Katherine Olsson

SIS Olson Scholars

Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers

I understand the concept of ontology as the way of thinking about approaching research through understanding the way in which you view the world and larger aspects of your personal philosophy. While it’s the way of understanding what constitutes a fact, this is influenced by individuals’ larger world perception and approach towards knowledge. It’s the way of thinking about the ideas in general that inform how we go about research. This is why I connect ontology beyond the more constrained idea of “what constitutes a fact”. While I agree with this definition, in my own personal thinking, I relate it beyond that. I believe this is important because of something we talked about in the first class: the idea of “Writing as Thinking”.[1] This is because if you’re writing to “explore, expand, combine and understand [ideas] more fully”, then it’s important to consider the role of your wider beliefs about the acquisition and processing of knowledge.[2]


Methodology is the manner of conducting research. This ranges from large-n case studies to discourse analysis. It’s the way you move forward with your puzzle in order to analyze your data and determine conclusions, regardless of the methodology that you choose. Methodology can also be thought of operationalizing your ontology within a specific setting because the way you determine what constitutes a fact and how you approach the idea of knowledge impacts how you approach your methodology, such as choosing a neopositivist or interpretive approach.


I think that it’s impossible to be an objective observer. Everyone has their own biases and it’s incredibly difficult to separate themselves from that. The traditional idea of the researcher as a completely objective individual whose sole affiliation is to the research, is simply untrue. It’s for this reason that it is important to understand and confront our own biases. It is only through doing so that we can increase the validity of our research. This means that inevitably we are each a co-producer of the reality in which we exist. Through each of our actions we are impacting our environment, changing the way that we both interact it and others interact. This impacts my research because I need to understand the way in which I myself play a role in the formation of knowledge that is part of my research.


I believe we are able to make valid knowledge claims about things beyond that which are visible. This is incredibly important for research because frequently the subject of our research is not “visible” to the researcher. Even if there’s something a scholar is researching that they can see, the thing which they are actually researching; such as the causes or effects, are unlikely to be “visible” to them. These can include social norms, infrastructure, customs and traditions, mechanisms of government and more. Even if the person were to look at an aspect that’s also individually “visible”, the connection to their initial event will likely not be, meaning that even then the subject of their research isn’t entirely “visible”.


[1]  Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, Jospeh M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. FitzGerald. The Craft of Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. 14.

[2] Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, Jospeh M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. FitzGerald. The Craft of Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. 14.


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    Overall a good post here and a good set of thoughts concerning your own ideas and commitments as a researcher. There is a bit of conceptual dissonance at the start of the post, though (ontology is really about our assumptions/ideas of “what is there to know?” while *epistemology* denotes our assumptions about “what is a fact?”) so it might be good to continue to read/re-read Abbott as you think about these debates. With regard to whether or not one can be an objective observer, I would caution against using the term “bias” as the reason that one can’t be an objective observer of the social world. Nobody — not even the most die-hard of neopositivists — would deny that people carry their own ideas (and “biases” but it is not really the right word) into the research process. However, 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 a neopositivist would say that the very idea of a sound methodology — including transparency and replication — is to eliminate researcher bias. So the question then becomes, especially given your RPP #2 comments that you were leaning towards small-n case study research, do you trust that the methodological steps in neopositivist research are sufficient to check/control for your biases in the research process?


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