Quantitative and qualitative social science

The social world is one reality, but the methodologies associated with quantitative and qualitative research are quite different. Quantitative research allows the researcher to discover patterns, associations, correlations, and other features of a population based on analysis of large numbers of measurements of individuals. Qualitative research usually involves studies of single individuals, based on interviews …

Ian Hacking on chance as worldview

  Ian Hacking was one of the more innovative and adventurous philosophers to take up the philosophy of science as their field of inquiry. The Taming of Chance (1990) is a genuinely fascinating treatment of the subject of the emergence of the idea of populations of events rather than discrete individuals. Together with The Emergence of Probability: …

Consolidated quantitative history

It is fascinating to browse through the sessions on the program at the Social Science History Association this month (link). SSHA is distinguished by its deep embrace of disciplinary and methodological diversity, and there are panels deriving from qualitative, comparative, and theoretical perspectives. But particularly interesting for me this year are the more quantitative subjects …

New modes of historical presentation

Victor Lieberman's Strange Parallels: Volume 1, Integration on the Mainland: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c.800-1830 and Strange Parallels: Volume 2, Mainland Mirrors: Europe, Japan, China, South Asia, and the Islands: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c.800-1830 represent about 1000 pages of careful, dense historical prose extending over two volumes. As previously discussed (link, link), the book reviews …

Predictions

Image: Artillery, 1911. Roger de La Fresnaye. Metropolitan Museum, New YorkIn general I'm skeptical about the ability of the social sciences to offer predictions about future social developments. (In this respect I follow some of the instincts of Oskar Morgenstern in On the Accuracy of Economic Observations.) We have a hard time answering questions like …

Causing public opinion

It is interesting to consider what sorts of things cause shifts in public opinion about specific issues. This week's national election is one important example. But what about more focused issues -- for example, the many ballot initiatives that were considered in many states? To what extent can we discover whether there is a measurable …

Polling and social knowledge

Here's a pretty interesting graphic from Pollster.com:As you can see, the graph summarizes a large number of individual polls measuring support for the two major party candidates from January 1 to October 26. The site indicates that it includes all publicly available polls during the time period. Each poll result is represented with two markers …

What do polls tell us?

We're all interested in the opinions of vast numbers of strangers -- potential voters, investors, consumers, college students, or home owners. Our interest is often a practical one -- we would like to know how the election is likely to go, whether the stock market will rebound, whether an influenza season will develop into a …

Discipline, method, hegemony in sociology

An earlier post referred to the "Perestroika" debate within political science. There are similar foundational debates within other social science disciplines, including especially sociology. What is particularly striking is not that there are deep disagreements about the methodology and epistemology of sociology -- this has often been true within sociology, going back to the methodenstreiten …

Is sociology analogous to epidemiology?

Quantitative sociology attempts, among other things, to establish causal connections between large social factors (race, socio-economic status, residential status) and social outcomes of interest (rates of delinquency). Is this type of inquiry analogous in any way to the use of large disease databases to attempt to identify risk factors? In other words, is there a …

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