Indexed on: 07 Mar '18Published on: 01 Mar '18Published in: The American Sociologist
Criticism against quantitative methods has grown in the context of “big-data”, charging an empirical, quantitative agenda with expanding to displace qualitative and theoretical approaches indispensable to the future of sociological research. Underscoring the strong convergences between the historical development of empiricism in the scientific method and the apparent turn to quantitative empiricism in sociology, this article uses content and hierarchical clustering analyses on the textual representations of journal articles from 1950 to 2010 to open dialogue on the epistemological issues of contemporary sociological research. In doing so, I push towards the conceptualization of a social scientific method, inspired by the scientific method from the philosophy of science and borne out of growing constructions of a systematically empirical representation among sociology articles. I articulate how this social scientific method is defined by three dimensions – empiricism, and theoretical and discursive compartmentalization –, and how, contrary to popular expectations, knowledge production consequently becomes independent of choice of research method, bound up instead in social constructions that divide its epistemological occurrence into two levels: (i) the way in which social reality is broken down into data, collected and analyzed, and (ii) the way in which this data is framed and made to recursively influence future sociological knowledge production. In this way, empiricism both mediates and is mediated by knowledge production not through the direct manipulation of method or theory use, but by redefining the ways in which methods are being labeled and knowledge framed, remembered, and interpreted.