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Constructing Survey Data

Constructing Survey Data
An Interactional Approach

First Edition

Survey Research

May 2014 | 392 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
Engaging and informative, this book provides students and researchers with a pragmatic, new perspective on the process of collecting survey data. By proposing a post-positivist, interviewee-centred approach, it improves the quality and impact of survey data by emphasising the interaction between interviewer and interviewee. Extending the conventional methodology with contributions from linguistics, anthropology, cognitive studies and ethnomethodology, Gobo and Mauceri analyse the answering process in structured interviews built around questionnaires.  

The following key areas are explored in detail:
  • An historical overview of survey research
  • The process of preparing the survey and designing data collection
  • The methods of detecting bias and improving data quality
  • The strategies for combining quantitative and qualitative approaches
  • The survey within global and local contexts
Incorporating the work of experts in interpersonal and intercultural relations, this book offers readers an intriguing critical perspective on survey research.

Giampietro Gobo, Ph.D., is Professor of Methodology of Social Research and Evaluation Methods at the Department of Social and Political Studies - University of Milan. He has published over fifty articles in the areas of qualitative and quantitative methods. His books include Doing Ethnography (Sage 2008) and Qualitative Research Practice (Sage 2004, co-edited with C. Seale, J.F. Gubrium and D. Silverman). He is currently engaged in projects in the area of workplace studies.

Sergio Mauceri, Ph.D., is Lecturer in Methodology of Social Sciences and teaches Quantitative and Qualitative Strategies of Social Research at the Department of Communication and Social Research - University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’. He has published several books and articles on data quality in survey research, mixed strategies, ethnic prejudice, multicultural cohabitation, delay in the transition to adulthood, worker well-being in call centres and homophobia.

Introduction: Rescuing the survey
Surveying the Survey: Back to the Past
The Making of the 'Survey Society': The 19th Century

The Common Roots of the Survey and In-depth Interview

The Pioneers: 1880 - 1935

Technical Improvements and the Abandonment of Mixed Methods

The Idea of Standardizing the Survey Interview

The Split between Quantitative and Qualitative Methods

The Explosion and Institutionalization of Surveys

Technical Modifications toward a Standardized Interview

The Decline of the Concern for Data Collection

The Globalization of the Survey Culture Model

Concluding Remarks

Back to the 'Golden Age': Towards a Multilevel Integrated Survey Approach
What is Survey Research?

From the Standard to the Multlievel and Integrated Survey Approach

Concluding Remarks

The Answering Process
What Lies Behind the Datum?

The Co-construction of Survey Data

The 'Cognitive Turn' and the CASM Movement

Inference Procedures

Situation Awareness

The Limits of the 'Cognitive Turn' and Social Information Processing (SIP)

From Cognition to Interaction: The Pragmatic Turn

The Logic of Conversation

Concluding Remarks

Asking and Questioning
Attributing Meanings to Questions

Evaluation: The Heuristics of Judgement

An Alternative Typology: Cognitive Tasks and Response Alternatives

Concluding Remarks

Answers: Cognitive Processes
Open-ended or Closed-ended? Facing the Dilemma

Scalar Answers

The Influence of the Response Alternatives

The Pragmatics of Response Alternatives

Response Alternatives and Linguistic Communities

Researchers versus Interviewees? Towards a Reconciliation of Separate Worlds

Concluding Remarks

Communicative Processes
Psychological States of Interaction

Social Conventions

Answers and Interviewees' Demographic Characteristics

The Setting

Concluding Remarks

The Living Questionnaire: The Survey at Work
The Initial Contact with Interviewees

The Nonresponse Phenomenon

The Sociology and Psychology of Nonresponse

The Questionnaire in Action

Incongruences in the Answers

Concluding Remarks

From Standardization of Stimuli to Standardization of Meanings: The Interactional Survey Approach
The Behaviourism-based SSA: The Standardization of Stimuli

The Interactional Survey Approach: Standardizing Meanings

Bridging the Gap between Questionnaire (Researcher) and Interviewee: Empowering the Interviewer

Standardizing the Meaning of Response Alternatives Too

Concluding Remarks

Training for the Interactional Survey Approach
Motivating the Interviewee by Following the Norms of Conversation

The Interviewer's Hermeneutic Role

The Specific Hermeneutic Competence of Interviewers

Evaluation of Interviewer Performance

Concluding Remarks

Re-conceptualizing Data Quality
What is Data Quality?

Dimensions of Data Quality

From Data Quality to Survey Quality

Concluding Remarks

Mixed Survey Strategies: Quality in the Quantity
What is Mixed Methods Research?

Mixed Strategies: The Proportion of Quality and Quantity in a Research Design

The Integrative Role of Qualitative Procedures in the Survey: A Typology

The Pilot Study: Orientation of the Data Construction Process

Concluding Remarks

Pretesting Strategies: Assessing Data Quality in Advance
Aims of Pretesting

Pretesting Strategies based on Manifest Evidence

Qualitative Strategies: Inside the Black Box to Discover the Hidden Biases

Concluding Remarks

Deviant Case Analysis: Improving Data Quality
The Limitations of Monitoring Techniques within the Data Matrix

Deviant Case Analysis (DCA): The Exception that Refines the Rule

The Functions of Deviant Case Analysis

Exploring Deviant Cases: Some Techniques

Concluding Remarks

Glocalizing the Survey
Towards Multicultural Methodology

The Global Survey and its Discontents: The Limits of Current Survey Methodology

An Individualist Social Philosophy

Western Tacit Knowledge Embedded in the Survey Model

Lessons Learned from Cross-Cultural Surveys

De-colonizing the Survey

The Local Structural Context

Combining Global and Local

Brand New: Re-Styling the Survey

Concluding Remarks


In this (very) well-written book, the authors make a persuasive case for reuniting surveys and interviews; those methods have come to be the paradigm examples of the differences between quantitative and qualitative methods, but Gobo and Mauceri demonstrate that they could be natural allies in a mixed-method approach. Rather than continue with the current uneasy division of labor between survey and interview research, the authors propose reintegrating them in a synthesis that has deep historical roots and promises more profound and nuanced interpretations.  

Paul Vogt, Emeritus Professor of Research Methods and Evaluation
Illinois State University

This insightful and innovative book will be of interest to survey researchers and qualitative researchers alike. I will be recommending that colleagues teaching survey methods, and our survey researchers, use Gobo and Mauceri’s new book, along with those of us teaching field methods. We still teach our Masters programme with quantitative and qualitative methods in separate ‘boxes’, and Gobo and Mauceri’s book shows the very necessary bridge between quantitative and qualitative methods. As such, it also contributes to the development of integrative mixed methods research.

Professor Nigel Fielding
University of Surrey

This book is an outstanding contribution to the literature on survey methodology, and one that uniquely incorporates the most thoroughgoing understanding of how interaction works in relation to obtaining quality survey data. It is a remarkable achievement and belongs on the desk of anyone interested in survey methodology and in doing and using survey research more generally. 

Professor Douglas Maynard
University of Wisconsin

Constructing Survey Data is an ambitious, detailed, carefully pursued clarification of the history and current use of survey research by re-discovering an older, broader sense of “survey research,” a perspective the authors call an “interactional survey approach” consistent with John Dewey’s pragmatist perspective. The authors have created a comprehensive overview summarizing a huge literature and an equally comprehensive examination of the heart of contemporary social science research, a perspective that dominates contemporary studies favouring fixed-choice choices and digital outcomes.

Aaron V. Cicourel, Emeritus Professor
University of California, San Diego and San Francisco

It is an intriguing and exceptionally well argued thesis whereby Gobo and Mauceri open up the possibilities of reimagining the survey within a new qualitative framework, as well as a different cultural setting. Following on from this, I think we need to be much more proactive in using such intelligence to take a stance against the overwhelming plethora of “surveys” by which we are supposed to be measured. While this was not its goal, for me this book is a timely reminder of what happens when you pay peanuts for your survey design tool.

David Land, Clarite Research Ltd.
Public Opinion Quarterly

Giampietro Gobo and Sergio Mauceri have dedicated themselves to 'the new generation of social scientists', and they contribute to contemporary sociological methodology by expanding the borders not only of understanding but also implementing this in the 21st century. 

Marija Loncar, Odsjek za sociologiju, Filozofski
Prikazi, Revija za sociologiju

The chapters are well-written, well-presented, and contain very entertaining examples – some of which made me laugh out loud – of the issues, problems, and different operational uses of survey research across countries, cultures, and languages. It has excellent practical advice for questionnaire and interview design, and a great range of further reading suggestions at the end of each chapter. The book therefore makes an invaluable teaching aid for discussing survey research, particularly in a classroom setting where some of the questions it raised for me could be debated and discussed further, and perhaps for pointing out that qualitative methods can sometimes offer alternative options to the problems with survey data that the authors raise.

Clare Mumford, Faculty of Business and Law, The Open University
Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal

The book has the potential to provoke important debates among researchers and in a wide range of survey methodology can also be a valuable teaching resource, particularly when covering questionnaire design, interviewing and mixed methods...(with) a considerable amount of academic material covered and referenced.

Marco Pomati
Qualitative Research Review

Gabor and Mauceri have produced a very valuable book, one that at the very least challenges us to reconsider how well current practices align with our data needs. As methodologists themselves, their understanding of actual practices and how they evolved leads to a wealth of insights applicable to questionnaire design and data collection...their constructive and insightful observations will be of great help to current practitioners.

Paul C. Beatty
Journal of Official Statistics

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