How are quantitative and qualitative analysis similar, and how might they reasonably differ?

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This piece compares and contrasts two case studies to discuss the ontological and epistemological differences between quantitative and qualitative analysis. The case studies are related to drug use and mental health. This discussion incidentally covers some issues that arise in philosophy of science, but its primary purpose is to evaluate the two different paradigms in social research. This essay is produced for a politics assignment and can be found here. The quantitative study can be found here, and the qualitative study can be found here.

plato's cave

Plato’s Cave – showing a simple relationship between what can be known and how we know it.

Comparative Evaluation of Quantitative and Qualitative Research: Two Case Studies

I           Introduction

The divide between quantitative and qualitative social research (“research”) is both institutional and methodological.[1] Historically, researchers have tended to define themselves within one school, and elected to use one approach over another.[2] At a methodological level, Bryman states that quantitative and qualitative research has divergent underlying assumptions regarding method, methodology and perspectives about knowledge.[3]

The division between quantitative and qualitative research stems from a fundamentally different conception about the ontological nature of knowledge.[4] Quantitative research views knowledge as being objective and separate from the individuals who perceive this world. On the contrary, qualitative research views knowledge as being inseparable from the subjects which perceive it, hence its subjective nature.[5] The ontological nature of knowledge thus informs the epistemological approach adopted by each paradigm.[6]

Despite this fundamental difference, the goal of both methods is to produce knowledge, to discover the ‘truth’ about this world.[7] This means for both methods, the steps in the research cycle need to be sound. Accordingly, this paper will compare and contrast the ways which quantitative and qualitative research both have to meet similar criteria of research plausibility, authority and validity.

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