My reading of late has been concerned with research philosophy and methodology. My supervisor has tasked me to “get on” with drafting the methods chapter of my thesis. And here we are! It’s fascinating stuff (to a certain degree). Understanding more about the rift between qualitative (social science) and quantitative (technical “old” sciences) makes it on par with crime novel reading. The reaction of the political system to research heavily politicises the science and methods discussions. Political processes can shape research by determining research agendas and allowing and favouring some methods over others (House, 2008). The fact-value dichotomy is real. The camps of positivism and constructivism are fighting their eternal battles. Philosophy is busy. And rightly so (until it gets über-intellectual and these battles are only fought for their own sake, rather than advancing humanity, life on earth and the universe).
Another epic battle is for better decision and policy making. Feminists, for example, have been arguing from outside the system for a long time, as well as arguing about how to infiltrate the system. The system does not serve gender/sex fairness – in fact it’s set up to keep certain groups out and under wraps. In my reading I stumbled across this sentence, which really made me smile “Objectivity, feminists revealed, is male subjectivity … it is difficult for feminists to convince their male colleagues of this fact because of the pervasiveness of the masculinist values.” (Hekman, 2007:537), my emphasis. It made me stop and smile because it highlights the standpoint discussion so vividly. One person’s black is another person’s white. Talking about colour, the green agenda has a similar standpoint mountain to scale: the current economic system is not working to create a green economy. It perversely thrives on loss, damage and destruction… as well as gains, but even the gain’s value is often decided by the system itself – making it a self-referencer. Power is in one hand only, concentrated not shared. This video by Steady State Economy explains this rather well in just under 20 minutes. Greens have been arguing from outside the system for system change for a long time. This is hard campaigning as the position “on the outside looking in” sets you aside, when the status-quo dominant system acts from the dry and cosy inside. But, never fear, it is good to see these alternative standpoints made, as this is how system change is ultimately achieved.
Which brings me to the third battle. The fight for real politics. Smith & Hodkinson (2008:412) describe politics thus: “Any desired resource that is not totally abundant – be it money, social prestige, recognition, research grants, [I add space, air, food] or whatever – must be divided up through a political process with some people getting more and others getting less of whatever is desired.” Hard choices have to be made. It was the great late Tony Benn who once enlightened us all about political “signposts and weathercocks”, see this 44 sec video (although I disagree with him on Thatcher being an honest signpost). The political battle is raging. Neoliberalism has plunged us into the abyss of post-truth politics. “Increasingly we live in a world where nothing makes any sense”, which is a quote that forms the opening remark in the film Bitter Lake by Adam Curtis. Currently we are fighting for transparency (Economist, 2016) as power has successfully detached itself from truth, reality and common good. New-truth politics aside, locally in Newcastle we have evidence of a few weathercocks in the farmyard: local politicians getting the balance hopelessly wrong between leading the way and hearing out public opinion. Of course, I try to keep informing our politicos, it depends on the questions you ask and the debates you frame. Once politics gets strong honest leadership (a signposting system) and understands itself as the agency for fair management of limited resources, we’d be a great step along towards an inclusive society and future. Until such time we’ll all blow in the wind, hung out to dry – public consultation or not.
Well, these are the kind of things you stumble across when reading about research philosophy and methodology. Not bad, eh!
References (unlinked, otherwise embedded in text)
Hekman, S. (2007). Feminists methodology. In W. Outhwaite & S. P. Turner (Eds.), Social science methodology: Sage Publications.
House, E. R. (2008). Qualitative evaluation and changing social policy. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials (3rd edition): Sage Publications.
Smith, J. K., & Hodkinson, P. (2008). Relativism, criteria, and politics. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials (3rd edition): Sage Publications.