Ontology requires that we come at the subject from a certain position. Objectivists view the world as a place governed by laws, whereas constructivists would view the world as being governed by us, the people who live in it. Ontology is thus a distinction based on how individuals perceive the world to be governed, whether through rules that have a stable and enduring existence beyond time and space, or that social actors are the ones constructing their own reality, that what is “true” in one context is subject to change. This directly relates to the neo-positivist and interpretivist divide, where the former looks for enduring universal assumptions whereas the latter focuses on the particular context.
Methodology is the means by which we logically select our tools for data collection. The methodology that we choose will depend on the ontology of our research. If we approach our research from a strictly neo-positivist perspective, we will be more likely to use a small-N analysis or statistical analysis, compared to the interpretivist perspective which would be much more historical or ethnographical in its methodology. Of course, there can be some overlap and no method is reserved for one school of thought. Research done by both Oren and Owen, although different in their ontologies, both used historical analysis to prove their respected thoughts on the democratic peace theory.
Existing in a world inherently means we cannot be impartial observers of it. Coming at it from the example of my own research project, I have preconceived ideas, notions, and beliefs that impacted my research before I even began the research process. I have a tendency to place more blame on the United States (particularly George W Bush), and being a Christian means I tend to side with my Christian counterparts in Iraq. My research is implicitly tainted by my own beliefs and my own understanding of history.
But perhaps objectivity should not be the goal. As believed by interpretivist research, we are all social actors constructing and interpreting the world around us. And as researchers we cannot simply separate ourselves from the world around us, we are a part of that world. Our own understanding of our world and our own interpretations of meanings and norms may not stand the test of time, but our research could be used by the researchers of the future to highlight how we view the world today. We should not strive for objectivity, we should strive for understanding.
I believe that you can make a valid claim of just about anything if you do it properly. This is where the different methodological approaches come in. Surveys may not be the best method in trying to prove the validity of social structure, but one can make a very good case for that using ethnography or history. If the method of the research is done properly and convincingly, I believe you can make a valid point for just about anything.
Abbott, A. (2004). Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. New York London: W.W. Norton and Company.
Oren, I. (1995). The Subjectivity of the “Democratic” Peace: Changing U.S. Perceptions of Imperial Germany. International Security, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 147-184, doi: 10.2307/2539232
Owen, J. M. (1994). How Liberalism Produces Democratic Peace. International Security, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 87-125, doi:10.2307/2539197
I will be researching the persecution of Christians in Iraq following the US invasion and subsequent occupation. I am particularly interested in how “Iraqi Freedom” has led to the rise of jihadist groups, in northern cities such as Mosul, which has prompted the persecution of Christian minorities in the region.
In a country that espouses Christian values and morals and often uses such basis as means to promote “American Values” internationally, the irony of the Iraq war lies in the negative impact US foreign policy has had on Christian populations in the Middle East. The US has had a strong Christian element in its own history and Christian evangelical leaders themselves were quite supportive of Bush’s war. Unfortunately, such war brought devastating consequences to the Iraqi population as a whole, as well as Christian minorities. I will be researching the role the US has played in the persecution of Christians in Iraq and how the US invasion impacted the lives of minority Christian groups throughout the country.
Did foreign policy makers consider the impact the US invasion and occupation would have on the Christian minority? Has US foreign policy tried not to appear “pro-Christian” in order to avoid supporting the jihadist narrative that the US was a crusader nation? Has the US trying to be religiously neutral contributed to the persecution of Christians? What role can the US play to promote freedom and democracy while also protecting minority rights?
Although I want to focus on Iraq, there are other instances in which US foreign policy has affected the lives of Christian minorities such as in Egypt following the revolution and the US non-intervention in Syria. How can I use patterns in both instances to highlight the US’ role in Christian persecution and how can these patterns help us to better prevent it in the future?
I plan on continuing this work beyond this class. I have a particular interest in the Middle East and am a Christian myself. I plan on studying abroad in the Arab World in the near future, and hopefully, have a career centered on Middle Eastern politics.