Methodological Pluralism

Methodological Pluralism and Triangulation are not the same. Reflexivity is a more general term about the mental approach of the researcher.
Methodological Pluralism is use of different research methods to build up a broader picture of the particular social activity being researched. So, participant observation to find out what people do might be accompanied by unstructured interviews to find out what people say. Both of these are interpretivist approaches, but they do not have to be.

Of course the researcher has to be careful not to use a research method that compromises a different method being used, and this will depend on evaluating the choice of methods from a theoretical, practical and ethical basis. It may be that participant observation is chosen precisely not to do unstructured interviews, for example. Subject to this restriction, different methods expose better social realities, and more methods produce a broader picture.
Triangulation is an approach that checks the validity and reliability of the methods used. This approach is to make findings more robust. There are a number of approaches to triangulation.

  • Investigator triangulation:
    • This is where different researchers are used in one project. Perhaps they carry out unstructured interviews. Their various characteristics can be noted; these can be checked against the data they gather. Bias of each can be highlighted.
  • Data triangulation:
      This involves checking different sources of data against each other. For example, primary data can be compared with existing secondary data. In terms of primary research, it can involve gathering data from different places, times and people.
  • Methodological triangulation:
    • This means using a variation of approach within the same method and a variety of different methods.
      • Within method
        • This involves, for example, using open and closed questions within a questionnaire and this allows for data comparison.
      • Between method
        • This involves selecting different approaches including across the interpretive and positivist/ falsification divide and allowing for cross comparison.
In all these cases in the report the researcher needs to analytically describe methods used. In the report this is put ahead of or after the findings. Putting down what was done is the final stage of their own ongoing critical evaluation and facilitates later sociologists doing secondary research.
Reflexivity is a condition of critical self-awareness and evaluation that all researchers should adopt. There are a number of ways in which reflexivity is advanced.

  • The researched:
    • This means having a research dialogue with the researched, usually under restrictive conditions. So William Whyte (1955) negotiated his research with a privileged person, Doc.
  • The role:
    • By being a participant observer and playing the role, the individual gains empathy and insight into how the researched operate, for example definitions. So Cicourel (1976) played a probation officer in California and found out how they came within their profession and meanings to label youths as delinquent.
  • The data:
    • In a publication (even selected) presentation of the data itself gives the reader an insight into these meanings and allows others to evaluate.
  • The results:
    • Evaluation takes place comparing one's own primary findings with secondary research, looking again for bias.


Cicourel, A. V. (1976), The Social Organisation of Juvenile Justice, London: Heinemann.

Whyte, W. F. (1955), Street Corner Society, 2nd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful