Both/And vs Either/Or Thinking

I’ve participated in and/or observed a lot of hot academic debates such as “language rules or language constraints?”, “qualitative or quantitative research?”, “English or Spanish?” “Mac or PC” and a new addition “Is history about trends or dates?” The premise behind many of these discussions is that you must choose between or option OR another. Rarely is it the case that a discussion centers around the idea that maybe BOTH categories could be appropriate.
As a linguist, I believe in categories, but have you noticed that items often fall into more than one category? Or that depending on what “filter” you have on at the time – items may appear different?
Take the social science debate of “quantitative” (data primarily from statistical analysis) “qualitative” (data from interviews). Quantitative specialists prefer this method because results are more precisely quantified and easier to generalize (assuming your survey pool is long enough). On the other hand qualitative specialists feel that interviews allow to learn unexpected details that a survey might miss and will allow you to follow an productive inquiry path with a subject as needed.
But guess what – I think both perspectives are both right…in their own way. I do like that qualitative studies can give you more details and unexpected twists, but it usually is hard to generalized (unless you bring in some statistical analysis). On the other hand, quantitative statistics is great for highlighting oddball trends a casual user might miss in an interview. The only problem is that if you don’t ask for the right input, you might miss a discovery. Using both strategies might give you a fuller picture of a social trend.
Yet from what I have seen students in the social science pursuing a degree are typically forced to choose EITHER quantitative or qualitative. Only rarely are you allowed to combine BOTH quantitative and qualitative together. The idea that you might want to combine two techniques seems almost heretical.
FYI – Linguistics has the same “either/or” issues to suffer through. For instance it’s rare to find a linguist comfortable with both formal grammatical theory and sociocultural issues.
And it’s not just academia. I often hear discussions of whether immigrant children in the US should learn English or their parents’ language. Why not both? Their little brains are set up for multiple languages.
Or maybe you wonder if a university should be all PC or all Mac. Maybe the answer depends on whether you are working on supply chain managment (PC probably) or video editing (Mac probably). This is one reason why a major university usually has to support both platforms…even if to adds to overhead.
I know there are sometimes we have to choose (left turn or right turn to the grocery store) but there are many times I wish society was more willing to explore some “both/and” options.
For instance, maybe it really is OK for people to say both “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” – I never understood why either side asked us to choose just one holiday salutation.

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