Mixed Methods and Epistemology for the Social Sciences
The question of mixed methods (combining data processing methods from the ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ worlds) seems unavoidable in the social sciences today. Though the sociological approaches of the 1960s were based on mixed methods, the structuring of disciplines around this quantitative/qualitative methodological divide has ultimately contributed to producing a gap that until very recently seemed unbridgeable – especially in sociology, political science and economics. However, though mixed methods have for many years played a central role in other social sciences (such as public health, education, psychology and management sciences), as well as in the evaluation of public policy, they were reappropriated by political science and economics only recently – in the 2000s and 2010s. Today, mixed methods are often presented as an unsurpassable horizon for all research, yet certain crucial questions must be asked. Indeed, beyond the technical and methodological issues they raise, mixed methods pose ontological, epistemological and methodological questions. We seek to address these in the framework of this cross-disciplinary research group, using three main perspectives and an approach that is both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary.
1) It is first and foremost a matter of understanding the development of mixed methods in the social sciences in order to grasp the opportunities and problems that these approaches entail – including debate and even criticism. In any case, this is about inserting what may appear to be a passing fashion into the long and medium term of the social sciences, while maintaining an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary perspective.
2) The work of the cross-disciplinary group will, then, also entail entering into the debates on mixed methods which have been enlivening many disciplines over the past 15 years and which have given rise to numerous theoretical and methodological proposals aimed at promoting both the development of mixed methods in empirical research, and the training of upcoming generations of researchers in mixed methods. Our aim is not to turn mixed methods into a new methodological imperialism, but rather to adopt a reflexive perspective within which to think about the conditions of mixed methods feasibility and relevance, without ever losing sight of the research questions and objectives.
3) Lastly, we will develop a framework dedicated to mixed methods practice and training, to enable working group participants to use mixed methods in their empirical research.
The mixed methods issue will thus be addressed both from the point of view of research design (the drafting of coherent research protocols combining puzzle – research question – hypotheses – choice of method) and methodology (data collection and analysis methods). In this way we position ourselves at the crossroads of ontological, epistemological and methodological considerations, allowing each researcher to build their research object (linking research question, research strategy, and methods) prior to either progressing towards a more advanced analysis of mechanisms and causal inference, or innovating in order to participate in an enhanced form of scientific cumulativity – in particular by bearing in mind the articulations of a diversity of both data processing methods (the challenge of mixed methods) and disciplinary approaches (the challenge of interdisciplinarity and pluridisciplinarity).
*This group is intended to embrace all aspects of the laboratory’s research areas.* It aims to open up a space for encounters and group work among Arènes researchers working across various disciplines in various fields, using different methods. It is also intended to serve as a resource space for both individual and group research, in which each person can submit their own questions and work-in- progress to the group discussion. Lastly, it will be a space for innovation that will earn the Arènes laboratory a central place in the national and European social sciences arena, which is currently undergoing rapid innovations in the field of methods in general and mixed methods in particular.
This cross-disciplinary group will be open to several types of existing and planned group research activities:
- A half-day monthly or bimonthly group seminar will be organised. This will include presentations of work-in-progress by researchers from the Arènes laboratory as well as from other laboratories, and/or training sessions (covering, for example, a processing method or data collection technique, an approach, etc.)
- The group will be organised into several cross-disciplinary sub-groups so as to work in a more focused way on works-in-progress, and/or to prepare individual or group publications or seminar sequences
- The research workshops led by Clémentine Comer and Gildas Brégain since 2018 will continue to run (autonomously). These may give rise to other types of coordination and/or joint activities.