Hammersley's Evaluative Criteria

Hammersley believes that the development of criteria for evaluating qualitative research requires deciding what the research is for.  He believes that the purpose of doing research is to "produce knowlede that is of public relevance" (1990, p. 56).

He proposes that we assess qualitative research with regard to validity and relevance.


"Truth" or the extent to which an account accurately represents the phenomenon to which it refers

Hammersley notes that in quantitative, laboratory-based, experimental designs one way to evaluate validity is by replication -can others do what the researcher did and come up with the same or similar results?

This is problematic in the social sciences because:

  • peoples' behavior cannot be controlled in natural settings, it changes
  • a researcher can focus on many different aspects of the same setting in a qualitative study
  • settings can change over time

He argues that an inability to replicate does not undermine validity

He believes:

  • No knowledge is certain, but knowledge claims can be judged reasonably accurate or plausble in terms of their likely truth
  • Social reality is not independent of people (or researchers) and we have the ability to learn other cultures or learn aspects of social life.  This provides some basis upon which knowledge of a culture, social setting, etc. can be built.

Hammersley proposes three steps in assessing validity of ethnographic claims:

  • Do the claims seem plausible based on our existing knowledge?
  • Does it seem likely that the ethnographer's judgment of matters related to his/her claims would be accurate, given the nature of the phenomenon, the circumstances of the research, the characteristics of the researcher, etc.
  • Is there evidence available to be convinced of a claim's validity? Is the evidence plausible and credible?


Is the research important with regard to issues and areas of public concern?

Hammersley notes that our interest in 'facts' is selective and all descriptions are for some purpose.  The nature of this purpose will shape the characteristics of the description developed.

Hammersley is not suggesting that all research should have immediate and direct application to practice, but there should be some evidence to suggest that the research will have public and pragmatic relevance at some point.

Evalution of relevance occurs within the context of a community (for whom the research has implications) and is a product of a dialogue among members.

The relevance of a research study will depend on the audience and the social relevance of the research for the audience.

Hammersley, M. (1990). Reading Ethnographic Research: A Critical Guide. New York: Longman.

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