Question: Are different personality types associated with certain kinds of (successful) sociological research projects?
Hypothesis: Yes. Specifically, qualitative researchers who come off as super awkward will be disfavored.
Argument: Sociologists break into roughly three types** based on the kind of data they draw on most heavily: quantitative (survey, census, etc.), qualitative (interview, ethnography, maybe deep textual analysis), and historical (archival, government docs, histories). Normally, I think these divisions in the field are overblown, and that divisions on “type of data used” are actually less useful than dividing the field by “is Sociology a science and what does that mean?”, a division which doesn’t cut the field in exactly the same way (i.e. there are qualitative scholars who believe Sociology is a capital S Science in pursuit of generalizable truth and critical quantitative scholars who treat all of their findings as very historically specific and use them to burst the bubble of generalize theory). But I think dividing the field up by these three data types might be useful for thinking about what makes for a good job, and specifically, for thinking about the kinds of competence a researcher needs to demonstrate to make their work credible.
To dramatically oversimplify (what else are blogs fors!), quant folks need to show mastery of their data (how it was generated, coded, operationalized, etc.) and statistical methods, historical folks want to come off as deeply knowledgeable about the case (but without actually telling you most of the details because that’s boring), and qualitative folks want to show off their rapport with key informants, and showcase how well they were able to elicit true and meaningful responses. A historical sociologist who fumbles key details of the case immediately loses credibility, just as a quantitative researcher who misinterprets a statistic or has trouble explaining a sampling procedure. But neither of these types of data require any particular set of social skills: you can be super smooth or super awkward and still find interesting features in a dataset or fascinating documents in the historical record. On the other hand, qualitative researchers usually generate data through personal interactions (interviews, participant observation, etc.) and thus, a qualitative sociologist must also establish their own social competence as part of the talk. To put it more bluntly, if someone comes across as super awkward, it’s harder to believe that their interviews or fieldnotes accurately reflect the complexities of the site/subject. Thus, when evaluating job talks, you would expect departments to care more about the social competence of qualitative sociologists, and less about that of historical and quantitative sociologists. In turn, this should lead to an observed correlation among those actually hired. It also means that qualitative sociologists need to do more work in the job talk setting to come off as nice, approachable, etc. in addition to seeming “smart” and “clever,” criteria on which everyone are judged.
Ok, enough randomness. What do you think?
*Ok, I had a lot of trouble thinking up a succinct title for this random-idea blog post, but you should read the title as “The Interaction of Job Talk and Data Type.”
**Or maybe four if we add in pure theorists.***
***Or five if we want to say “mixed-methods” is a separate thing, although it’s really a bunch of separate things that complicate the analysis so let’s ignore it.