It’s already well-established that, from a historical perspective, social sciences throughout the unfolding waves of positivism were slightly overshadowed by their older brother, the “hard” sciences. The issue at stake was prediction-offering (for an excellent analysis see Lowi:1992). However, growing socio-economic complexities have rendered moot this quasi-puritanical search. Modern approaches in social sciences are dynamic, micro-studies-orientated, self-critical and constantly intertwining methodologies. Interdisciplinarity seems to be on everyone’s lips as the only way forward. The aim of this brief article is to try and make out some features of this catch-all phrase that is “interdisciplinarity”: is everything just jumbled together or are there rules to the game? Obviously, a full-on theoretical assessment is beyond my scope here, hence I will limit myself to looking at just a few problems that lurk under the surface of the huge umbrella that is “interdisciplinarity”.
In a rather simplified version it can be epitomized that full reliance on quantitative methods can hinder the connections and interactions that represent the substance of everyday life (Bryman:2012). On the other hand, qualitative studies can sometimes fail replicability tests, as well as being generally considered more fluid and better adapted to uncovering an “inside view” rather than overarching patterns (Bryman:1984). In laymen’s terms blending qualitative and quantitative studies seems the way out. Certainly, the two methods do complement each other, yet universal recipes for success do not exist, because ideal-type situations only exist on paper. The issue at stake here is not which method comes first, or which one should be used “more” (technicalities to continue down the line of Bryman), but rather of a different nature: positivism vs. phenomenology. The simplified interdisciplinary approach would advocate that obviously it remains to each researcher to adapt the method to the particular issue at hand. It is beyond a shadow of a doubt that this selection process is indeed crucial, however what seems to happen is a mere amalgamation: either some “quantitative calculations” introduced into qualitative studies, or some “participant observation” introduced into surveys, all in the name of a distorted understanding of “validity”.
Certainly, in the levels of high academia this approach is seldom accepted. However, when we go down a few steps, at the level of main-stream research the situation is worrisome: a fetish towards predictions and accurate measurements of the “voice of the people”. As classic economics seem to be facing internal convulsions due to the shattering effects of the somewhat surprising economic crisis (see Krugman:2013 for an interesting argument in line with the aforementioned researcher’s choice idea), sociology seems to be taking up the mantle of offering predictions. Wide-scale polls on happiness, welfare schemes, immigrants, national pride and so on are being flaunted as ultimate expressions of democratic popular will. By lacing surveys with some anthropological approaches to issues such as culture and language, these snap-shot surveys (sometimes longitudinal as well) are ultimately short-term political propaganda tools.