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Review: A Tale of Two Cultures by Goertz and Mahoney (2012)

Frank P. Towards Equity in Mathematics Education. Between camps of quantitative and qualitative researchers, a discussion of research methods is one that usually incites more contention than cooperation. By carefully dissecting each methodological tradition in their book A Tale of Two Cultures , Goertz and Mahoney do social scientists a great service by promoting mutual understanding and appreciation of both quantitative and qualitative research methods.

And while there is potentially a great deal to be gained from cross-over between the two, more often than not cross-cultural interactions are waved away or, at the very least, misunderstood. Gary Goertz and James Mahoney are both social scientists themselves — the former is a political scientist at the University of Arizona and the latter is a professor of political science and sociology at Northwestern University. The authors encourage social scientists to avoid knee-jerk reactions deriving from an aversion to or preference for one particular methodological tradition.

Adopting the cultures approach thus allows Goertz and Mahoney to initiate a breakdown of the two research traditions in a systematic and nuanced fashion. An important take-away is that some analogies which seem useful on the surface can instead be misleading. The authors emphasize early on that there is a translation problem across cultures.

A Tale of Two Cultures: Contrasting Quantitative and Qualitative Research by matilez - Issuu

For example, the quantitative researcher is equipped with probability theory and statistical tools. They demonstrate how applying fuzzy-set math as a formal tool in qualitative analysis can produce useful distinctions with quantitative analysis as well as illuminate the translation problem across the two research cultures.

A simple demonstration is the seemingly straightforward comparison between using either statistical multiplication or the logical AND to aggregate data. While analogous, they result in two entirely different mathematical procedures since the latter requires taking the minimum. Thus, when taken to the mathematical roots, attempts to translate directly from one culture to another can be misleading.