Quantity and Quality in Social Research

Quantity and Quality in Social Research

Quantity and Quality in Social Research

Quantity and Quality in Social Research

Excerpt

This book focuses upon the debate about quantitative and qualitative research which took root in the 1960s, although many of the central themes go back centuries. The basic terms of the debate have been felt in many of the disciplines which make up the social sciences, especially sociology, social psychology, education research, organization studies, and evaluation research. The discussions about the nature and relative virtues of quantitative and qualitative research reveal a mixture of philosophical issues and considerations of the virtues and vices of the methods of data collection with which each of these two research traditions is associated. In this book, I address the nature of quantitative and qualitative research, as generally perceived by the participants in the debate. The debate has tended to provide somewhat exaggerated portraits of the two traditions, so that one of the book’s themes is the ways in which actual research practice may depart from these descriptions. I also examine the extent to which there is a clear connection between the practices of researchers working within each of the two traditions and underlying philosophical positions, as posited by the debate. The possibility of integrating quantitative and qualitative research is also examined.

The book has been written with undergraduates and postgraduates studying research methods in such fields as sociology, social pyschology, education, organization studies, social policy, and similar subjects in mind. I have drawn on research relating to a variety of topics and areas in the social sciences in order to enhance the book’s general appeal.

I wish to thank thirteen generations of undergraduates who have taken my Research Methods course at Loughborough University. Many of the ideas in this book derive from this contact. The students’ often blunt refusal to accept many of the extreme versions of the debate about quantitative and qualitative research sharpened my own appreciation of many of the issues. Martin Bulmer has been a supportive and extremely helpful editor. His comments and criticisms greatly assisted the formulation of the book’s central themes. I am grateful to Michael Billig and Louis Cohen for their advice on a number of chapters. I also wish to thank Richard Jenkins for a personal communication relating to his research on Belfast youth. My wife, Sue, offered much stylistic advice, for which I am grateful. Of course, none of these individuals is to blame for any of the book’s deficiencies, which are entirely of my

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