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The Use of Negative Cases and Unexpected Findings

The complexity of the data is to be welcomed because it allows for a more subtle and nuanced analysis. Contradictions in the data can give rise to unexpected findings, which ultimately strengthen theory. In fact, qualitative researchers actively look for "negative cases" to support their arguments. A "negative case" is one in which respondents' experiences or viewpoints differ from the main body of evidence. When a negative case can be explained, the general explanation for the "typical" case is strengthened.

A Negative Case

Interviewer's Note: The respondent is a friend of mine. I decided to interview him because I had not yet interviewed a second generation Italian. I was interested in knowing how second generation Italians perceived their family and future as Italians. More importantly, I was interested in proving to myself that second generation Italians are somehow "losing" their culture. To my surprise, he knew a great deal about his family history. He knew details that I did not expect a second generation Italian to know. I am convinced, however, that he is not typical of second generation Italians. As the "man of the family" (his father passed away a few years ago), he appears to be more responsible than most men his age (25). He is committed to his nuclear family, grandparents, uncles and cousins. They seem very close.

Italian Interview #11


The interviewer discovered that the respondent, Patrick, disconfirmed her expectations of what a second-generation Italian man would know about his Italian-Canadian family history. However, she is able to provide an explanation for this "negative case." If she were to do more interviews with second-generation Italians she could start to draw firmer conclusions, not only about what is "typical," but more importantly, about what social factors make them typical or a-typical. For example, she could confirm that Patrick's family responsibility deepened his knowledge of his Italian-Canadian heritage beyond that of most second-generation Italian-Canadian men.

«Simplifications as a Source of Contradiction Phrasing Questions and Other Techniques»