David Kuehn / Ingo Rohlfing

Do Quantitative and Qualitative Research Reflect Two Distinct Cultures? An Empirical Analysis of 180 Articles Suggests “No”

Sociological Methods and Research | 2022


  • Abstract

    The debate about the characteristics and advantages of quantitative and qualitative methods is decades old. In their seminal monograph, A Tale of Two Cultures (2012, ATTC), Gary Goertz and James Mahoney argue that methods and research design practices for causal inference can be distinguished as two cultures that systematically differ from each other along 25 specific characteristics. ATTC’s stated goal is a description of empirical patterns in quantitative and qualitative research. Yet, it does not include a systematic empirical evaluation as to whether the 25 are relevant and valid descriptors of applied research. In this paper, we derive five observable implications from ATTC and test the implications against a stratified random sample of 90 qualitative and 90 quantitative articles published in six journals between 1990–2012. Our analysis provides little support for the two-cultures hypothesis. Quantitative methods are largely implemented as described in ATTC, whereas qualitative methods are much more diverse than ATTC suggests. While some practices do indeed conform to the qualitative culture, many others are implemented in a manner that ATTC characterizes as constitutive of the quantitative culture. We find very little evidence for ATTC's anchoring of qualitative research with set-theoretic approaches to empirical social science research. The set-theoretic template only applies to a fraction of the qualitative research that we reviewed, with the majority of qualitative work incorporating different method choices.

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    Sociological Methods and Research

    Dr. David Kuehn

    Senior Research Fellow / Coordinator GIGA Forum

    david.kuehn@giga-hamburg.de

    Ingo Rohlfing



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