Research Portfolio Post #3

The idea of ontology can be described as the beliefs about the nature of reality, which can also be asked as what is out there in the social world to know. Current debates within ontology include behaviorism versus culturalism, individualism versus emergentism, realism versus constructionism, and contextualism versus noncontectualism. Each of these debates greatly affect methodology because they decide how we interpret social reality and the nature of social reality.

Methodology, on the other hand, considers the logic behind selecting  specific tools for data collection and analysis. There are many different types of methodologies on the neo-positivist and interpretivists scale: interviews, statistical analysis, and small-n case comparison. There is also the neo-positivism versus interpretivism debate within methodology. Within these debates, it is important to remember that methods have a “circular quality [that] guarantees an openness, a heuristic richness, to mutual methodological critiques”.[1] Overall, both contribute to how we understand the social world and study it.

I do not think that a research can be an “objective observer” of the social world because despite best efforts, every researcher will inevitably have their own biases and preconceived notions about the social world. These opinions will form the researcher’s methodology when creating questions and a set of methods to explore the research question. Yet, in the midst of differing methods “we find ourselves in a labyrinth where any method can be found both superior and inferior to any other”.[2] With different perspectives, the same research question can be explored in a variety of methods that create different conclusions. In the neo-positivists perspective there are generalizations, predictions, hypothesizes, measurements, and variables (XàY). On the other hand, the interpretivists perspective there is contextuality/ understanding, ambiguity and concepts, intertextuality, and no universal law. However, the research perceives social reality will determine their methodology.

Despite these distinctions, the important aspect to this discussion is critically analyzing if the research and methodology has internal validity.  This is not a question of whether the reader agrees or disagrees with the perspective or methodology of the research, but rather analyzing the evidence within that methodology. Asking questions like does the evidence presented accurately capture the research question or does the method of research chosen for the particular question correctly analyze whatever they are attempting to capture are questions that should be asked to determine the internal validity of research.

The overall expanse of research can include social norms, causes and consequences, and even invisible structures and phenomena. A major piece of research is contributing to the already expansive collection of research completed on a particular concept, but from a different perspective or with a different methodology. For example, research to redefine words in a specific field does not include research about something tangible, but rather is research about the concepts and ideas themselves. Studying both the tangible and intangible are incredibly important for every field of study to have a universal set of ideas that is agreed upon by scholars in the field.

[1] Andrew Abbott. Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004), 42.

[2] Ibid, 75.



Andrew Abbott. Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.


3 thoughts to “Research Portfolio Post #3”

  1. Hi Savannah,

    I am glad I came across your post as I think you tackle the debate about research objectivity quite well. Like you, I also believe that true objectivity is impossible in the world of research. Where we differ is the way in which we deal with this bias. I actually think you were more articulate in talking about how differing methodologies can help to tackle bias than I was. My own claim is that true objectivity is impossible but can be limited through the usage of empirical evidence. I then go on to talk about how I believe positivist methodologies are superior to interpretivist because of its ontology. You were, in my eyes, successfully able to argue that while both styles do have pitfalls, neither is superior and they approach questions in an entirely different manner.

    However, somewhere which I do differ from you is your own methodology in determining whether or not a researcher is unbiased. For example, in the interpretivist methodology many of the most basic questions which they ask and the facts which they observe or often tainted by bias. While finding empirical data points in positivist research is usually less than difficult, interpretivist is less transparent. Writing this has allowed some introspection and I now think that my own bias against interpretivist research styles is beginning to reveal itself. Overall, my culminating argument was “interpretivist bad, positivist good” but I think you did a good job of showing the middle ground in this argument through a defendable ontology.

  2. Hi Savannah, I like how you touched upon bias in your post when describing the concept of an “objective observer”. I agree with this, and that each researcher is shaped by their biases, whether they be implicit and recognized or explicit, and thus affects the outcomes of research. I like how you touched upon the different perspectives of neopositivist and interpretivist, saying not that one is better than the other, but rather that they are just different. How do you believe the biases you discussed play a role in each of the different schools of thought? Is one more prone to being affected by bias than another?

    You mentioned that different conclusions can be reached depending on the school of thought used to shape a certain research project, but do you think that researchers looking at the same topic through different points of view can possibly reach the same conclusion? I feel that even though a topic is being analyzed using a different methodology, the same conclusion can possibly be reached, but maybe worded in a different way or approached from a different angle. I also like how you touched upon internal validity, as even though a topic might be analyzed differently depending on the researcher and different conclusions could possibly be reached, that does not deem one necessarily as incorrect, but the focus is more so on internal validity. I look forward to reading more about your topic and seeing how you apply these ideas to shape your own research!

  3. Savannah — you’ve provided a good discussion here in tracing out your understanding of these core concepts as well as where your own knowledge commitments are (or, where they are for the time being!). You have also received some very good thoughts from Tristan and Carly, so be sure to keep thinking about those questions and comments as you reflect on your philosophical wagers. In your closing paragraph you make the claim “[t]he overall expanse of research can include social norms, causes and consequences, and even invisible structures and phenomena.” Beyond the idea of reconceptualizing terms, can you give an example of something more specific that would be an invisible structure or phenomenon that one could study?

    The idea of “bias” also came up in the post and the comments here. I would push back a bit on the idea of “bias” as it was used in the discussion here. “Assumptions” is probably a more accurate term. The idea of “bias” implies some sort of deliberate slant, whereas our ontological and epistemological assumptions are more subconscious and involuntary. Moreover, wouldn’t the very idea of following a deliberate methodology — a systematic set of transparent procedures that can be assessed on their internal validity (no matter what one’s ontological and epistemological commitments might be) be the best way to counter any biases that the researcher might carry?

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