False dichotomies (and synonymies)

It’s been a while. Let me allow you a few moments to catch your breath over the surprise of me posting (a real post) here again.

…[twiddles thumbs] [taps foot] [checks watch]…

OK, feel better? On with it.

Back in the middle-stages of grad school, i started to hear a lot of harumphing* about the frustrations of qualitative folks and all of the “quant-shop” requirements of our particular program. At the same time, i couldn’t help but notice the dismissiveness of some of the most quantitatively oriented folks towards brilliant qualitative work we’d occasionally discuss. Now, i know that the quant-qual divide was not unique to our program, is not something new to sociology, and has been pointed out as a false dichotomy by many (more qualified) folks who’ve passed through these ranks before.

But what strikes me today is that for some reason, in my limited experience at least, most folks also assume a necessary overlap between “mathematical” sociology and “quantitative” sociology… …(or even “statistical” if you prefer, though i am aware that’s a quite different ball-o-wax).** Why do i bring this up? Because, if i were to think about my “primary” identity – methodologically speaking – i would definitely first say mixed methods (i use surveys, in-depth interviews, some ethnographic elements, text analyses, the list goes on). But if pressed, i might actually end up willing to accept the label qualitative-mathematical sociologist. And i think some people would hear that the same way we do giant-shrimp or pop-punk.***  But in reality, there’s absolutely nothing contradictory about that statement at all.

At this point, if i wasn’t preaching to the converted, i’d go into a semi-rambling bit about formalizations and how math and theory are related, but since the readers of this fair blog obviously already have that down,**** i’ll forgo it for now.

* i really don’t think there’s a better word than that for this particular phenomenon.
** In a similar example, for some reason “network” scholar seems to unnecessarily be readily equated with “quant-jock” too. Incidentally, a few of the qualitative panels at Sunbelts over the years have been a couple of my favorites at those meetings.
*** Admittedly i stole that 2nd example from the Wiki entry for oxymoron.
**** Ok, it may be more because i’m only 1 cup of coffee into what needs to be a 3-cup morning, and if i tried it would be utterly incomprehensible, but i prefer to think it’s more because i trust you agree with me instead.


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