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Inaugural Layton Dialogue 2018: Is Quantity Just a Matter of Quality?
12th December 2018 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
A Dialogue between:
Dr John Bunce (Senior Researcher, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)
Dr Matei Candea (Reader in Social Anthropology, Cambridge University)
Professor Catherine Alexander (Social Anthropology, Durham University)
Professor Helen Ball (Medical Anthropology, Durham University)
Professor Rob Barton (Evolutionary Anthropology and the IAS, Durham University)
What is the relationship between quantification and qualification? Advocates of ‘mixed methods’ approaches consistently highlight the benefits of combining these, but rarely interrogate the more fundamental commitments that underlie these differences. This dialogue considers how numbers can help or hinder interpretation of the social and biological phenomena we seek to understand as anthropologists. In particular we aim to interrogate how the methodological distinction between quantitative and qualitative research relates to broader differences of empirical focus (e.g. social, biological) and epistemological commitment (e.g. evolutionary as opposed to social science theory). To what extent are these differences necessarily connected and to what extent is this desirable? Do the predominantly qualitative orientations of social anthropologists relate to un-interrogated concepts about quantification? By the same token, have evolutionary anthropologists’ approaches to quantification produced analytic blind spots? In addressing what people say, think or do in relation to the contexts through which these thoughts and actions emerge, qualitative methodologies typically develop a holistic representation using local ontology; translations of conceptualizations that exist ‘in the world’ (e.g. as defined by informants). Yet when posed the same challenge, quantitative approaches would typically address these relations by delineating variables deemed most useful by the researcher to understand the anthropogenic system. Consequently, there has been a schism in the nature of the knowledge generated and interpretations of its value. For example, contrast interpretivist, holistic accounts of the particular used to reflect on the universal, with positivist, reductionist accounts of shared properties to explain observed variation. At the Autumn 2018 Layton Dialogue, we aim to interrogate these issues: critically assessing how the two methodologies relate to one another and the anthropological contexts to which they are applied. We focus on points of epistemological discord and consistency, aiming to enable a new generation of anthropologist to develop a fundamental appreciation of the affordances of each.