The blog Economic Sociology has a great post on the “evolution” of qualitative sociology. They note, quite rightly, that the notion of “evolution” is implicit in much of social science, even if it has no bearing on the subject matter at hand. Many sociologists place quantitative research “on top” of the research “evolutionary ladder,” even when there is no such thing as a ladder when it comes to good research design. Interestingly, the fathers of sociology themselves would be on the “lower rung” of that methodological ladder:
The works of Marx and Weber, like virtually all the classic literature in the field, were based on qualitative, historical methodology (Durkheim’s quantitative study Suicide being a notable exception).
This post just reinforces to me why the design process is so important for social scientists. One must design a research project to solve contextual problems, just as one designs, say, a chair. You cannot “solve” questions of why or how by using quantitative methods. It is simply impossible.
Are why and how somehow “less than” questions than “how many” or “how fast”? I don’t think so. Indeed Economic Sociology points out that even Darwin was not concerned with “how many” but more with “how,” and few accuse him of being “unscientific.”