19 January 2017

Social science must return to qualitative research to understand social and political shifts

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Social science has become increasingly beholden to analysis derived from big data: large numerical sets analysed computationally, write Pamela Prickett and Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University. This, they say, “has brought us much insight into the social world, but it has often come at the direct expense of the rich qualitative work most likely to capture people’s everyday patterns of meaning-making and decision-making.”

They continue: “The more interpretative methodological tools of interviewing and observation, once the hallmark of the social sciences, are giving way to an increased reliance on numbers in nearly all realms of social and political life.”

In view of the recent US elections and “to properly document the effects of a Trump administration,” Prickett and Howard argue that social scientists need to conduct more research into people’s everyday lives and therefore conduct more thoughtful qualitative work.

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