Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research

Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research

Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research

Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research

Synopsis

While heated arguments between practitioners of qualitative and quantitative research have begun to test the very integrity of the social sciences, Gary King, Robert Keohane, and Sidney Verba have produced a farsighted and timely book that promises to sharpen and strengthen a wide range of research performed in this field. These leading scholars, each representing diverse academic traditions, have developed a unified approach to valid descriptive and causal inference in qualitative research, where numerical measurement is either impossible or undesirable. Their book demonstrates that the same logic of inference underlies both good quantitative and good qualitative research designs, and their approach applies equally to each.Providing precepts intended to stimulate and discipline thought, the authors explore issues related to framing research questions, measuring the accuracy of data and uncertainty of empirical inferences, discovering causal effects, and generally improving qualitative research. Among the specific topics they address are interpretation and inference, comparative case studies, constructing causal theories, dependent and explanatory variables, the limits of random selection, selection bias, and errors in measurement. Mathematical notation is occasionally used to clarify concepts, but no prior knowledge of mathematics or statistics is assumed. The unified logic of inference that this book explicates will be enormously useful to qualitative researchers of all traditions and substantive fields.

Excerpt

In this book we develop a unified approach to valid descriptive and causal inference in qualitative research, where numerical measurement is either impossible or undesirable. We argue that the logic of good quantitative and good qualitative research designs do not fundamentally differ. Our approach applies equally to these apparently different forms of scholarship.

Our goal in writing this book is to encourage qualitative researchers to take scientific inference seriously and to incorporate it into their work. We hope that our unified logic of inference, and our attempt to demonstrate that this unified logic can be helpful to qualitative researchers, will help improve the work in our discipline and perhaps aid research in other social sciences as well. Thus, we hope that this book is read and critically considered by political scientists and other social scientists of all persuasions and career stages—from qualitative field researchers to statistical analysts, from advanced undergraduates and first-year graduate students to senior scholars. We use some mathematical notation because it is especially helpful in clarifying concepts in qualitative methods; however, we assume no prior knowledge of mathematics or statistics, and most of the notation can be skipped without loss of continuity.

University administrators often speak of the complementarity of teaching and research. Indeed, teaching and research are very nearly coincident, in that they both entail acquiring new knowledge and communicating it to others, albeit in slightly different forms. This book attests to the synchronous nature of these activities. Since 1989, we have been working on this book and jointly teaching the graduate seminar “Qualitative Methods in Social Science” in Harvard University's Department of Government. The seminar has been very lively, and it often has spilled into the halls and onto the pages of lengthy memos passed among ourselves and our students. Our intellectual battles have always been friendly, but our rules of engagement meant that “agreeing to disagree” and compromising were high crimes. If one of us was not truly convinced of a point, we took it as our obligation to continue the debate. In the end, we each learned a great deal about qualitative and quantitative research from one another and from our students and changed many of our initial positions. In addition to its primary purposes, this book is a statement of our hard-won unanimous position on scientific inference in qualitative research.

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