Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers

When I first began the readings the terms methodology and ontology were new concepts. Now I think I am starting to understand what these concepts mean. To me ontology is what things we question, and methodology is how we decide we will answer our questions about social reality.

I think research can study both things we cannot see like social norms and decision making and things we can see. I think that is why both ontology and methodology are so important. While we can ask questions about most things, we must ask questions and develop research designs in a certain way to make some sound conclusions. Social science research is not about finding an objective truth. So if we understand that the goal of research is to create new knowledge, we can study most things.

To me, I don’t think a researcher can be truly objective. A researcher can make sound conclusions and create internally valid research designs. However, that does not make them immune to bias at all. A researcher cannot separate themselves from the world that they study. Social science research can’t be excluded from the social world. In our quest to find answers, we ultimately create the reality we intended to study. When we decide on definitions of concepts, questions we will ask, and the conclusions we make, we create new understandings. We can always observe social facts, but ultimately, we must decide what those facts mean to gain a better understanding of reality.  I am not sure if it matters if research is objective. Before, I believed objectivity was the only way to measure the worthiness of a research project. Now I understand that social science is not about finding absolute truths, but about cultivating knowledge.

For example, we discussed the Wedeen’s piece titled “Acting “As If”: Symbolic Politics and Social Control in Syria” in class and how she used notes to explain how she was a moving part in the social reality she was studying. In her first note she explained how she immersed herself in the culture of the people she studied, the backgrounds of the people she studied, and the places she stayed when completing the research.[1] This example is what came to mind when I thought about if we can be separate from our research.  Prior to Olson’s I would have saw this as an example of a lack of objectivity and a flaw. Now that I understand what social science research is, I realize that Weeden acknowledging her background is a part of the knowledge that was produced.



[1] Wedeen, Lisa. “Acting “As If”: Symbolic Politics and Social Control in Syria.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 40, no. 3 (1998): pg. 503


3 thoughts to “Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers”

  1. Thamara,

    I agree on a lot on your discussions about objectivity. I too used Wedeen as an example because I felt she really encapsulates this conflict between objective and subjective and your post really reflects your own realization on objectivity. I too was initially skeptical of her perspective but can understand its use in context. I wanted to ask how this type of realization about objectivity will impact your research topic and process as a whole? Does it make you reconsider some of the approaches or authors you had in mind and how does it fit your puzzle? I think this could be a really great opportunity to use this new perspective on yourself and on the possibility of other scholars to add context to your topic. I really looke forward to learning more and your journey in the research process!

    1. Hey Elizabeth,

      For me, I am both conflicted yet relieved after coming to the realizations I now have about objectivity. I am relieved now that I know that research is not about finding the right answer. I am still conflicted though because socially we still make value claims about if research is valid or not. Have you started the reading “The Benefits and Pitfalls of Google Scholar”? It was interesting how the author talked about how even though the practice of social science research is not about objective truth there is still a bias towards researchers that are often cited or publish often. In some ways, citation counts are a way to deem one piece of research more important than another. I am worried that for my research topic I will struggle with finding sources from lesser known thinkers. Often, more value is placed on research from well cited authors from the West or who are western educated. I am not sure how I will work around this bias within the social science community. I think reaching out to my mentor and other professors on campus may help me overcome this hurdle.

  2. Thamara — you’ve given us a good discussion of your understanding of some of the core philosophy of science concepts as well as some good thoughts on where you fall with your own knowledge commitments. I like your framing of social science as “cultivating knowledge.” Your connection back to the Wedeen reading is also good, especially as it sounds like Wedeen’s article has helped clarify the different kinds of knowledge commitments that researchers can have and the different ways to generate different types of valid knowledge. Your response to Lizzie’s question is also quite thoughtful. Like everybody else in this class (and in 206!) you will have to continue to grapple with these questions and with your philosophical wagers as we work our way through the research process. As you do this, how do you think you’d fall on some of the specific knowledge debates that Abbot discusses?

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