Qualitative versus quantitative methods
Deegan (1995: 338) points out that in the pre-1920 era mathematical sociology was women’s work, because it was technical rather than innovative, repetitive and uninteresting. After 1930, statistics became redefined as masculine. She criticises Bulmer (1984), who emphasised the importance of the quantitative tradition at Chicago, for searching for men across several disciplines to create one, yet ignoring the women, like Edith Abbott. In the first golden age, and under Park, the elite power group in the department valued qualitative research, and women were despised for their demographic and survey work.
Then, when quantitative methods rose in the discipline, they became associated with the elite work done by men. Once computing became available, of course, the drudgery of statistical work vanished, and the painstaking methodical ‘clerical’ work of doing statistics vanished altogether in favour of mere sophisticated mathematics. By the 1950s, although there were doctoral students and staff doing qualitative research, the image the department projected to MA students was overwhelmingly quantitative.
Jennifer Platt (1995: 94-5), an MA student in 1959-60, found that the programme was dominated by statistics courses: at that period the staff of the graduate school was all male. LeCompte recalls her period there late in the 1960s:
I was trained as a sociologist, but from the Chicago School of fieldwork, rather than from the highly quantitative and statistically rigorous sociology of the times. I am often thought of as an ethnographer… the term… used… for sociologists trained, as I am, in the Chicago School of sociological fieldwork. (1998: 201)
Suttles who supervised her master’s thesis, was ‘the last practitioner of field sociology, resident at the University of Chicago’s sociology department’ (ibid.: 202).