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“Quantification is the root of all evil in sociology” What does it add up to? The place of quantitative research methods in British sociology

Brookfield, Charlotte ORCID: 2017. “Quantification is the root of all evil in sociology” What does it add up to? The place of quantitative research methods in British sociology. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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The study presented in this thesis explores how professional sociologists view the nature and function of their discipline. Specifically, the research has developed as a result of findings from a series of previous studies demonstrating the relative absence of quantitative methods in British sociology and further ad-hoc studies which have highlighted sociology students’ resistance toward learning quantitative methods. It was hypothesised that sociologists in Britain are increasingly relying on qualitative techniques to explore micro-sociological topics. A realist approach was adopted in the study to enable some discussion of the potential mechanisms leading to the reported marginalisation of quantification in British sociology. An online survey was distributed to professional sociologists in the UK and 1024 responses were received. A shortened version of the survey was also distributed to sociologists in the Netherlands and New Zealand to help contextualise the findings from the UK. In line with previous literature, the minority of the participants in the UK identified as ‘quantitative researchers’ and respondents most frequently reported using semi-structured interviews in their research. Moreover, the majority of the respondents listed researching micro-sociological research areas and reported that sociological research was more akin to the arts and humanities as opposed to the natural sciences. The study also found an association between age or seniority and research practices in the UK, with older or more experienced researchers being more likely to identify as ‘mixed methods researchers’. This finding has implications for the research methods training sociologists receive throughout their careers. Finally, comparing the place of quantitative methods in British sociology and the two comparator countries revealed that the discipline is more diverse, fragmented and often viewed with greater inferiority in the UK, compared to elsewhere. High-quality methodological training was deemed necessary by participants to create or foster ‘world-leading’ sociological research. With this in mind, calls are made for the narrowing of the scope of sociology to ensure that future generations are able to answer social questions posed by external agencies on both the micro and macro levels. It is argued that this will enable academic sociology to maintain its relevance alongside the rise of ‘big data’ and independent social research centres.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 15 May 2018
Last Modified: 03 Nov 2022 11:26

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