Letter: Troublesome trap

July 13, 2001

Higher education researchers are walking into a troublesome trap ("Scholars say big picture is lost in big numbers", THES , July 6). In media audience research for the past 20 years there has been a swing towards focus group and interview-based research. Although the findings have been valuable, the problems of generalisation are being ignored.

The concerns that survey research tends to diminish complexity and impose researchers' categories are important. But, equally, the response that we are forever "modelling" from tiny groups and bathing in complexities without any generalisation has real bite. We are trapped into a research choice between the representative but empty and the rich but stuck at the level of descriptiveness.

Are we up to the task of exploring the ways both can be productively combined?

Martin Barker
University of Wales, Aberystwyth

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