Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers

I understand the concept of ontology as the study of being, why we are here, and, as Abbott understands, a study of the social world through a variety of lenses. [1]Therefore, I thus understand methodology as how we go about studying and evaluating the social world and reality in general, also through a variety of lenses and overall experiences. Abbott understands it in a similar way, defining it as “the discipline of investigating methods,” which Abbott defines as a “set of standard procedures and assumptions for carrying out rigorous social analysis”, and therefore aligning ontology with methods relating to the social structure, and interactions we have with others, among many others.[2]

To emphasize this idea, Abbot first brings up ontology when he emphasizes the debate between the all-out rejection of cultural contexts (behaviorism) vs. the significance behavior related to culture contexts (culturalism) which are the essential foundations of analyzing our social structure. On the other spectrum, methodology would be less of a debate and more of a, well, method such as ethnography, standard causal analysis, historical narration, alongside many more ways of conducting our studies of the world around us.

Though these concepts do differ greatly, they are an essential part of building a strong research concept. Methodology gives you ways to navigate the social world, and in order to navigate that world, you naturally, as a subjective human being, utilize those ontological principles, which can greatly impact how you not only go about your method of study. With this opinion in mind, I would like to emphasize how we, as subjective beings, all view the world through some ontological preference. I personally believe that we cannot be, as researchers or as humans, objective viewers of the world and though we may be acutely aware of our biases, I do not believe it is possible for us to suspend our subjectivity for too long. My argument anchors itself in the core of realism, where our identities are well-defined aspects of our being both before and after we interact in the social world, and thus, are at the mercy of our biases, both conscious and unconscious. [3] Even when we are critical and acutely aware of our biases, we still present those biases through the points we find in research and through the paths we decide to take as researchers. This includes the methods we decide to use, the philosophies we decide to follow and even the sources we utilize in our research. Though I understand that there are objective truths in the world that we cannot contest, when we as human beings attempt to analyze these concepts, we bring in our own personal experiences and baggage along with it, leaving us to write with a persistent, albeit subtle, bias.

Because of my view, I believe that my research project will be thoroughly anchored in context and clarifications about where I am coming from as a researcher, which would include citing my own individual experiences with this topic if I have any at the time, as well as ensuring that I am not too generalized in my statements. Thus, I am more likely to gear toward more specific practices rather than more generalized principles and would probably avoid making as grand assumptions without backing it up with heaps of context first, which is quite natural for most researchers. Regarding my own topic relating to social narratives, it probably means I will be looking deeper into how a variety of different and quite individualized contexts create an interplay of narratives, rather than trying to classify certain narratives within a generalized social group in order to appease the varying contexts present.

Finally, speaking of narratives and social interplay, I do believe that we as researchers can study whatever we want, if we are able to thoroughly understand the context through which we are examining our topic. This means not only the context, and the culture but also the means by which we conduct our research. We are obviously limited by our abilities, and thus we need to practice and hone certain abilities in order to properly study a subject or culture. For example, I am not fluent in Bosnian, Croatian or Serbian, and thus, cannot interpret the words and their contexts in a cultural setting. Thus I am going to have spend a while conducting surveys and ethnographic data within Bosnia-Herzegovina itself, in order to understand what these words mean and how they are interpreted in various social groups. Certain things will be harder to study than others, but if we are able to train our brains and eyes, I believe we do have the capability to have at least a foundation in any type of research we want, even if it does not have a mountain of empirical evidence surrounding it, I mean, at least not yet.

Ultimately, our study of the social world is limited by the methods we use, the lenses through which we conduct such a method, and finally our intellectual capabilities, which at times, we can eventually hone through practice, determination and will.


[1] Andrew Abbott, “Glossary,” in Methods of discovery: Heuristics for the social sciences,
(New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2004), 251.
[2] Abbott, Methods, 44.
[3] Abbott, Methods, 47.

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

  1. Avatar ew4563a says:

    Tristian,

    I see that you have posted early as well. In terms of your post, I really agreed with your perspective that humans are inherently subjective; that in research we may be well-intended but inevitability bias and opinion slip in. I also like your choice to integrate context and “anchor” it within your research. I too am a supporter of context but I wanted to know if in doing this search into narratives if you are looking for particular patterns and I’d be interested to know what your thought process would be in selecting and choosing these narratives. Would they be conflicting or supportive of your topic or a mix?
    I would be fearful of confirmation bias and try to keep in mind when researching. There’s been a lot of recent studying and articles on how to be more aware of such biases and create that balance between the subjective and objective [1].
    You mention “specific practice” and mention interplay of narratives but I was wondering if there any particular narrative that is particularly stronger than another and or does you feel that if you are too specific you may be attempting too many “conventions” as Abbott mentions. I would like to see what direction you take as well as some of the challenges that may arise from wanting to layer multiple narratives. Regardless, I look forward to how these practices unfold and how this interplay expands your topic and its context!

    [1] EA, Spencer. “Confirmation Bias.” Catalog of Bias, 28 Feb. 2019, catalogofbias.org/biases/confirmation-bias/.

  2. Tristen — you’ve given us a very good discussion of your understanding of some of the core concepts (and debates) in the philosophy of science as well as a good discussion on where you fall on these philosophical wagers. I would push you a bit on the ideas of objectivity and bias as you discuss them in your post. Isn’t the very idea of applying a systematic and transparent set of steps and procedures (a methodology) designed to mitigate the biases that any given researcher might carry into the research? Similarly, I’m curious as to why ideas of context and the idea of studying practices couldn’t be done in a meaningful way in the neopositivist (objectivist) world? Couldn’t thoughtful and creative variable operationalizations capture complex context factors and/or social practices?

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