball sampling was successfully employed in investigating these groups' organic social networks and social dynamics. In both studies, interesting interrelations were found between sampling and interviewing facets, leading to a reconceptualization of the method of snowball sampling in terms of power relations, social networks and social capital.

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International Journal of Social Research Methodology, v. 11, issue 4, p. 327-344.