Ontology and methodology are schools of thought that explain different philosophies of science. Ontology covers a larger image of how we view the social world and how we believe it inherently functions. Namely, objectivists believe the social world exists apart from humans, and has stable qualities, in comparison to constructivists, who believe the social world is constructed by humans, and cannot be traced through patterns or predicted. Methodology, on the other hand, explains the reasoning behind choosing specific methods to complete research on something. Methodology and ontology reflect each other, and their philosophies must align. For example, if a person agrees with the constructivist ontology of believing that humans are agents within the social world, they will also use methodologies that reflect that belief. Therefore, the methods they choose with their methodology will search for explanations of specific instances, such as ethnographies or discourse analyses, because the researcher does not believe in stable patterns or prediction.
I don’t believe that humans can ever truly objectively observe our social world. Empirical data has little meaning until it is interpreted, and our interpretations will always be swayed by our experiences and biases. Reading Lisa Wedeen’s “Acting ‘As If’: Symbolic Politics and Social Control in Syria,” a great example of constructivist research, forced me to think about this impact.Wedeen analyzes symbolic social behavior in an oppressive Syrian regime up close, as an Arabic speaker but still a foreigner.This experience sets her understanding of Syrian symbolic interactions apart from those who do not speak Arabic and have never lived within Syrian culture, but her perception is still limited compared to native Syrians. These factors are important to shaping the depth of understanding, and therefore, there is no universal and objective understanding of the “M’s” story that Wedeen shares.My belief in impossible objectivity causes me to lean towards interpretivist perspectives, and I need to stay aware that I don’t ignore the potential in neo-positivist research methodologies as I look into my topic further.
One can most easily make valid knowledge claims about physical things, feelings, and interactions because these are observations that can be relayed exactly as they are and without interpretation. Valid knowledge claims can be made about more complex things, such as invisible structures and social norms, but these must be supported by simpler knowledge claims and data.