Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers

We define ontology as “the beliefs about the nature of reality”[1] i.e. how research seeks to understand the world and the research within it. Methodology is defined as “a study of methods and the logic of how researchers select their tools for data collection and analysis”[2] i.e. the tool kit for researchers to draw from and use as they conduct their research and thus facilitate understandings of realities.

I’ve been conceptualizing methodology and ontology not as wholly separate things but interrelated within the research process. Methodology is more blatant and in times easier to understand and visualize. Such as Edelstein’s small-NP with explicit variables and hypothesis that get to the logic of data such as measuring occupation within the realities of war[3]. Ontology gets to the very essence of research and inquiry: understanding the world around us and seems to be both broad and ambitious in a way that is harder to conceptualize but something that is highly valuable. I think ontology is demonstrated largely through the methodology. As researchers selectively choose their approaches and methodologies based on the aspects within the problems they see and how to explain them within the constraints of reality.

I think it’s difficult to ask for a researcher to be truly objective. As Abbott mentions, researchers should have “passionately disinterested curiosity” [4] a curiosity or interest that is passionate but not overly involved but not so detached that the topic is lacking. I think Abbott captures my own sense that there should be a balance between necessary objectivity and subjectivity.  In which biases and perspectives can drive passion and interest which make research topics or puzzles so puzzling.

A lack of objectivity is an issue of validity, in which credibility is being questioned and the researcher’s opinion becomes ‘biased’ but if we think of objectivity as relative than we are less willing to dismiss works solely on such a black-white basis. For example, Weeden’s perspective as a scholar writing about Syria from as a foreign outsider and using M’s Story to illustrate a connection of political symbols in Syria[5] could be both an issuer of objectivity and supporter of it. Weeden may lack objectivity on issues of cultural meaning within M’s story but maybe more objective in critiquing Syrian political control. In this way, an outside perspective adds to the credibility of the work as well as translate the issue, political control, to a wider audience. Therefore, objectivity becomes necessary in context.

I would want to research the broader context surrounding my topic, such as, external social factors that illustrate the environment and realities women face. Although I cannot yet make fully valid knowledge claims about women’s positions in society, I can say that the interests of women and the interests of their society are in opposition; conflicting and disabling in a way that leads to a bigger question of how women and their status are continually minimized. What can be done and how does this conflict arise? Is it inevitable or by design? These are questions that could lead to my puzzle and further my research.

[1] Boesenecker, Aaron. The Philosophy of Science: Discovering Our Intellectual Commitments, PPT Presentation,  SISU-206 Research, 2019.

[2] Boesenecker, Aaron. The Philosophy of Science: Discovering Our Intellectual Commitments, PPT Presentation,  SISU-206 Research, 2019.

[3] Edelstein, David M.  Occupational Hazards: Why Military Occupations Succeed or Fail, International Security 29, no. 1 (Summer 2004), 49-91.

[4] Abbott, Andrew Delano. Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences / Andrew Abbott. (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004), 247.

[5] Wedeen, Lisa. Acting As If Symbolic Politics and Social Control in Syria. Comparative Studies in Society and History 40, no. 3 (July 1, 1998)

3 thoughts to “Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers”

  1. FINAL EDIT

    I think you bring up some great points, particularly in your comparison between objectivity as an issue of validity. “A lack of objectivity is an issue of validity, in which credibility is being questioned and the researcher’s opinion becomes ‘biased’…” is an interesting quote I picked out, and I would like to draw it out a bit more. Since lack of objectivity is an issue of validity, could it be said that objectivity itself is an issue of validity? I agree with you that a balance between subjectivity and objectivity helps us understand the social world better (with heuristics) while maintaining a comfortable position of avoiding overgeneralizations. Personally, I draw that line in analyses of institutions and social norms versus studies of individuals. It would be interesting to hear your perspective on this topic and where you may draw your proverbial “line”, especially in regards to your point and further research into how women’s and society’s interests often contrast one another.

  2. I really liked how you framed ontology and methodology as interconnected ideas, not two distinct concepts. The idea you put forward that we can demonstrate our ontological views through the methodology we choose to employ helped me get a better idea of the relationship between the two. I also agree with your discussion of objectivity as an issue of validity, especially how objectivity isn’t just a yes/no question but has different dimensions. One point of curiosity I have after reading your post is how do we make sure our biases/interests help find that goldilocks zone of being passionate about a subject but simultaneously being not too caught up in that subject.

  3. Overall you’ve given us a good discussion of the core concepts in the philosophy of science as well as where you fall with your own knowledge commitments at the moment. Since you take the stance that we cannot be objective observers of the world (noting Abbott here is good!), 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?

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