Notes on Methods
Mind the Gap?: Navigating the
Quantitative and the Qualitative
in Survey Research
One of the persistent concerns and conflicts faced by social scientists who study different aspects of
Indian society and politics pertains to a methodological divide. This divide is constituted by a separation
of methods into the quantitative and qualitative broadly. While these two categories cover a wide range
of methods and techniques of research and data collection, they have also been treated as representing
two polarities of the social sciences, often seemingly opposed. This note will explore the division
between the quantitative and qualitative.3 While we feel that any divide in method and theory is counter-
productive to the larger project of studying political life, we want to try and see how this separation can
be bridged without necessarily forcing cohabitation. By looking at the survey as a method, this note is an
initial attempt to engage in a dialogue between quantitative- and qualitative-oriented scholars and to
perhaps consider how the two groups are far closer than they think.
Look Closely or examine (someone or something)
Examine and record the area and features of (an area of land) so as to construct a map or a plan
Investigate the opinions or experience of (a group of people) by asking them questions
—Survey, Oxford English Dictionary
The survey is a tool that is ubiquitous with any act of gathering data on collectives of human beings,
whether one is interested to know of the composition of a group in a given area, their place in networks
of relatedness, their attitude to politicians or brands of soft drinks. As the definition from the Oxford
English dictionary indicates, ‘to survey’ is essential to what any social scientist seeks to achieve in their
work. In its current form as popularly understood, the survey represents one of the most well-known
1 Department of Sociology, South Asian University, Akbar Bhavan, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, India.
2 Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.
3 We do not cover the much treaded ground of the advantages and limitations of each method (refer Babbie, 2007; Creswell, 2009).
Studies in Indian Politics
© 2018 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Ankur Datta, Department of Sociology, South Asian University, Akbar Bhavan, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, India.
Note: This section is coordinated by Divya Vaid. E-mail: email@example.com