15     Qualitative and quantitative


Speaking only for myself ...

(Which is to say, I'm not trying to argue for a point of view.  I'm thinking aloud, so to speak.  I don't much mind if you agree with me or not.  I'll be delighted if you join the conversation.)


It was fashionable for a while (and still is in some circles) to rail against the mixing of qualitative and quantitative methods.  The claim was that they are based on what Kuhn called incommensurable paradigms.  Different philosophies.

I should acknowledge that there has also been a counter view, for instance in the work of Jick.  Mixing methods was good: the prejudices of each cancelled each other out to some extent.

My own view is that it isn't always methodologies that necessarily presume particular worldviews and ways of knowing.  Often it is researchers who do so.  If a researcher can find ways of using methodologies and techniques within her or his own worldview, then why not?

And perhaps it is no longer an issue since the book of readings by Reichardt and Rallis.  I think the papers there make a pretty good case for mixing qualitative and quantitative.  But then, some find the arguments in such books as Egon Guba's The paradigm dialog convincing.

In any event, that isn't the thrust of my musings.  I intend instead to offer four reasons why I don't plan to get very excited about the issue.

My first reason is a suspicion that most people don't let their espoused philosophy interfere much with their daily business of driving cars, eating breakfast and the like.  Philosophising takes place at more rarified heights.

And why should they? If the best of philosophers can't agree then I'm happy to remain a fence-sitter.  It seems to me that we can't depend upon a certain philosophy.  Best, then, that we don't wait for one before trying to understand how the world works.

My second reason is to be found in a particular view of methods and techniques.  I don't personally value any one methodology as a best way of doing research.  I prefer to define what I want to achieve, and then work out some way of achieving it.  I'd rather not limit my choices by drawing a philosophical boundary around some of them.  I like to mix and match.

Third (and this is related) I like to reserve the right to change my mind.  In the situations I work in, my understanding slowly grows with experience in those situations.  To me, it makes sense to design methods and techniques that make the most of that growing understanding.

And I find that some of those methods resemble those from within one paradigm.  And sometimes another.

Fourth, I find it hard to view different philosophies as competitors.  Different perspectives on the same reality perhaps.  It seems to me that I can often improve understanding by deliberately moving between different perspectives.

To pick up what I suspect is a recurring theme for me, the map is not the territory.  The view through a given window is not the only view or the whole view.  I think one can as usefully apply this to philosophies and paradigms as to more limited models and theories.


Guba, Egon G., ed.  (1990) The paradigm dialog.  Newbury Park: Sage.

Jick, T.D.  (1979) Mixing qualitative and quantitative methods: triangulation in action.  Administrative Science Quarterly, 24, 602-611.

Reichardt, Charles S.  and Rallis, Sharon F., eds.  (1994) The qualitative-quantitative debate: new perspectives.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.





Copyright Bob Dick 1998-2000.  May be copied if it is not included in any
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Occasional pieces in action research methodology, # 15.  Available
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