There is no question about it, quantitative analysis requires that we count. But counting requires a sharp focus, a clear definition of whatever it is that we count. Proponents of qualitative analysis are then able to point to this or that anomaly or neglected part of the background and smugly assert, “See! There’s something you just don’t get.” The annoying thing is that they’re right. To which proponents of quantitative analysis, drawing on a philosophical tradition that insists that knowledge requires precise definition, reply,”But you don’t know anything at all.” If we accept their premises, they, too, are right. A third pragmatic position, the one I suggest here proposes that we count whenever we can, while also keeping our eyes open to possible complications. Oscillating back and forth between counting and what our counting misses leads to richer understanding. Consider, for example, teams.
As any sports fan knows, the number of players on the court, pitch or field can dramatically change the game. Tennis played as singles or doubles and rugby sevens (with seven players) and standard rugby (15 players) are good examples. Ditto for six-on-six (a now largely archaic form of women’s basketball) and NBA five-on-a-team basketball. Some games like football (soccer) and ice hockey include penalties that remove players from the pitch or rink without replacement, often with devastating results for the team left with fewer players.
In my own research on the social networks of winners of a Japanese advertising contest, I have had to think about the implications of working in larger and smaller teams on advertising creatives’ careers. Teams that produce newspaper ads average five members; teams that produce TV commercials average more than 10. I see two clear results in my data. People who work in TV have much larger personal networks and the mode of the network distribution is in the third circle of people with whom they are connected. People who work on newspaper ads will have smaller personal networks and the mode will not appear until the fifth or sixth circle. (“Circle” refers here to the number of steps in the path that connects ego to alter. Thus, for example, “third circle” refers to those three steps from Ego.)
These gross differences may, however, conceal important subtleties. All creative teams include both core members, those primarily responsible for coming up with ideas, and production staff who contribute craft skills to producing the work. A newspaper ad team is likely to include a creative director, a copywriter, and an art director in the core, plus an illustrator or photographer and the designer who produces the final layout. A typical ratio of creative core to production staff is, then, 3:2. A TV commercial team is likely to include the same creative core (creative director, copywriter and art director–with the copywriter or art director doubling as the commercial planner who comes up with the rough storyboard). Some production staff may be purely craft specialists. Others, however, the producer and film director for example, be closely involved at the idea development stage. A typical ratio might be 4:6 on paper, but in terms of involvement with the project, 6:4 might be more realistic. Considering these numbers suggests all sorts of questions for ethnographic exploration. How tight is the core, for example; do the same people tend to work together on multiple projects? It may seem likely that the turnover in the core is lower than in the production staff. But is this true? Or equally true for newspaper ads and TV commercials? But these are quantitative questions—we are back to counting again, but also to thinking qualitatively. If differences in turnover do exist do they reflect the nature of ties to the agency in charge of the ad? As an agency employee? An employee of a TV production company? A freelancer? And how are these formal relationships affected by informal personal ties, e.g. a creative director’s preference for a particular freelance cameraman who is both a drinking buddy and delivers the look that a particular project requires?
The deeper we dig, the more artificial the classic Quant vs Qual distinction becomes. As we oscillate between the scientist’s search for things to count and the humanist’s attention to depths lurking in unexamined detail, our understanding grows deeper still.