Category Archives: big abstract ideas

Perspectives & context

As interpretive researchers we observe in order to make sense. And we know that our perspective matters in what we see. The kind of perspective I am talking about here is not so much our personal lenses, but the circumstances that allow (or don’t allow) us to see. If I am in an airplane I see in a particular way… I get the big macro picture. The patterns that are apparent from 30,000 feet up are not so easily discernible if I am on the ground. From the air one gets a sense, for example, of the nature of land sharing and use for agriculture. It is also possible to enjoy a joke that is accessible only from this same perspective.

When one is driving or walking in that same space, the perspective changes and one gets a micro view, but necessarily loses sight of the bigger aerial perspective picture. What might have been a solid mass of colour or shape from the air now is discernable as individual plants and flowers. What seemed like lines drawn between fields become roads.

In both cases we see something valuable, indeed something complete from that perspective. But only one perspective gives us just that… a complete picture from one vantage point. In doing research we want to capture social phenomena from as many perspectives as possible, to give as thorough an account of the phenomenon as we are able. Knowing that there are always other perspectives as yet unexplored.

To illustrate just a couple more perspectives for this example, consider a GPS map or a road map.

Being aware of the possibilities of multiple perspectives should not be seen as a limitation, but rather an opportunity to think outside a single researcher, research framework, or methodology when we strive to understand social phenomena as fully as we are able.

Phenomenology ~ one stop information source

There is, of course, a vast theoretical and research literature on phenomenology as a methodology (understood as a research design approach) but if you are looking to get a handle on what phenomenology is about as a research methodology and some superb examples of phenomenological analysis check out Max Van Manen’s website Phenomenology Online. Start by clicking on “inquiry” then “methododology” but don’t stop there–there are loads of good examples. After that explore the rest of the site.

empathy: the core of human nature

Interpretive and critical research is dependent on human empathy. Empathic thinking is what allows us as researchers to ‘experience’ that which we have never actually experienced. The sense of dread when you hear or see a car wreck; the concern when a baby cries; the fear at hearing a scream. This video explores the evolution of empathy in humans, positing changes that have occurred in our brains over the centuries that enable us to not only understand one another, but to care for one another on a global level. YouTube Preview Image

Theorists in short

This is a list of sociological thinkers that was created by Mike Goodman (with some input from Tom Conroy and Andrew Miller).

Karl Marx
Life’s not fair, let’s all share!
Emile Durkheim
You get the ankles, I’ll get the wrists.
Max Weber
All work and no play…
Georg Simmel
I feel like I am ze Country Mouse in ze Zitty, Ja?
Jurgen Habermas
Why can’t we all just get along?
Talcott Parsons
I have a diagram that explains EVERYTHING!
Pierre Bourdieu
Kids, stay in school.
Michel Foucault
Er… donnez-moi le gagball.
Erving Goffman
Where’s that #$@%!! waiter?
Jean Baudrillard
Real=fake; life=Disneyland
Robert Merton
Sometimes things happen for bad reasons and sometimes we can’t see the reasons right away.
Herbert Blumer
It’s all in your mind.
Louis Althusser
It’s not in your mind.
C. Levi-Strauss
Myths are cool.
Amitai Etzioni
C’mon people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, we’ve got to love one another right now.

Clifford Geertz
Ooh, look, a cock fight! How Shakespearean!
Rational Choice Theory
Choose, or lose.
British Cultural Studies
It’s not so bad to spend time in front of the telly.

Everyone Has an Epistemological Project

Here is one of the Shepard Fairey statements currently cropping up around Vancouver (unfortunately the masterful superimposing of obey the giant over the MacDonalds billboard was gone by the time I got back to take a picture). I would describe his work as phenomenological as the appearance of obey in unlikely places challenges the taken for granted with an emphasis on disrupting images of capitalism, globalism and neo-liberalism. In this picture there is a blank billboard, but the juxtoposition with the Pattison sign is enough in and of itself.


Marxism, dialectics, and critical social science

An excellent resource to explore Marxist perspectives is Bertell Ollman’s website. Lots of his publications can be found that, as well as links, and his scholarship is engaging and high quality. You will see a link to his book Dance of the Dialectics ~ the dance steps are below. So, when you need a refresher on dialectical thinking get up out of your chair, do the dance of the dialectics and then get on with your intellectual project.
Dance of the Dialectics

For a more general treatment of what it means to do critical social science, take a look at Brian Fay’s Critical Social Science. This book may be out of print but can easily be found in the library or through booksellers.