Academic journal article Asian Social Science

The Qualitative-Quantitative 'Disparities' in Social Science Research: What Does Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) Brings in to Bridge the Gap?

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

The Qualitative-Quantitative 'Disparities' in Social Science Research: What Does Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) Brings in to Bridge the Gap?

Article excerpt


There are explicit methodological tensions among researchers in the qualitative and quantitative tracks of social science research. In this paper, (1) we highlight the tensions by making a comparison of the two traditions in terms of their ontological and epistemological paradigms, strengths and weaknesses. Then, (2) we examine the possibility of mediating the methodological tensions through the use of Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) methodology. Our conclusions are that (1) both qualitative and quantitative research traditions are equally scientific and relevant to the social science research, and so, choice can be made to use either of the two approaches or combine them depending on the nature and purpose of the study. We also argue (2) that although the attempt to resolve the qualitative- quantitative tensions through QCA methodology is promising, QCA should not be regarded as a competing but a complementary approach to the two.

Keywords: social science research, qualitative research, quantitative research, ontology, epistemology, QCA

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

1. Introduction

Quantitative and qualitative research styles in social science research are hotly debated as to which one of them is more appropriate than the other in meeting the criteria of good research, such as establishing causal inference and achieving generalizability (Ercikan & Roth, 2006). While some quantitative researchers have strong belief on systematic statistical analysis as the only way to establish causal relationship and achieve generalization in social sciences research, some in the qualitative track challenge this claim on the grounds that social phenomena are complex and therefore, cannot effectively be understood through the use of quantitative approaches. In addition, social phenomena are context specific and therefore can best be studied using context-sensitive approaches such as case study. In this paper, we attempt to reconcile between the two traditions of social research by bringing in QCA as a mid-way approach that seeks to address the inadequacies of each of the two approaches in social science research. More specifically, we discuss in the paper the strength of QCA in establishing causality, handling causal complexity and increasing generalizability.

2. Qualitative vs. Quantitative Approaches in Social Research

It is not our intention to dwell much on the tensions between qualitative and quantitative approaches in social research. However, we think it is important to open up with a quick summary of some fundamental differences in orientation between the two approaches right here at the beginning so that when we proceed to the discussion on the role of QCA in bridging the two (which is the main focus of this paper); it can clearly be understood as to what aspects in each of the two traditions QCA attempts to resolve. We will start with qualitative research and then proceed to quantitative approach before entering into QCA as a midway approach to reconciling the methodological disparities between the two.

2.1 Philosophical Underpinnings of Qualitative Research

As the term suggests, 'qualitative research approach' seeks to explain social phenomena in qualitative terms, i.e. it employs approaches that do not rely on 'numerical measurements' (King, Keohane, & Verba, 1994:4). Researchers in this tradition use qualitative methods to collect and analyze data (Long & Godfrey, 2004), and so they focus on visual and verbal (conceptual or thematic) rather than numerical data handling techniques to draw out the subjects' knowledge and perceptions and explore the context in terms of 'social settings' and 'culture' (Long & Godfrey, 2004:83). Qualitative research thus envisages gaining a deep understanding of a specific case (such as an organization, a group or a small number cases); rather than a superficial description of a large sample of a population. …

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