The broad philosophical framework of research involves many different dimensions that build up to greater scholarly inquiry. Ontology and methodology namely comprise these levels that inform inquiry, both in terms of the research puzzle itself and how we go about engaging with that puzzle. Every researcher brings his or her own preconceived notions to the conversation, even though we all hopefully try as hard as we can to go into a project as clean slates, ready to mold to the shape of the project, not mold the direction ourselves. This internal dialogue and challenging of notions should be constant processes for researches to produce the strongest project–that is, the project that best reflects the researcher’s “intellectual personality,” as Abbott names, and takes the approaches to navigating the puzzle that best suit the puzzle’s needs.

A central, and initial building block of research is ontology. As per our class lesson about the philosophy of science, ontology is defined as the beliefs we as individuals hold about the nature of reality. In other words, how do we conceptualize the world, and how should we go about understanding it? [1] This interpretative level is vital in forming research puzzles. By viewing the world in a certain light–choosing a “side” within the “basic debates” as Abbott refers to them–there are profound implications on what kinds of questions will be asked, what kinds of analyses are done, what kinds of conclusions will be drawn, and what significances are extracted from those conclusions. [2] The two main ontological commitments are objectivism and (philosophical) constructivism. Objectivists believe in the stability and endurance of the social world. They look for universal rules that govern our social world, regardless of independent social actors. Constructivists, however, believe social phenomena are continuously formed by social actors and therefore always changing and immeasurable. Neither of these ontological approaches is correct or incorrect. They are simply different and are derived from different ways of looking at the world. They are, however, incredibly important to understanding a researcher and the products of his or her labor because the implications on what their research has concluded are vast.

Methodology, another perhaps more logistically operative building block of research, is the study of the particular tools for research and analyses scholars use to collect their data. [3] Research methodology, like ontology, is an informed decision of how to approach research. Researchers have a wide array of research tools they can use–interviews, regression analysis, formal modeling, discourse analysis, etc. A researcher’s self-placement on the spectrum of methodology/methods speaks a lot to what his or her research is aiming to accomplish, and informs the findings of the research as well. It is important to understand methodology as a particular choice for research, and not simply a discussion about qualitative vs. qualitative data collection. All methodological approaches generally accepted by the community of scholars within a particular field hold their own scientific and logical standings that can merit the findings of the research. It is important to understand methodologies so that we can properly assess research findings on our own and understand what they are truly telling us.

It is important for every researcher to enter scholarly inquiry with this knowledge about how other people have approached their puzzles in the past, so that we are aware what implicit or open commitments we are imposing on our projects. While the aim of this understanding is to bring us to a place as close to objectivity as possible, I believe the most important lesson of these research knowledge studies is an openness to different approaches and understandings of our topics. A lot of us are probably coming in with preconceived notions attached to our puzzles, even in these embryonic stages. I know I have a lot that comes to mind with my topic relating to the Balkans, as my entire family history is there. But if we are exposed to different ontological, epistemological, and methodological frameworks, and we trust the puzzle enough to form our inner framework approaches to its exploration, we open up so many avenues for research of strong scholarly merit.

[1] Arron P. Boesenecker. “Philosophy of Science: How Do We Know What We Know.” Discussion, American University, Washington D.C., August 30, 2018

[2] Andrew Abbott. “Basic Debates and Methodological Practices,” in Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences, ed. Jeffrey C. Alexander (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004), 42.

[3] Arron P. Boesenecker. “Philosophy of Science: How Do We Know What We Know.” Discussion, American University, Washington D.C., August 30, 2018