Quantitative Research in the Humanities

Quantitative research in the humanities falls into three broad categories:

1. The use of corpora as a means to analyze text for broad patterns.
2. Coding qualitative data to categorize it, thus making the data more readily quantifiable.
3. Using theories from quantitative fields (i.e., experimental psychology, biology, linguistics) to inform humanistic theories of rhetoric, composition, and literature.

As humanist scholars, we often comment on "language and X", seeking to discover how the former affects the latter: language and gender, language and identity, language and sexuality, langauge and race, language and class. However, reading the literature quickly shows that often the emphasis is placed on X, leaving not much room for a discussion of language, what it is and what it does qua language in the contexts we explore. Hermeneutics becomes the sole means of research. However, if being a scholar in the humanities means paying attention to language, and if being a rhetorician in particular means analyzing how and why people use the language they use, then a space should be carved for researchers who wish to study language and orthography from a more descriptive perspective. Of course, quantitative analysis should by no means replace other methodologies or even be the dominant methodology in the humanities. However, quantitative research can provide our work with a solid foundation for critical analysis, giving our articles and books an imprimatur of intellectual rigor that will gain the field more respect and a wider audience in the 21st century.

By quantitative research, I mean research that allows us to measure, to model, and to analyze language with terms and symbols whose referents and definitions will not shift as readily as they shift when hermeneutic and ethnographic methods are employed by the researcher. This is the great benefit of quantitative analysis: it allows researchers and their audiences to be sure that certain words and ideas mean (more or linfosthetics02.jpgess) the same thing both intra-textually and inter-textually. Terms like identity or subaltern may shift referentially from text to text or even within the same text, but terms like percentage and participial phrase retain a stability that allows researchers to "be on the same page" when it comes to terminology and analysis. Of course, the signifier slips no matter how hard we try to avoid it; quantitative analysis is merely a way to avoid that slippage as much as we are able.