Ontology is one’s conceptualization of the general state of the world and knowledge that can be found in it.1 While it is used in research, it is more of a worldview or a belief system than a research tool. It forms the basis of a person’s understanding about the world and therefore determines what kind of information that person might seek in research. As a general rule, people’s ontological conceptualizations do not change depending on the research project or topic. Methodology, on the other hand, is a set of specific research tools one chooses for a specific research goal. It cannot be separated from research but is rather a description of the means one is using in researching to a certain end. Because methodology is chosen for specific research project, a researcher will often employ various different methodologies depending on the nature of their current project.2
Personally, I would consider myself an objectivist. I believe it is possible to be an objective researcher of the social world.3 Just like the natural world, I believe there are rules about behavior which can be uncovered to explain phenomena of the social world. Research generates knowledge that helps us understand all elements of the social world, from what we can see to what we can feel to the norms and patterns that govern our daily lives.
That is not to say I don’t believe researchers have biases which can affect findings or that in certain cases a researcher can change how interactions unfold. A researcher can change the surroundings they are researching. But the very fact that that is accepted as a common occurrence means it is at least approaching a rule about the social world. And at a more fundamental level, I believe it is possible to work past individual biases to find common patterns and general rules, particularly when research builds on work done by others.4
Since I believe rules can be found, it is logical that I follow a neo-positivist epistemology and believe that the goal of research should be to find these rules and use them to predict future behavior.5 In the vast majority of cases, I take a pragmatic view and think research is most useful when it can be used for purposes beyond just further research.6 Predictive research is most likely to be used in public policy or published in newspapers because it offers a guide, rather than just observations. I believe this appeal to actors outside of researchers makes this kind of knowledge particularly useful and important.
- Aaron Boesenecker, “Philosophy of Science,” Video, 15:47, Posted by Aarron Boesenecker.
- Andrew Abbott. Methods of Discover: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004), 27.
- Abbott, 43.
- Ibid, 9.
Abbott, Andrew. Methods of Discover: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004.
Boesenecker, Aaron. “Philosophy of Science.” Video, 15:47. Posted by Aarron Boesenecker.