Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers 4

I appreciate this opportunity to reflect on what type of baggage, or assumptions, I will be carrying with me on the journey that is social science research. In this imaginary duffle bag that I plan on slinging across my back, I must prepare a package of tools that I deem useful for the journey ahead [1]. The methodology I choose will inform the way in which I navigate myself, while my ontological convictions will inform the type of destination that I am navigating towards in the first place. Both neo-positivist and interpretivist routes systematically produce empirical knowledge and both journeys would be internally valid in their own right.  But I now realize that it is more a matter of how I visualize, or would like to visualize, my final destination. In other words, what type of concepts (destinations) within our social reality are even out there for me to understand and explain (journey towards)?  

Before embarking on said journey, Abbott emphasizes the importance of reflecting on one’s own intellectual personality. More often than not, I take new concepts and ascertain how they connect to ones that I am already familiar with, characteristic of an “S” person [2]. This intellectual habit of chaining disparate concepts very well may manifest itself during my research process. I admit, albeit grudgingly, that I feel most comfortable when I can pigeonhole concepts into a symmetrical model of social reality. On the other hand, I aspire to be a researcher who accepts ambiguity and has the courage to wallow in it because I believe that social reality is subjective, that context matters, and that all experience is relative. In my last post I mentioned conducting a comparative analysis between the U.S. and Russia, similar to the Kurt Weyland’s research comparing the Arab Spring and the Revolutions of 1848 [3]. This, as Dr. Boesnecker commented, is more of a neo-positivistic approach despite the fact that I thought I was leaning towards (or subconsciously wanted to lean towards) a more interpretivist approach. Personally, I do not believe that there is always a causal mechanism lurking beneath the surface, one that can be teased out with the correct hypotheses and best-operationalized variables. That said, it seems apparent that I have a habit of linking concepts together in a way that assumes generalizability. Even whilst writing this post I feel like I am unearthing a subtle divergence between the social science researcher that I aspire to be and the thinker that I am now.

In terms of my own research puzzle, I think it would be naïve to claim that I could ever be a completely objective observer. No matter how much I try to minimize the political assumptions I carry as a Russo-Georgian immigrant to the U.S., they will subliminally inform my reasoning—whether it ends up being inductive, deductive, or abductive. I must be cautious not to imbue certain jaded, normative assumptions that could explain the behavior and motivations of states that sanction extra-judicial assassinations on foreign soil. I just hope that I can strike an appropriate degree of transparency for maintaining a sense of trust with my reader. I look forward to further pondering my ontological and methodological commitments and finding a way that I can reconcile both in a way that most completely satisfies my intellectual personality. 

[1] Abbott, Andrew Delano. Methods of Discovery Heuristics for the Social Sciences. 1st ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2004. p. 3-79

[2]Abbott, Andrew Delano. Methods of Discovery Heuristics for the Social Sciences. 1st ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2004. p. 245

[3]Weyland, Kurt. “The Arab Spring: Why the Surprising Similarities with the Revolutionary Wave of 1848?” Perspectives on Politics10, no. 4 (2012): 917-34.



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4 thoughts on “Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers

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    Tina, I love how you explore the nuance in your position, acknowledging the difference between the thinker that you are and the researcher that you hope to be. I think that regardless of where you fit on the methodological scale between neo-positivism and interpretivism, it is important to understand any baggage/biases that you bring to the table, which you do wonderfully in this post. However, I also wouldn’t be afraid to take positions that are informed by your cultural background, especially if you go with an interpretivist study. Your background lends you a somewhat unique perspective on these issues, and I think embracing that will lend itself to producing original research (I do think you recognize this to an extent when talking about developing an appropriate degree of transparency with your reader).

    In general terms with your research, I am curious if you are going to end up examining not just international law but the domestic law of countries in which the assassinations were attempted, and how these two variables interact (with the Skripal example, I would think British law would also come into play). In a broader sense I suppose I am asking if the issue of Skripal’s assassination is one for the international community or for Russo-British relations.

    • Tina
      Tina Post author

      This is an interesting point that you bring up. I think that when I look at international law and how a particular state regards it I am also inadvertently looking at said state’s domestic legal perspectives. I do not think, however, that I am going to focus on Russo-British legal relations because these types of assassinations have happened in other countries as well (i.e. Mexico). Given this fact, I currently think the puzzle has more to do with how USSR/Russia perceives International Law as a whole rather than solely how they perceive what their legal ties with Britain (or any other one country for that matter) could withstand. These ideas are of course extremely tentative and I will have to get back to you after read more of the literature. Hopefully sooner rather than later!

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    Naila Ricarte


    This was incredibly insightful! I completely agree with your statement that researchers cannot be truly objective observers. I’m glad that you give a nod to Russo-Georgian heritage as the basis of your political assumptions because it is honestly not a weakness, but in fact a strength when conducting research. As Abbott said in last week’s readings, personal and social sources of puzzles are that they “can provide an energy and passion that drive our need to understand a puzzling world” (p. 247). Given that your research interest has to do with how Russia has shaped international law, I’m really excited to see how you go forth, wherever you land on the methodological scale of neo-positivist and interpretivist. From my own experience living and studying in Moscow, Russia, I felt that there was much prejudice against those from the caucuses, but most especially towards Georgians. After the Soviet Union collapsed, there has been a continued push within post-Soviet countries to break away from Russian roots, and regain their national identities, hence why in Moldova, the only native Russian-speaking population left are the elderly. In summary, please don’t diminish your unique voice for fear that you will not be transparent with your reader. Yes, research is for the purpose of knowledge addition that will benefit a wider audience, but it is also as much so a form of self-reflection.

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    Dr. Boesenecker

    You are off to an excellent start here Tina as you think about these important “Basic Debates” from Abbott and about your own commitments. You’ve also received some good comments from your classmates here. Just keep thinking about these questions as you continue your own research and as you read the research examples that we cover in class, and be attentive to how your commitments may (or may not) change as we progress through the course material.