Research Portfolio Post #3

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.

4 thoughts on “Research Portfolio Post #3

  1. Theodora Mattei says:

    I also subscribe to your “philosophical wager” that it is impossible to be absolutely objective as a researcher. In a class last semester I had the opportunity to communicate frequently with an Afghan student. We often discussed our biases and how they affect our perception of everyday social phenomena. I saw first-hand how enculturation develops our biases specific to each person’s experience in society. In my research, I too will be heavily reliant on contextuality because understanding the background and contexts involved in any area of research is important in meaning-making and the explanations that follow. One area I personally am struggling with is understanding how to master social context without being physically immersed in my region of focus. That being said I love how you quoted Schwartz-Shea and the idea of being “experience near.” I’m sure that will come into play in both of our projects. Good luck with your research!

  2. Hannah says:

    Hannah, I appreciate you bringing up the possibility of error if an author disengages with the “raw source material.” I think it is important to only base our analysis in the data we have chosen to present and to be meticulous when acquiring this data. You also question “at what point [the] pre-existing work needs further questioning?” I think as we develop our research and critical thinking skills we need to question every piece of research published. That does not mean we need to discredit the work we read, but every written piece can be scrutinized to find not only potential flaws, but also room for expansion or further explanation. Within this exploration, we could find our own niche for our research. Overall, in response to your query , I believe we should always confirm the credibility of data and always keep an open mind about the trustworthiness of the research in question.

  3. loriyounissess says:

    I believe the point you made about questioning the sources (both in your post and in class) is a very important one. While we have been discussing looking at different scholarly perspectives of the same topic, it is also important to keep in mind the significance of, what you called, “the raw source material.” This is not to say that secondary sources building on these source materials should be ignored. However, it is important to understand how much of the research paper was the scholar’s interpretation. This can only be done by identifying the underlying facts and data upon which the research was built. I completely agree that every researcher has some level of bias, that is why it is important to train ourselves to evaluate research by identifying the logical progression from data to analysis regardless of our opinions on a certain methodology.

  4. You have a good post here, Hannah, along with some good thoughts from your classmates. I would caution against using the term “bias” as interchangeable with the idea of being connected to the social world (or being an objective observer of it). Bias itself is a concept that *only* makes sense in the neopositivist world where there is the assumption of an actual, separately existing truth against which we can test our explanations. And all of that is separate from the idea of trusting prior research (a decision that has more to do with methodology than with ontology or epistemology). Keep thinking about these debates as you continue your research!

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