Before we had the chance to discuss the differences in class, I was unable to fully articulate in my own words how methodology and ontology differ from one another, especially because Abbott¹ placed all the methodologies, ontologies, and debates on knowledge in the same chart on page 54, comparing them in similar categories. However, as we began to examine examples of different studies implementing various aspects of Abbott’s matrix, I was able to more easily wrap my head around the concepts. To my understanding, methodology is more concerned with the operationalization² of research and the actual practices of conducting the research process, which ontology is more closely tied to the interpretation of research the implications of the results.
In my opinion, it is impossible to be an unbiased researcher and act only as an observer to the social world. As Alexia mentioned in class, even the fact that we are in the position to be researchers carries its own bias and gives us a different perspective from people who may never have the privilege or desire to take part in it. These biases, though, do not necessarily decrease the merit of social research. I subscribe to the theory of “experience-near”³ and contextualized research because I am wary of overgeneralizing certain results to apply to more contexts than appropriate. This viewpoint is already apparent in my research process. I am fascinated by two situations regarding foreign detainees imprisoned by the American government, but I am grappling to find exactly which larger concept or phenomenon I would like to address in academic conversation.
I have also personally been struggling with the level of certainty I can allow myself to have in various sources I come across in my research. While I do not necessarily believe one has to see everything they are researching with their own eyes to base claims on them, but it is also essential to acknowledge potential gaps between one’s source material and reality. As I mentioned before, every researcher has some level of bias. As one’s work veers further and further from raw source material, I believe the margin of error increases and implications can be made with less certainty. As I expressed in class, I have trouble deciding at what point to trust pre-existing research and let it speak for itself and at what point that pre-existing work needs further questioning. Because so much of the information on my subject area is classified or vague, I hope to work on my own ability to evaluate the distance between my source material and an objective truth.
¹ Abbott, Andrew Delano. Methods of Discovery Heuristics for the Social Sciences. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004.
² Kellstedt, Paul M., and Guy D. Whitten. The fundamentals of political science research. Cambridge University Press, 2018.
³ Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine, and Dvora Yanow. Interpretive research design: Concepts and processes. Routledge, 2013.