Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.

Serendipity & the road to theory


Published on

See 2014 update...

Published in: Technology, Business
  • Be the first to comment

Serendipity & the road to theory

  1. 1. Serendipity & the Road to Theory in Qualitative Research Jean-Paul C. Grund DV8-RTD.ORG
  2. 2. Definitions of Serendipity • Serendipity is... ...the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. (Merriam Webster) ...the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. (Oxford English Dictionary)
  3. 3. Word History of Serendipity „...serendipity, a very expressive word, which as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right – now do you understand serendipity?“ Horace Walpole January 28, 1754
  4. 4. Definition Revisited • Serendipity (noun): That quality which, through good fortune and sagacity*, allows a person to discover something good while seeking something else. • * Sagacity (noun): personal alertness, awareness, and understanding; sagacious (adjective): having or showing understanding and the ability to make good judgments; wise
  5. 5. Famous Examples of Serendipity • • • • • • • • Archymedes´ Principle Columbus´ Discovery of America Newton´s Discovery of Gravity Galvani´s Discovery of “Animal Electricity” Bequerel´s Discovery of Radioactivity Fleming´s Discovery of Pennicilin Alfred Nobel´s Discovery of Dynamite Albert Hoffman´s Discovery of LSD
  6. 6. Serendipity in the Qualitative Process: Acknowledgement • Serendipitous findings are often not in accord with current beliefs. • It is not the divine roll of the dice that determines serendipity. . • Three Principles Of Serendip: Insight, Chance, And Discovery In Qualitative Research, by Gary Fein and James Deegan. Qualitative Studies in Education, Volume 9, Number 4, 1996. (
  7. 7. Serendipity in the Qualitative Process (1) • Serendipity is not merely an unusual happening, but the scientist is "prepared" to make sense of a truer picture of the world, creating a more precise model: • "Chance favors only those who know how to court her." (Charles Nicolle); • In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind." (Louis Pasteur). • Serendipity is the interactive outcome of unique and contingent "mixes" of insight (Sagacity) coupled with chance (Accident).
  8. 8. Serendipity in the Qualitative Process (2) Serendipity as Controlled Chaos: "Naturalists in the social sciences are engaged in a strategy of calculated chaos. They intentionally immerse themselves in the logging of data regarding subjects that are of personal concern to them, a process that initially need have little or no specific social scientific orientation. The theory of the naturalist is that a direction will emerge, will be "discovered." (Lofland & Lofland) But, insight is not a treasure at the end of the road for the Princes of Serendip; it is one that unfolds with every twist and turn in the road.
  9. 9. Serendipity in the Qualitative Process (3) • Focussing on the Opportunities that Chance Provides. • Conceptualizing Serendipity: Three Distinct Components of Research: Temporal Serendipity Serendipity Relations Analytic Serendipity • Each depends on the readiness to seize upon chance events; that is, the unstructured, inductive quality of fieldwork often provides leeway to incorporate the power of serendipitous findings into the core of a research report.
  10. 10. Serendipity in the Qualitative Process (4) Temporal Serendipity • The power of "being in the right place at the right time." • The observer cannot choose in advance to witness an event; his or her presence is, in part, a function of the decision of the observer to judge "where the action is."
  11. 11. Serendipity in the Qualitative Process (5) • Serendipity is not only observing memorable events, but recognizing these as significant when they occur and turning them into powerful narratives. • The ability to see a pattern or implication that has gone unnoticed and, having exposed it, to find it in other social settings.
  12. 12. Serendipity in the Qualitative Process (6) • • • • Serendipity Relations Ethnography is preeminently a methodology that depends on relationships. It is not sufficient that one makes contact (good fortune), but one must also be able to capitalize on this contact (serendipity). Key Informants & Community Fieldworkers: Development of relations based on happenstance, luck, or mistaken identity.
  13. 13. Serendipity in the Qualitative Process (7) Analytical Serendipity • the ability to establish connections between data and theory. • By what processes does this analytical insight occur? – exposure to the relevant literature and being part of a scholarly world. – the data themselves speak to the researcher and may provoke an "Ah-ha!" response. – Discovery of a dramatic metaphor or narrative strategy that permits conceptualization and presentation of the problem in a novel light.
  14. 14. Serendipity in the Qualitative Process (8) • • • • Keeping one's wits Part of serendipity derives from those unplanned happenings that stem from one's own hands. The powerful role of mistakes leading to insight. Mistakes may be treated not only as unavoidable errors, but as events that uncover the preconceptions and choices of the researcher. Learning how to learn from mistakes is critical for using serendipity in qualitative research.
  15. 15. Further Reading on Frontloading & Drug Sharing • Drug Use as a Social Ritual: Functionality, Symbolism and Determinants of Self-Regulation. Rotterdam: Instituut voor Verslavingsonderzoek (IVO), 1993 (@;
  16. 16. Conclusions (1) • Ethnographic findings are not random. • The chance component of research is central to the collection and interpretation of data. • Serendipity involves planned insight coupled with unplanned events, core to the philosophy of qualitative research. • A qualitative researcher must be prepared to seize the clues on the road to discovery.
  17. 17. Conclusions (2) • The road to Serendip is not an easy path. • Bahramdipity: the suppression of a discovery, sometimes a serendipitous discovery, by the often-egomaniacal act of a more powerful individual who does cruelly punish, not merely disdain, a person (or persons) of lesser power and little renown who demonstrates sagacity, perspicacity, and truthfulness (From Bahram of Persia, as characterized in the fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip.) Toby J. Sommer 'Bahramdipity' and Scientific Research The Scientist 13[3]:13, Feb. 01, 1999 (At: