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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 large-

scale 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

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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


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