‘ Research’ involves a fluid, yet reflective, engagement with social and cultural contexts and/or natural phenomena.
It is part of a dynamic that moves to extend the horizon of what is knowable and/or the ways we may know.
It may also be a way of ‘re-knowing’, ‘knowing again’ or ‘knowing anew’ (differently).
It also can (should) lay support for what we may wish to ‘realise’ and in consequence ‘become’ – support for our ‘prospects’.
What is Research? …
Methodology Methodology is defined in the OED as the ‘science of method’. Methodology may be thought of the regulative principles (regulated by philosophic, political, religious etc. persuasions) that subtend the ‘volition of the research’. ‘ Methods’ are the particular individual, or, ensemble, of techniques deployed in carrying out research.
Competing Philosophies of Science Karl Popper (1902-1994) Popper proposed a single model of scientific explanation – the hypothetico-deductive; relying on falsification rather than verification to establish ‘truths’. Thomas Kuhn Rejects the ‘rationalist’ idea of development; he proposes that ‘mature sciences’ are characterised by ‘paradigms’ – producing methodological brackets. Paul Feyerabend Believes that all methodologies have their limits; and, rather than there being ‘one true method’ or indeed an ‘advanced paradigm’ he believes in ‘diversity of thought’ - in effect in epistemological anarchism.
Rejected inductivist empiricism – which claims that scientific theory is devised from rigorous and repeated observation – (the body of scientific knowledge was thought by such empiricists to be built from innumerable, systematic and repeated observations in which regular and particular features are drawn out and from which more general and universal ‘truths’ are induced (inductive logic). He argues that observation being finite cannot build a valid claim for all cases.
Popper advocated a rationalist epistemology rather than an empiricist epistemology. He believes that ‘theories’ are ‘prior’ to observation; in fact he believed that, indeed, ‘we cannot observe without theories’.
Popper contended that the goal of science is ‘true explanatory theories’; and that they are assessed for principles such as; ‘accuracy, explanatory scope, absence of internal contradictions or contradictions of other accepted theories, simplicity and fruitfulness’. By these kind of principles one can weigh up the merits of rival theories.
Popper was a falsificationist rather than a verificationist; he believed that scientist should try and refute theories rather than look for confirmatory evidence for their theories.
Kuhn rejected the rationalist view of scientific theory held by Popper; he ‘did not accept that there is a set of (rationally justifiable) principles for the comparison of, and choice between, competing theories’.
He argues that mature sciences are characterised by paradigms – ‘entire constellations of beliefs, values, techniques and so on’ shared by a scientific or other research community.
‘ Normal science’ would involve ‘problem-solving activity within the disciplinary cognitive world of the paradigm’; usually uncritical of the basic assumptions within the paradigm.
It is only when the paradigm is in crisis – through ‘recalcitrant and significant anomalies’ – that a fundamental change will be entertained and a paradigm shift will be effected. In certain cases the radical departure from the fundamentals of the old paradigm will mean that the two paradigms are incommensurable and a scientific revolution is brought about; old principals are overhauled and, in effect, the individual or community is converted to the new belief system.
Feyerabend claims that there is no single scientific method.
He develops a ‘powerful epistemological argument for using a diversity of methods to gain knowledge’. – an epistemological pluralism or anarchism .
He advances the idea that scientists should proceed ‘counter-inductively’; in other words by taking an oppositional stance to accepted theories and regular positions and techniques.
He is highly critical of the ‘scientific project’ – criticising scientists for their arrogance and unwillingness to tolerate different ideologies; especially their inability to engage with other ways of knowing.
Is it possible to establish a ‘truths’ about some ‘objective reality’?
Is it possible to claim an ‘objective reality’?
How do we agree the same ‘truths’?
How do we evaluate the worth of any ‘truth’?
Naturalists and Interpretivists Naturalists: Argue that the methods for the ‘natural sciences’ are also applicable to researching social forms; they argue that research is about establishing ‘universal truths’. Interpretivists: Advance that the methods of the ‘natural sciences’ are, if not inappropriate, then, not always appropriate in dealing with social ‘facts’ (?); they argue that research is in fact (sic) about ‘meanings’ and not scientific truths.
Durkheim was a naturalist ; arguing that the study of social life could and should be scientific.
For Durkheim sociology was the study of ‘social facts’ – the term ‘covering a wide range of regularities of social life….. religious beliefs and practices, the rules of morality and the innumerable precepts of law’.
In Durkheim’s view social science ought to be a rigorously empirical discipline; and thus it is/was necessary to eradicate the influence of values and preconceptions. He believed that ‘between us and the reality which we seek to know stands a whole host of assumptions, preconceptions, ideologies and beliefs’.
He believed that ‘empirical detachment is a precondition for scientific knowledge.
Emile Durkheim’s rules (or tenets) guiding social science research:
Negative rule – ‘one must systematically discard all preconceptions’
Positive rule – We must attend to the ‘inherent properties’ of the phenomena.
Our point of departure is the ‘real’ rather than our ideas.
‘ Social phenomena are things and should be treated as such … they are the social datum afforded the sociologist. A thing is in effect all that is given, all that is offered, or rather forces itself upon our observation. To treat phenomena as things is to treat them as data, and this constitutes the starting point for science’ ‘The Rules of Sociological Method’ Durkheim.
Weber tried to reconcile the naturalist and interpretivist traditions of social science.
For Weber values have a positive but limited role in social science research.
He believed that ‘reality is infinitely complex and that what we see and know represents a specific way of organising and selecting from an infinite number of sense impressions’ ….. in essence, a ‘reality’ can only emerge from ways of seeing, representing and knowing.
According to Weber we live in a world of irreconcilable values; with no rational or empirical ways of choosing between values.. ‘an empirical science cannot tell what you should do – but rather what you can do’.
Can anything ‘objective be produced by researchers, researching into social life?
Weber distinguishes between relevance for value and value freedom.
Relevance for value is the cultural significance of what we study – the concepts we use, how we research and in some measure what we choose to study (topic) are all value-laden (culturally determined).
Value freedom – once the topic and analysis framework are decided on the researcher is, in his eyes, obligated to determine the facts in a value-free manner.
Stanley and Wise are feminists who examine ‘the place of the personal within research’. They reject the notion of ‘research as orderly, coherent and logically organised’. They work with the idea of partial and multiple truths.
They believe that researchers cannot extricate themselves from the research complex. They accordingly reject the whole notion that one can determine ‘objective descriptions’ necessarily contingent on the separation of the researcher and the researched.
Stanley and Wise go further than this and suggest that an androcentric (proto-scientific) idea of objectivity (a ‘male gaze’) distorts reality and becomes, in their words, ‘an excuse for a power relationship every bit as obscene as the power relationship that leads to women being sexually assaulted, murdered and otherwise being treated as objects’.
They however in turn may be thought give a privileged position to their point of view. What is important is that they in some way acknowledge ‘from whence they speak’ so one can evaluate their objectivities accordingly. This is not true of the ‘scientific’ position with its claim to be value free.
Relativism Relativists argue that there aren’t universal truths; and that there is no one reality… on the contrary there are many truths and many realities. ‘ Different cultures employ radically different conceptual schemes defining what exists in the world, how things are organised in time and space, what sorts of relation obtain among things, and how some things influence others… [from this standpoint] it is not possible to give rational grounds for concluding that one such scheme is more congruent to reality than another’. Daniel Little
Values can be eradicated either through a rigorous detachment on the part of the social scientist or by means of the scientific community which independently evaluates research.
Values have a positive, but strictly limited role in research.
Values and personal experience are the fundamental resource out of which we can fashion disciplines that truly reflect what social life is like for those who live it. Here the researcher’s own emotions play an important role.
Relativism : the view that different theories construct their own conception of reality as well as criteria for evaluating claims to knowledge.
(directly quoted from ‘ Researching Society and Culture’ –ed. Seale )
There are no truths outside the Gates of Eden (Dylan) The social sciences cannot produce a ‘correct version’; at any one time it can only lay claim to having a ‘feasible version’ of any number of possible versions? ‘ The check of the independently real is not peculiar to science…… Reality is not what gives language sense…. Both the distinction between the real and the unreal and the concept of agreement with reality themselves belong to our language’. Peter Winch
Social sciences may be said to have its beginnings in the 18 th century – Enlightment.
The Enlightment spirit was progressive – it was thought that through the power of reason and rationality human conditions could be improved.
The Enlightment was a period of optimism where the power of science was believed to be able to transform and condition human existence for the better. There was an associated turn away from the authority of religious belief.
Saint-Simon (1760-1825), Comte (1798-1857) and Spencer (1820-1903) ‘developed this positive spirit in their social theories, to conceive of a social science that might guide the evolution of societies towards utopian forms…’
Functionalism involves the idea that society is spun out in a system of interwoven forces that produce stable social forms.
Functionalism tends to accept an over-determined view of people – ignoring the individual; not allowing that they may be able to form their own views and plan their own actions independent of the influence of society.
Functionalism is often associated with conservative thinkers who stress the idea of consensus and social order. It views from a distance; making judgements about and for the ‘greater good’ based on the general patterns discerned from the distance.
Marxism like functionalism is an attempt at a holistic theory – concerned with the structures and processes in a general rather than a particular sense. Marxism is concerned with conflictual change (revolution) whereas functionalism may be thought to be concerned with progressive change.
Taking up a Kantian idealism social science developed the interpretivist tradition: making distinction between the natural and the social .
The proposition is that social science is necessarily a ‘an intersubjective world of culture, consciousness and purposive action, in which relationships are organised through the ideas, values and interests of members of society…’
With this ‘view’ comes a ‘politics of critical, relativistic enquiry rather than social engineering’.
Idealism is the view that things exist only in so far as people think they exist.
Realism on the other hand is a view that ‘holds that the world has an existence independent of our perceptions of it, so that science is an attempt to explain in thought things that act independently of thought’.
Idealism enters the social sciences primarily through the work of Kant (1724-1804). Kant ‘argues that the mind introduces an order into sensory experience…..(and that it)…contains a world of values and freedom of action’ and that these values determine to a large extent purposive action.
The proposition for ‘idealism’ is that social science is necessarily ‘an intersubjective world of culture, consciousness and purposive action, in which relationships are organised through the ideas, values and interests of members of society…’
With this ‘idealistic view’ comes a ‘politics of critical, relativistic enquiry rather than social engineering’.
Weber’s action theory is based on the idea that ‘individuals give meaning to their actions and they have a purposive character’ which is the foundation of social action.
‘ Weber focused on the place of subjectivity, consciousness and culture in social life because, he argued, the social world consists of the subjectively meaningful action of individuals, as opposed to the intrinsically meaningless world of objects, which is nature’.
Society is produced when individual actors orient their actions to one another, acknowledging shared beliefs, values and interests.
Action theory research involves the researcher in tuning in (or empathising to some degree) with the actor…. Achieved not through identification with the actor (in which researcher tries to become actor) but by trying to understand the actors position and grasp their method (crucial for the method of understanding Weber calls verstehen - basis for rational rather than emotional understanding…creating the possibility for a science of action.
Action Theory George Simmel (1858-1918) focussed on a cultural analysis of social life. He examined how cultural organizations affect social consciousness, experience and identity. He wrote on topics such as religion, gender, capitalism and love to demonstrating how they influence and indeed condition modern consciousness.
Action theory :
is an alternative to functionalism – modifying quantitative empiricism, shifting emphasis to qualitative research.
moves from the analysis of social facts to the consideration of a social world whose meanings are found in spaces of intersubjective actions and interactions.
shifts from observation of structural determinations of everyday life to a-structural subjective experience.
treats the world as one where meanings and values are imbricated. It acknowledges the way the values of the researcher guide the research and condition the research ‘meanings’.
explanation is drawn from both experiential and factual evidence.
the researcher’s values direct to and determine the research question, the way the problem is conceptualized and in no small measure the way the results are evaluated.
commitment to verstehen does not preclude ‘causal explanation of actions. But, ‘Weber rejects the positivist notion of general laws’.
‘ explanations adequate at the levels of cause and meaning are the ideal’.
consists of showing ‘how meanings are the motivational determinants of action and provide a basis for the legitimation of its consequences’.
Symbolic Interactionism Similar to Action Theory but founded in the U.S.A. on the philosophy of Pragmatism (leading proponents Dewey and Peirce).
Pragmatism argues that all animal behaviour is practically oriented and adapted to their engagement with their environment.
In the case of humans this is through not only instincts (sense) but also thought and reflection (understanding); and thus means an engagement with it not only at a physical level but a symbolic one.
‘ Mead (1863-1931) brought the pragmatist perspective to bear on social behaviour arguing that human social conduct has a symbolic character’. There is a shared symbolic foundation that subtends social relations and interactions ( a plane of symbolic interaction).
In Meads work an individual (self) is constructed in interactions with ‘others’; the individual building the self in the perceived view of the others definition of ‘self’.
In Mead The ‘self’ is constructed through a conjoined ‘I’ and a ‘me’. The ‘I’ being the physiological and psychic activities of an individual and the ‘me’, is his or her internalized response to the view of the other.
In symbolic interactionism the individual self (constructed in a social reflection) is thus a society in miniature.
Symbolic Interactionism proposes that human action can best be understood by seeking to understand the symbolic calculus that guides it; through the culture or sub-culture which holds in brackets the individual.
Symbolic Interaction research involves researching the ‘naturally occurring’ activity rather than artificially constructed experimentation (naturalism).
Phenomenology was initially translated to the study of the social world by Alfred Schutz.
He developed the principle of ‘reciprocity of perspectives’ to understand social interaction.
‘ Reciprocity of perspectives’ hinges on two assumptions: The first assumption is that social actors if they were to swap place would perceive a shared situation in the same way as the other from the others perspective. Secondly, regardless of individual biographies and experiences that there will be a common understanding of the shared interaction. This Schutz acknowledges is an idealization but a necessary one. One where people transcend a subjectivity to construct an intersubjective world which holds the subject and all meanings.
Phenomenology is a philosophy in which human consciousness is placed at the fore of any understanding of the world (Husserl (1859-1938) regarded as the founding father). Husserl was critical of a naïve attitude which tried to produce factual accounts of the natural and social worlds. He advanced the idea that the world (whichever) requires human recognition for its existence; and it is thus a ‘human construct’ (social construct).
Schutz proposes that language is the place where ideas about the world are naturalized. He writes that everyday language is ‘the typifying medium par excellence .. a treasure-house of ready made pre-constituted types and characteristics, all socially derived, carrying along an open horizon of unexplored content’.
Schutz refers to these as first-order typifications ; and they are what makes communication possible – laying the intersubjective ground.
Second-order typifications is the language of the expert (social scientist) who tries to limit the openness of first-order typification by trying to precisely fix the meanings of terms.
The American social scientist Harold Garfinkel coined the term ethnomethodology.
Ethnomethodology is concerned with microsocial interactions (small scale – between individuals or in small groups). As with phenomenology language is considered the essential ground.
Garfinkel argued that people were not merely products of social institutions but actively involved in producing them.
Social life is seen as an accomplishment particularly in and through language.
All human activity (including social science) is seen as artifice – in other words, a human construct.
Indexicality and Reflexivity Indexicality and reflexivity are key to understanding the ethnomethodological view of language The meaning of words is contingent on the context of use and relationship to other words. Words ‘index’, rather than referring to determined meanings. Language is, in addition, reflexive – reflecting everyday activity as ordered or sensible.
Structuralism Structuralism is intrinsically concerned with language; seeing it as the determining deeper structure which shapes the meaning of our actions. Structuralist believed that phenomena as diverse as myths, restaurant menus, boxing, music scores and kinship rituals are surfaces whose deeper meanings are determined at a deeper level as a system of signs. ‘ Social action itself is, for the purposes of structuralist analysis, a surface manifestation (appearance/surface) of a series of deeper master patterns (essence/depth), internalized at the level of cognition.
Post-structuralism Post-structuralist thought is associated largely with French theorists like Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari; a list of other influential thinkers would include Irigaray, Kristeva, Levinas, Spivak, Lyotard. They are concerned to comprehend life not as ‘something composed of identities, objects and subjects, but of difference, complex relations and instability’. Foucault’s studies (sexuality, ethics, health, madness, discipline, government) are ‘concerned with the different modes by which human beings are made subjects’. Foucault proposes that ‘with the development of modernity and modern capitalism, a new regime of social power emerges that takes life itself as its object’ (bio-power) operating through thoroughly heterogenous ensemble[s] consisting of discourses, institutions,architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws,administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions’. In other words ‘ discursive formations ’.
Post-structuralism and Post-Modernism Post-structuralist research is concerned with the formations and regimes that, at one and the same time, produce and also overwhelm the human subject. Theorists of postmodern culture include poststructuralist but are also include those of other theoretical dispositions. Postmodernist thought is incredulous of modernist (out of Enlightment) metanarratives (grand explanatory schemes). ‘ Postmodernism introduces instability and uncertainty into knowledge claims and practices’ and it promotes a ‘more pragmatic and situated model of research’. ‘ Media images are a central object of study for those interested in postmodernism. Importantly, the image tends to be analysed not in terms of the meaning or ideology encoded within it, but in terms of intensities, affects and desires it arouses in the consumer, and the way this relates to new forms of selfhood, collective experience and control’.
Validity and Power Validity refers to ‘truth value’. But whose truth? And how do we know if true? Reliability concerns the consistency with which research procedures deliver their results (regardless of the truth). For example, if the same questionnaire was presented to the same individual on two separate occasions would he or she answer in the same way. Replicability refers to the consistency of the whole research project. Can it be proved through repetition?
Validity and Power The heart of the Western knowledge project, which includes both conventional and postpositivist orientations, is research. The purpose of research is to study the world (the Other). The desire to explain (through research) is… a symptom of the desire to have a self (the researcher) that can control knowledge and a world that can be known (i.e. converted to the Same)’. Research Method in the Postmodern p85 J.J. Scheurich. Validity is the determination of whether the Other has been acceptably converted into the Same, according to a particular epistemology. The world is the raw untamed Other, as in raw data and as in rejected, invalid research. It must be cooked into a valid research-based theory so as to be visible and knowable; the coarse, untheorized, polyvocal Other is considered to be insufficient unto itself. It must be given meaning and appropriate form. It cannot be accepted as knowledge in its raw or rejected form; it must be re-formed (reformed) by valid theory so that it can acceptably exist within the boundary line drawn by particular validity criteria. Research Method in the Postmodern p85 J.J. Scheurich.
Research Ethics Methods are ‘human products with institutional histories and micro-politics of their own’; consequently there isn’t a set of neutral techniques that can be applied to investigate socio-cultural contexts, which renders the researcher’s position beyond question and which absolves him/her of responsibility.