The Sampling Conundrum in Qualitative Research: Can Saturation Help Alleviate the Controversy and Alleged Subjectivity in Sampling?

Favourate Y Sebele-Mpofu


Sampling is one of the most controversial matters in qualitative research. Qualitative researchers have often been denounced for not giving adequate rationalisations for their sample size resolutions. This study aimed to provide an extensive review of sampling methods used in qualitative research and discuss the extent to which saturation might help alleviate the issues concerning these methods, sample size sufficiency and when to sample. The study specifically honed on the sampling adequacy (how big or how small should a sample be), the sampling techniques used and whether sample sizes should be delineated a priori, posteriori or during analysis. Having highlighted, the paradoxically nature of these aspects, through an overview of the sampling process, the researcher explored saturation as a tool to alleviate the challenges and the lack of objectivity in sampling in qualitative research. The overall findings were that, saturation does provide same degree of transparency and quality in sampling, but the concept is not immune to controversy, guidelines on how to apply it or achieve it remain foggy and contestable among researchers. Discussions are in most cases oversimplified and comparatively unknowledgeable. The answer to the research question, was that, what really constitutes an adequate sample size is only answerable within the context of the study, scientific paradigm, epistemological stance, ontological and methodological assumptions of the research conducted. Contextualisation of the mode of saturation adopted, clear articulation of the research methodology and transparent reporting of the whole process is key to enhance the role of saturation in alleviating subjectivity in sampling. This paper sought to make a contribution to the on-going methodological discourse on how qualitative researchers can justify their sampling decisions.

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International Journal of Social Science Studies   ISSN 2324-8033 (Print)   ISSN 2324-8041 (Online)

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