Quality & Quantity

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 387–408 | Cite as

Beyond the existence proof: ontological conditions, epistemological implications, and in-depth interview research

  • Samuel R. LucasEmail author
Open Access


In-depth interviewing is a promising method. Alas, traditional in-depth interview sample designs prohibit generalizing. Yet, after acknowledging this limitation, in-depth interview studies generalize anyway. Generalization appears unavoidable; thus, sample design must be grounded in plausible ontological and epistemological assumptions that enable generalization. Many in-depth interviewers reject such designs. The paper demonstrates that traditional sampling for in-depth interview studies is indefensible given plausible ontological conditions, and engages the epistemological claims that purportedly justify traditional sampling. The paper finds that the promise of in-depth interviewing will go unrealized unless interviewers adopt ontologically plausible sample designs. Otherwise, in-depth interviewing can only provide existence proofs, at best.


Ontology Epistemology In-depth interviewing Sampling Probability sampling Non-probability sampling Snowball sampling Purposive sampling Theoretical sampling 



I thank Aimée Dechter and H. Sorayya Carr for helpful conversations. All errors and omissions are the fault of the author.

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and the source are credited.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of California-BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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