- The concept of ontology is the fundamental assumption one makes about reality. Literally, it is the study of what exists. What follows from this is a logical approach to conducting research. For instance, one with a realist ontology assumes that “the things and qualities we encounter in social reality are enduring phenomena…” With this realist a priori structure defined, the next step is measuring these enduring phenomena. If they exist abstractly, in the way realists propose, it ought to be possible to measure them using empirical methods, better known as positivism. Conversely, one could endorse a constructionist ontology which assumes that things and qualities in the social world are “simply produced (or reproduced) in social interaction as need be.” The logical extension of this ontology is to explore these social interactions by employing an interpretivist methodology, using tools like ethnographies. Ultimately, ontology and methodology are closely linked. An ontology is an axiom used to gain stable footing in a worldview before branching out and conducting research using methodological approaches.
- To be frank, I do not think it is worth getting too hung up on this question of objectivity. All research is, to varying extents, reflective of the researcher’s biases. Conducting research requires making choices and these choices can be questioned and critiqued endlessly. Ultimately, all a researcher can do (and ought to do) is strive toward objectivity and document his or her thought process in a maximally transparent manner, as to provide other researchers the tools to assess the validity of the research. In the first discussion of our class, we briefly touched on postmodernism and subjectivism. In short, I will concede that postmodernism is right in that there is indeed a problem of infinite interpretations and the undeniable role of preference and bias that fuels these interpretations. However, I do not think that there is an infinite number of useful interpretations of the world, where utility is measured by how well the interpretation brings you toward a defined virtue. In this sense, it seems that I am in the pragmatist camp. The implications of these beliefs seem to place me in the realist and positivist paradigms while also allowing for some interpretive critiques. I think that while theoretically knowledge could be transcendental (and certainly is if we assume that everything is simply interactions between atoms), this may be impossible to materialize within the domain of social sciences, where one cannot perform an experiment as a physicist would. I think that knowledge is situated within a specific context, but relatively broad contexts that may be renegotiated if necessary.
- I do not think that the subject or thing defines its potential for research and valid knowledge claims. Rather, it is the process used to explore the social world. The social world is an expansive one where no single ontological or methodological perspective is necessarily right. We have different tools and heuristics that allow us to generate knowledge on the many different situations we are sure to encounter.
 46. Abbott, Andrew Delano. Methods of Discovery Heuristics for the Social Sciences. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004.