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Home arrow Environment arrow Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches
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CONVENIENCE OR HAPHAZARD SAMPLING

Convenience sampling is a glorified term for grabbing whoever will stand still long enough to answer your questions. Sometimes, convenience samples are all that are available, and you just have to make do. Studies of the homeless are usually done with convenience samples, for obvious reasons, as are studies of people who are in intensive care units in hospitals. All samples represent something. The trick is to make them representative of what you want them to be. That’s what turns a convenience sample into a purposive one.

Al-Krenawi and Wiesel-Lev (1999) wanted to understand the emotions of Israeli Bedouin women who had experienced genital mutilation. They interviewed a convenience sample of 12 women who had been through the ritual and 12 who had not but had either seen it first-hand or had heard about women in their own extended families going through it. We wouldn’t put much stock in the fact that a specific percentage of the women reported sexual problems or relationship problems with various members of their family, but the list of problems is very instructive because it is the basis for more in-depth research.

If you want to estimate a parameter, then you know what you have to do: Get a random, representative sample. If you want to know the percentage of adult men in a matrilateral, cross-cousin society who have actually married their biological mother’s- brother’s-sister (MBZ), you’ll either have to count them all or take a random, unbiased sample of sufficient size to be able to make that generalization.

Key informants will tell you that the rule is broken regularly, but not by how much. A convenience sample of women who gather at the village well each day will tell you the range of options for men who don’t have a biological MBZ, but not how many choose each option. And if you want to know the effect of a new road on some peasants and you only interview people who come to town on the road, you’ll miss all the people who live too far off the road for it to do them any good (Further Reading: convenience sampling).

 
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