From ESA – Strategies & Activities

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RN Reports – RN21 Quantitative Methods

Issue 45: Pandemic (Im)Possibilities vol. 1 Tue 2 Jun 2020

Jochen Mayerl, RN21 Coordinator 2019-2021
Kathrin Komp-Leukkunen, RN21 Co-coordinator 2019-2021

Our lives can be captured in numbers. For example, one can count how many children we have, election results are presented in percentages, and the Gini coefficient illustrates the income inequalities in a country. One can also determine the size and patterns of correlations between social phenomena, e.g. between poverty and political participation. One can be interested in empirically testing hypotheses for causal explanation of societal or individual events, and to dig into causal mechanisms. Because of these functions, numbers play a central role in sociological research. Quantitative methods help us to generate and interpret such numbers to describe, explain and predict individual and societal phenomena.

Quantitative methods focus on quantifiable empirical information. They analyse bigger amounts of data to find out what common situations are. This approach makes them an important counterpart of qualitative methods, which analyse smaller amounts of data to understand subjective meanings of actors. Quantitative methodology mainly follows a deductive theory-driven approach to test assumptions about social causes and social effects. Quantitative methods determine data quality in respect to validity and reliability, representativeness, generalisability, replicability and comparability; they assess how best to conduct surveys and other methods of data collection; and they explore statistical ways as well as research designs which help to control for third variables and unobserved heterogeneity in order to get causal explanations. All these functions make quantitative methods an important basis for sociological research.

The Research Network on Quantitative Methods brings together expertise on these methods within the European Sociological Association. It creates a dialogue between scholars who develop methods and scholars who apply them. It thereby helps to develop quantitative methods and to facilitate their use. In August 2019, the RN21 board described the “mission” of RN21 as follows: “The focus of RN21 is on the development, critical evaluation, and use of quantitative methods in sociological research. We are committed to offer an analytical perspective on sociology, where our theoretical arguments are strictly evaluated by empirical research.”

The ESA RN21 on Quantitative Methods was founded in 2011 as a successor to the former RN21 “RENCORE = Methods for Comparative Research in Europe”, which was active 1996-2011. The first coordinator of “Quantitative Methods” was Henning Best, with co-coordinator Valentina Hlebec (2011-2015), followed by Wolfgang Aschauer, with co-coordinator Jolanta Perek-Bialas (2015-2019). Since mid-2019, Jochen Mayerl is coordinator of our RN and Kathrin Komp-Leukkunen is the co-coordinator. By February 2020, RN21 had a total of 76 members, including five board members with specific functions, and seven members of the advisory board.

At the ESA conference in Manchester in 2019, RN21’s successful activities included 48 presentations in 13 sessions. It is important to note that RN21 organised six joint sessions with other Research Networks, indicating a strong collaboration within the ESA.

The latest midterm conferences of RN21 were held in Mannheim (Germany) in 2014, Nicosia (Cyprus) in 2016, and Kraków (Poland) in 2018 (see picture). Our upcoming midterm conference will be held in Lucerne (Switzerland), on October 9-10, 2020. The thematic focus will be “Quantitative Approaches to Analyzing Social Change”. All further information about the conference (programme etc.) is available on the conference homepage

RN21 midterm conference in Kraców, 2018; picture provided by the Jagiellonian University Krakow, Poland
RN21 midterm conference in Kraców, 2018; picture provided by the Jagiellonian University Krakow, Poland

Our Research Network will continue to develop in the future. Over the next few years, we plan to explore current developments, such as advances in longitudinal research and issues related to big data. Moreover, we want to strengthen our collaboration with survey research associations, which are those associations that collect the large-scale quantitative datasets that many sociological researchers use in their everyday work. Examples for such datasets are the European Social Survey, the European Values Study, the International Social Survey Programme, and the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe. Finally, we intend to involve emerging researchers more strongly in our Network, for example through workshops specifically designed for them. A new ‘best paper award’ for young researchers was just announced, and it will be awarded for the first time at our upcoming midterm conference in Switzerland this year.

Would you like to participate in our activities? You are very welcome to join our network, whether you are an experienced researcher or a novice. To sign up for our Research Network, go to the membership page of the European Sociological Association. To stay updated on our activities, have a look at our homepage. If you have any questions, you are welcome to email us at info[at]

We hope to welcome you at one of our events soon!

RN21 on the ESA website.

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