Researching Among Elites

  • Neil StephensEmail author
  • Rebecca Dimond
Reference work entry


Health elites are powerful actors in the medical domain and it is essential that social scientists engage with their work. However, there is a specific set of methodological challenges to conducting this research. This chapter articulates key issues to consider before undertaking research with health elites by drawing upon examples from the authors’ own research practice. It starts by identifying the ambiguities in defining exactly what constitutes a health elite by drawing upon important literature on the topic. Section 2 discusses ethical issues in health elite research, including providing a sample consent form. It then articulates sampling and access issues with elites, for example, the benefits of purposive and snowball sampling. Section 3 articulates key challenges firstly in interviews and secondly in observational work with health elites (in clinics and laboratories), by stressing the need for flexibility in approach. This is followed by a discussion of conferences as sites for research among health elites, and the resources of elites’ documentary cultures. Section 4 reflects upon the increasing significance of patients and social scientists as health elites, and instances of health elites as social scientists. Section 5 considers health elites as collaborators by discussing the rewards and challenges of collaborating with fellow researchers active in generating new knowledge about health. The chapter closes by pointing forward toward the continued need for qualitative social science to engage with health elites, and for researchers to be informed by a methodological awareness of the challenges and rewards of doing so.


Elites Ethnography Health Medical sociology Qualitative methods STS 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social Science, Media and CommunicationBrunel University LondonUxbridgeUK
  2. 2.School of Social SciencesCardiff UniversityCardiffUK

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