Quantitative social research currently faces two major challenges:
- The first one refers to the spread of new technologies, which has for quantitative research positive as well as negative consequences. On the one hand our methods profit from new technological possibilities such as mobile communication, new internet platforms, cheap high-speed computing, computer assisted surveys, and big data collections. This opens new opportunities for the gathering and processing of information: by exploring the web, researchers get data about informal social networks, the self-representation of social-media-users, response patterns in computer assisted experiments and surveys, etc. On the other hand, the rise of explorative approaches based on machine-learning and big data seems to reduce the importance of theory-driven research. Various disciplines collaborate in collecting and analyzing huge amounts of socio-technical data, often without taking care of measurement errors, sampling issues, etc. This trend endangers the established procedures of theory-driven empirical social research and calls for a discourse about rigorous research based on the new technological possibilities.
- As a second challenge, quantitative methods are exposed to rising criticisms of being inappropriate for a "deeper" understanding of the social world. Regarding the major social problems of contemporary Europe such as cultural diversity, social inequalities, and rising gaps between and within the European countries, it may be advisable to include culture-specific research perspectives, to consider new units of analysis, and to to draw conclusions based on quantitative and qualitative research methodologies (e.g. by mixed-methods approaches). Thus, for the community of quantitative researchers, this second challenge is a call to think more profoundly about the technical, ethical, and epistemological limits of its methodological approach. It is, however, also an opportunity to stress the strong points of quantitative research, e.g. by demonstrating its power in the fields of social planning, forecasting, policy evaluation, social reporting, monitoring of societal trends, comparative cross-national studies, scrutinizing social mechanisms, causal analysis by (quasi-) experimental designs, efficient visualizations of big volumes of data, etc.
Consequently, this mid-term conference aims at an overview of the potentials of quantitative research as well as a critical assessment of its technical, epistemological, and ethical boundaries. Thus, we welcome papers and panels about the following topics, which are of course by no means exhaustive:
- The internet as a new data-source: social media, web-links, big data, internet-based experiments, etc.
- Mobile communication as a device for data-gathering: activity-tracking, bio-medical monitoring, automated diaries, GPS data etc.
- The new potentials of cheap high-speed computing: statistical learning, social simulation, data- and text-mining, bootstrapping for parameter estimation, other numerically intensive statistical procedures, etc.
- Epistemological questions: explaining and understanding social reality in quantitative studies.
- Mixed-methods as an alternative: taking the best out of two worlds? Theoretical and methodological approaches of mixed-methods research, etc.
- The issue of comparability: etic and emic approaches for researching European developments. Defining new units of analysis beyond “methodological nationalism”: social network analysis, research focused on relationships among social entities, etc.
- Quantitative approaches with regard to applied topics (e.g. value research, dealing with inequalities, quality of life).
- Specific challenges with regard to “hard-to-reach” groups (e.g. refugees, immigrants, older people, persons in closed institutions).
- Ethical questions of new methods of data-gathering: where are the limits set by the respect of privacy and the uncertainty about the informed consent of the field?
- Reviving traditional methods: Strategies for increasing the participation in surveys, methods for achieving international comparability, interviews about sensitive topics, measurement errors etc.
Please submit your suggested contribution (individual presentation or session proposal with at least three presentations) by sending it HERE. Abstract submission ends 15th of March, 2018.