Project: A Tale of Two Cultures? An empirical analysis of methods practices

Principal Investigators: David Kuehn, Institute of Political Science at University of Heidelberg, and Ingo Rohlfing,

Period: 01.07.2014-30.03.2016. The funding period is over, but the PIs are still in the process of coding articles and collecting data.

Funding: Thyssen Foundation (granted: 15.000 Euro)


In political science, there has been an enduring and, at times, fierce debate about what methods should be applied (best practices) and how methods are usually implemented in practice (common practices). For some time, the discussion has been characterized by antagonism between proponents of qualitative and quantitative methods. The recently published book, A Tale of Two Cultures (ATTC) by Gary Goertz and James Mahoney, two eminent scholars in the field of social science methods, marks the latest milestone and seeks to overcome the stalemate in the debate.

ATTC’s central argument is that the field of political science is best described by a qualitative and quantitative culture of methods application. Both methods are internally coherent and differ from each other with regard to a multitude of criteria such as the delineation of the population and the nature of causal inference. The lucid discussion of the qualitative and quantitative culture in ATTC has received considerable appraisal and criticism in political science in the past two years.

One shortcoming is that ATTC puts forth arguments about common practices in qualitative and quantitative methods, but only delivers illustrative examples for the qualitative and quantitative culture. What is missing so far is a thorough empirical examination of the two-cultures hypothesis about common practices.

Our research project implements such an analysis in order to test the claim that political science research is characterized by a qualitative and quantitative methods culture. We pursue this goal by drawing a random sample of qualitative and quantitative articles covering different sub-disciplines of political science over the last 20 years. Each article is manually coded on the basis of the five dimensions by which the qualitative and quantitative culture differ according to ATTC. The generated data is made subject to data reduction techniques to determine if qualitative and quantitative empirical studies apply methods in line with ATTC’s expectations.

There are at least two reasons that an empirical analysis of the two-cultures hypothesis is valuable. First, the claim of two internally coherent and non-overlapping cultures tends to preclude multi-method research integrating qualitative and quantitative methods. If the application of methods was more pluralistic than is argued in ATTC, the boundaries between qualitative and quantitative methods would be blurred and open more opportunities for cross-cutting empirical research. Second, the two-cultures hypothesis aiming at common practices might be misperceived and taken as claims about best practices. ATTC’s hypothesis would then become a self-fulfilling prophecy and reduce the potential diversity of methods application in political science. A comprehensive empirical analysis of the two-cultures hypothesis potentially delivering evidence for pluralistic practices would diminish this risk and highlight the richness of methods applications in political science.



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