‘For A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing’: Rebellion Against the Quantitative/Qualitative Divide

Neal H. Patel - People Analytics Manager, People & Innovation Lab,Google Inc.; University of Chicago, Department of Sociology

While research practitioners remain deadlocked in old debates about the incompatibility and validity of qualitative versus quantitative research, streams of real-time data are overwhelming leading companies with individual-level insights at a scale and velocity impossible to achieve with traditional methods. Remaining relevant in the age of analytics no longer depends on the perfection of either methodology, but on the evolution of a creative, inter-disciplinary combination of both qualitative and quantitative approaches. Nevertheless, until we are done with the past, the past is never truly done with us. This paper establishes a new inter-disciplinary epistemology by tracing the historical development of the current qualitative versus quantitative divide. In so doing, I aim to discredit the assumptions underpinning the current debate, and illustrate how the shared epistemological origins of both statistics and ethnography inform the empirical formulations behind new “hybrid” quantitative-qualitative methods, including social networks, crowd-sourcing, Bayesian models, and centering-resonance analysis.