3 Introduction to quantitative research
Our aim in this section is to provide a general introduction to some of the basic principles of quantitative research.
Quantification is involved in many of our ordinary dealings with the world in everyday life and is not restricted to science. We count things, and we may also judge them in terms of degree; and we use various technological devices, from rulers to clocks, to help us in doing this. We also deploy quantification in making sense of our own and of others’ behaviour. We think about how often we go to the gym, pray, have sex, and so on; and we also talk about how strongly we or others believe in various things, how effective teaching has been, how powerfully events affected us, who does most work, who has more and less power or freedom, and so on.
At the same time, it is also true that in the twentieth century there was huge growth in the production of quantitative data in modern societies, both within and outside of social sciences. Finance is a discipline associated from its very beginning with quantitative data and related research. Given recent trends in high frequency trading (HFT), databases with trillions of observations are now commonplace in financial firms.
To some extent, there is always the danger of a misplaced ‘trust in numbers’. Quantitative research has been closely associated with attempts to make modern social and economic institutions more publicly accountable in terms of their performance and outcomes. Almost all quantitative researchers would probably agree that there are examples of quantitative data produced about important matters that are of doubtful, or even negative, value because the data do not accurately represent what they purport to capture. At the same time, most qualitative researchers would not deny that quantification is appropriate in relation to some social phenomena.