Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The truth? A truth? Multiple truths? No truth?

The following notes come from the hand-written notes I made on Saturday 3rd Oct 2015. It may not make sense, as I don't really understand most of it at the moment! Extra reading to do via hyperlinks.

Rorty believes that objectivity in research cannot be achieved. So, what is truth? How can we tell what good research is?
More Rorty reading to complete

Objectivity implies distance/separation from the object, to understand the world 'as it is'.

Kant believed that there are two worlds: the noumenal world of things that exist, and the phenomenal world, which is mediated through our own senses. There is an unbridgeable gap; we are not separate from the context we research. The 'self' and 'other' are always conjoined.

Reflexivity is used to examine, as best we can, to understand our values and the influence they have on the research process. We can never *fully* do that: where does the inside/outside frontier begin? Also, we're human and always interacting therefore cannot fully identify our values, judgements and prejudices. Who we are is contingent on who we are interacting ; there is no essence of identity, so driving down to truth is pointless. We cannot reach a true good/certainty; Plato believes there is something more real lying behind the reality we know.

The present is inauthentic and we work towards a future which is more authentic. However, this doesn't happen.

The dominant view of research is that there *is* a truth. Intepretivism posits that there is not.

Over recent years, there has been a move towards the use of 'mixed methods' becoming popular, as it involves both qualitative and quantitative research. The suggestion is that it is therefore more valid, authentic and with a degree of validity. However.... quantitative data collection drives forward many policies, to the detriment of many services (would need evidence to support this argument!). Greater credence is given to quantitative research results than qualitative.

Note to self: where do I stand in relation to these deep ontological views?

Rigour: we try to ensure objectivity but we are ultimately doomed to failure...

Thomas Kuhn, in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, talked about paradigms. He suggested that there are normal periods of science, with agreement on sets of beliefs underlying the science process. Occasionally, someone comes along with revolutionary ideas, leading to the displacement of the theory  a paradigm shift.

A paradigm is a conceptual framework. Unlike within science, different frameworks an co-exist in the social sciences, capturing different ideas about the nature of research. There is a 'leakiness' between different paradigms, and often bigger differences within research paradigms than between them (as suggested by Hammersley).

These paradigms both simplify and conceal/obscure - they reveal and conceal.

Definitions and Paradigms

Ontology: to do with the nature of truth, the nature of being. Whether you believe in truth  or not is an ontological question. Do we believe in *a* reality, are is it relativist?

Epistemology: What do we know? Theories of knowledge. There is also standpoint epistemology e.g. feminist viewpoint. Epistemology is also a statement on the nature of being.

Ontology and epistemology are inseparable. It is impossible to have a theory of knowledge without a theory of being.

Methodology: An approach to [research?] It is the underpinning philosophical/conceptual frameworks guiding our research.

See the grid (2/10/15): An adaption by Garrett of Sparkes' (1993) assumptions underlying paradigms.

It looks at three paradigms: post-positivism (PP),  Constructivism/Interpretivism (Int) and Critical Theory (CT).
Post-structuralists would suggest that the grid is nonsensical as they cannot be separated.

Positivism: Auguste Comte followed an empiricist epistemology and believed that you can apply the research rules of the natural sciences to the social world with practical justification leading to social progress. Examples include evidence-based practice, empirical data.

Nowadays we discuss post-positivism (PP) as positivism was discredited, as absolute truth cannot exist. PPs attempt to proximate the truth (BUT... how can we know how near or far we are from the truth?). They believe we can try to minimise our subjectivity but this is ostensibly impossible.

PP Ontology: External-realist - reality exists but can never be fully apprehended. Correspondence theory of truth.

PP epistemology: Modified objectivist//dualist: objectivity remains an ideal but can only be approximated.

PP Methodology: Nomothetic (generalizable)/experimental/manipulative; wants to generalise.

Our writing must use narrative devices to persuade the reader of our understanding of the truth, e.g. detailed field notes, rich data from interviews, to give a strong sense of context through our writing.

INT ontology: relativist: there are multiple mental constructions, socially and experientially based, which are local and specific.

INT epistemology: subjectivist - researcher ad researched are fused into a single entity. Findings are the creation of the process of interaction between the two.

INT methodology: hermeneutic/dialectic/ideographic - individual constructions/understandings are refined through a process of dialogue. This paradigm privileges cases, e.g. ethnography, understanding a culture in depth though a personal lens. Within hermeneutics (e.g. Heidegger and Gadamer) they embrace the frameworks but realise that we cannot know what they are, but they do allow us to challenge our judgements, 'placing prejudices at risk'. This changes us - reflexivity. reflexivity means adaptation of, for example, your interview questions, reacting to the interviewee, asking different questions, moving amongst questions - the interview is a conversation.

Truth is transient, based on social agreement in this paradigm.

CT Ontology: Critical realist/internal idealist

CT epistemology: Subjectivist/interactive

CT methodology: ideographic/participative/transformative - an ambition to transform for those at a social disadvantage, i.e. make a difference. You may collaborate with those you're researching, doing research with a group rather than to a group.

Questions to answer: Where do I sit? I suppose, without knowing very much at all, and by looking at my responses to the initial 'definitions of research' activity, I feel I sit most comfortably within the interpretivist paradigm. Despite my background in science (or maybe because of it), I feel that it doesn't provide the sort of information I feel I want to gain for my research. I feel uncomfortable with the critical theorists viewpoint of active involvement to make a change. We'll see how this develops.

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