Tricks of the Quantitative

Take a look at the following argument:

The traditional measuring measured variables (say, distance). In the social sciences, there are very few things that can be measured that way. So if we want to investigate, and not simply to stay for detainees, then we have to use another mode of measurement. Here the idea is to simply put numbers with rules systematic, and using our dear levels of measurement. If we add to this the idea of measuring with indicators what is not apparent (the constructs latent), bingo, we can use the quantitative in almost anything.

There are several problems with that argument, and I would like to put attention on the explicit idea that gives rise to the argument: there are few things that can be measured in social science by the classical notion of measurement. But in fact, there are a large number of elements in the social life that can be counted and measured as magnitudes: duration Time in work, hours spent watching television per day, number of work from home life work, citations in scientific articles, number of friendships. Although almost all of them rest on understandings of meaning (what is a friend? what is considered paid work? etc), in a society in which those meanings are more or less established, I can devote myself actually counting. And that we are not counting complete spheres where it is part of the process of social real-that is have magnitudes (money and votes for example).

Many things can be counted, and many things that are actually relevant to the social life. There have is no violence, if you will, to the characteristics of what one wants to investigate. In the end, while the relationship between an indicator and a construct (between the scale on aggression and aggression is always a distance (the phenomenon goes beyond the scale); the same is not true when we are talking about things that can be measured with magnitudes: The number of hours is the number of hours.

Now, not everything you can count on it. But it is not true that we have to get our arms crossed. For the other things well we can study them qualitatively. And to study them qualitatively we do not need to invent constructs latent, or anything: The meanings inscribed in social practices are part of those practices, and in that specific sense they are ‘manifest’: appear in communications that are part of the social process.

In other words, all the effort methodological to develop measurement scales for things that are not measurable magnitudes is part of an operation that does not take into account the qualitative. In fact, this renegación of the qualitative is more profound. Because, in principle, the mode quantitative might well have thought that the aspects of ‘objective’, measurable in their magnitudes, were the things that are relevant (in fact, it is the strategy of Durkheim: law, counting suicides). However, I accept the argument concept of the importance of the subjective, and instead of accepting the limitations they tried that with the quantitative is covering everything, even when you don’t have a lot of sense, nor it is necessary.

What is it that you can get clean after all that? Something very simple.

If you want to analyze magnitudes of things, well I use the quantitative. And I say again, these magnitudes are relevant: One can count activities (or their records), to measure durations, or to tell when society is transformed into magnitude -money and votes. The fact that, for example, spend 4 hours to watch television, it is a fact relevant to understand the contemporary societies (as a fact is relevant if it lessens or not). In fact, it’s best to be quantitative when the quantitative fits to what I want to investigate.

If I want to analyze meanings and subjectivities, then instead of inventing constructs latent and attitudes (and instead of creating scales by definition never give an account of the concept), I tend to use tools that give account of the nature of the meanings and subjectivities. That is, qualitative tools.

You can always use a tool for everything (the old idea of when one has a hammer, everything look like nails), it is clear that there are tools that are better than others for a given situation. And all of the measurement scales of attitudes is an effort to implement a tool where not applicable.

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