Sociological Explanations between Micro and Macro and the Integration of Qualitative and Quantitative Methods
Despite the ongoing "war" between methodological camps this paper will argue for an integration of qualitative and quantitative methods in the sociological research process. For this purpose a short overview about important methodological discussions addressing basic questions of mixed (qualitative and quantitative) method designs will be given focusing on the term "triangulation" which is seen by many authors as a central concept for method integration. However, this notion carries systematic ambiguities, at least when transferred to the integration of qualitative and quantitative methods—triangulation does not represent a single integrated methodological concept but a metaphor with a broad semantic field. Three different understandings of the triangulation metaphor will be discussed: Triangulation as mutual validation, triangulation as the integration of different perspectives on the investigated phenomenon and triangulation in its original trigonometrical meaning. These understandings of triangulation will be contrasted with examples from sociological life-course research projects which combined qualitative and quantitative panels in order to answer certain research questions. The examples clearly demonstrate that each of the three understandings may have a value by showing different possibilities for relating qualitative and quantitative results in one research project to each other. However, none of these three concepts may serve as a general methodological model for the integration of qualitative and quantitative methods. In the final section of the paper it will be argued that the most crucial problem of the methodological discussions surrounding mixed-method (qualitative and quantitative) designs is that epistemological and methodological concepts are not sufficiently linked to theoretical considerations about the nature of the investigated social structures and social processes. In its concluding section the paper will briefly outline some ways that the already-discussed examples from sociological life course research as well as the discussions about triangulation could be integrated into a more general theoretical framework. The focus of these considerations will lie on the distinction between the micro- and macro-level of sociological description and on current discussions about individualisation processes in modernising societies. Thereby it will be shown that an understanding of triangulation in its original trigonometrical sense (although it cannot be considered as a methodological model suitable for all aspects of method integration) may be helpful in gaining a deeper insight into theoretical aspects of method integration in sociology.
triangulation; mixed method designs; validity; life course research; individualisation; micro-macro link; methodological paradigms