September 16, 2019 - Caroline

RPP #3: Philosophical Wagers

As much as I would like to say that I can be an objective observer of the social world, I believe that researchers, including myself, are inseparable from the world in which they live in and are attempting to better understand. So, when it comes to ontology or the possible information or knowledge that exists out in the world to gain, it is important to consider the context. When discussing research in class, we often refer to joining and contributing to an ongoing conversation. An important part of viewing academic conversations as “social activities”[1] is considering the various values, faiths, and personal experiences that shape the ideas people are bringing to them. Despite my more constructionist position, however, I often find myself looking at my own research interests with the aim to generalize rather than contextualize. I think this is because for most people (or even our society as a whole) our default setting or most common way to conceptualize the world is through our own versions of “objectivity.” No matter how objective we think we are being, there really is no pure form of it. In other words, no matter how logical or rational a person is, their research will be affected by how they inherently view the world. For example, their views may not play a role in the actual outcomes or data but might in the word choice of how that data is explained or analyzed.

As discussed in class, research can be conducted on a myriad of topics. I have read studies on everything from the measurements of nitrogen outputs of legumes in the soil to the connotations of versions of the word “you” in different languages. I believe this is why understanding and exploring methodology is so important because it focuses on how knowledge can be gained, whereas ontology focuses on what knowledge. It is the decision-making process that comes with any research project. Research might differ in topics explored or methods used, but certain criteria must be met in order for it to actually be considered what the question describes as a “valid knowledge claim.” This is where concepts we’ve learned like internal validity, reflexivity or reliability come in to ensure that one’s research is trustworthy and accurate no matter what lens or methodology they use.

As for implications, Schwartz-Shea and Yanow describe them best when saying that in interpretivist research “initial research expectations” are “unfolding” as they are “considered and explored” rather than being “narrowly tested” in positivist research.[2] Therefore, my own expectations, along with what aspects of the topic I focus on, might depend on what approach I choose. Nevertheless, the main idea that “social science aims to explain social life”[3] whether that “explanation” is based on a universal pattern or social context, will be the basis of my understanding of its nature.



[1] Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams et al., “Connecting with Your Reader,” in The Craft of Research 4th Edition (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2016), 16

[2] Peregrine Schwartz-Shea and Dvora Yanow, “Starting from Meaning: Contextuality and its Implications,” in Ways of Knowing (New York, Routledge, 2012), 53

[3] Andrew Abbott, “Explanation,” in Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences (New York, W.W. Norton, 2004), 8

Research / SISOlson / SISOlson19


  • Avatar Price says:

    I think you did a great job of expressing the tension that many of us (myself included) feel when comparing our abilities between objectively observing the world to arguing that we are only capable of reproducing our own reality. The struggle that I have, and I think is the logical next step once we discover this tension, is determining the point from which we choose one method over a different one. The margins are clear- if we are doing research over the entire human species: past, present, and future, generalizing may be acceptable. If we are doing research into a specific cultural group with no variables of comparison between our own culture and theirs, it is unlikely that generalization is going to be useful. I’m curious to hear what you have to think about research in the middle, between the margins. Is it simply a choice of research design? Or are there inevitable drawbacks and/or benefits that have to be considered, thus limiting the scope of every research study? I gather that your stance is one based in interpretivism. As I am in the same boat, I hope we can both appreciate neopositivism as a potential study method in the future for our research.

  • Caroline — overall you’ve given us a good overview of how you connect to some of the core concepts in the philosophy of science and where you stand with your knowledge commitments (for now at least). I liked the clear distinction between how we can understand ontology vs. methodology in the second paragraph. You’ve also received some good questions from Price, so make sure to keep considering those comments as you continue to reflect on your own philosophical wagers.

    Since the question of objectivity came up, I would ask what you think of the main wager made by neopositivists: namely that the researcher may well be “biased” in some sense, but the very role of systematic, transparent, replicable procedures (methodology!) is to mitigate or eliminate such biases? Not even the most die-hard of neopositivists would assert that humans can be completely objective and unbiased, so isn’t this more a question of the procedures we use (and the way that the larger community of skeptical experts reviews our work)?

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