Quantitative and Qualitative Experiential Knowledge

Here are two statements:

“I know what self-identified Latinos say they think about a potential Trump presidency”


“I know how it feels to be a Latino thinking about a potential Trump presidency.”

They are very different statements: one is a knowledge claim about an entire group’s self-reporting, the other is a subjective/qualitative claim about belonging to a group. We can think of the first statement as an example of quantitative experiential knowledge and the second statement an example of qualitative experiential knowledge. There’s also the God’s eye view that accurately reflects what Latinos really think, but that’s probably a separate thing.

I was thinking about this yesterday, as a friend was describing why she wanted to have black female speakers in an event she was organizing. She wanted to ‘represent their perspective.’ I mulled that thought over in my head a bit, because I have occasionally been asked things like,

“what do Latinos think about a potential Trump presidency?”

That question is certainly racial. Latinos are not a unified political group. Duh. We come from many distinct areas, have very distinct experiences, and are even racially quite diverse. I pass for white most times. It may be ethnically insensitive or merely curious about experiences outside their own understanding. In the past, whenever I’ve been asked that question, I’ve responded,

“I have no clue, ask a pollster.”

But upon reflection1, I think one or both of us is conflating2 qualitative and quantitative experiential knowledge. There exists quantitative experiential understanding, which could merely be a summary of how various people respond when asked their opinions. There’s also qualitative experiential understanding, which typically requires lived experience.

So my friend inviting a black female speaker to an event may add qualitative experiential knowledge, but she may accidentally invite someone who has marginal3 views, giving poor quantitative experiential knowledge. If she was interested in the latter (she probably isn’t), she should just invite a pollster, sociologist, or historian.

So one of the reasons questions about the Latino experience seem so odd to me is that I know the experience is fairly diverse and I have a poor understanding of many of the quantitative aspects. The other reason is that I pass for white, so I also have a poor understanding of the qualitative aspects.

So…. damn.

  1. fancy way of saying ‘thinking’ []
  2. fancy jargon for confusing []
  3. philosopher for crazy []

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