A Tale of Two Cultures: Contrasting Quantitative and Qualitative Research

This paper, written by James Mahoney and Gary Goertz, contrasts the quantitative and quantitative research traditions against 10 areas in order to dispel some of the misunderstandings that have arisen between them The ten areas are compared against the idea that the quantitative and qualitative research traditions may be considered distinct cultures marked by different values, beliefs, and norms and consist of: (1) approaches to explanation, (2) conceptions of causation, (3) multivariate explanations, (4) equifinality, (5) scope and causal generalization, (6) case selection, (7) weighting observations, (8) substantively important cases, (9) lack of fit, and (10) concepts and measurement.


"In this essay, we tell a tale of these two cultures. We do so from the perspective of qualitative researchers who seek to communicate with quantitative researchers. Our goal is to contrast the assumptions and practices of the two traditions toward the end of enhancing cross-tradition communication. Like Brady and Collier (2004), we believe that qualitative and quantitative scholars share the overarching goal of producing valid descriptive and causal inferences. Yet, we also believe that these scholars pursue different specific research goals, which in turn produce different norms about research practices. Hence, we emphasize here to a greater degree than Brady and Collier the distinctiveness in basic goals and practices in the two traditions. Having said this, however, we wish to stress that our intention is not to criticize either quantitative or qualitative researchers. In fact, we argue throughout that the dominant practices of both traditions make good sense given their respective goals."


Mahoney, J. and Goertz, G. (2006). A Tale of Two Cultures: Contrasting Quantitative and Qualitative Research, Political Analysis, No. 14. Retrieved from: http://www.ib.ethz.ch/teaching/pwgrundlagen/Goertz_Mahoney_2006.pdf/

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