Invitation for feedback–a paper on method versus anti-methodJul 24th, 2014 | By Marc Applebaum | Category: Uncategorized
I invite our readers to participate in a conversation about method and anti-method in qualitative research. I’m posing the question this way–maybe polemically!–because if you reads the work of some qualitative writers, you might have the impression that the qualitative researcher is free to improvise at will, switch strategies, create their own process for data analysis on the fly–while if you read some other authors, you might have the impression that research is only defensible if it is based upon clearly delineated steps which must always be executed in precisely the same order, seeking to replicate precisely a predetermined attitude, intention, and set of expectations.
In fact both of these positions are caricatures! All of the approaches to qualitative research I’ve encountered are some mixture of form and freedom, rigor and exploration. I’m currently writing a journal article, rooted in my ten years of wrestling with Hans Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method and its meanings for qualitative psychological research. I wanted to share core pieces of the argument I’ll be making in order to invite commentary from our online community. Do these issues matter to you? How do they bear on your current practice as scholars, students, or practitioners in clinical, organizational, or other fields?
I appreciate Gadamer as a philosopher, yet I have had a strong sense that his words in Truth and Method are often lifted out of their philosophical context and used as ammunition in an argument against methodical human science research. In the journal article I’m writing, I want to stake the following claims, to which I invite your responses:
- Method is constitutive of science as such. In other words, without a method that can be articulated, we don’t have scientific work. This is because science of whatever sort is based upon the assumption that we can “compare notes” and interrogate not only what a researcher discovers but how she or he discovered it.
- Method, in scientific praxis, is intrinsically prescriptive. What I mean is that a method is a describable way of inquiry– the Greek word μέθοδος (methodos) comes from root θοδος (hodos), the word for a path or road. A method delineates a particular way of arriving at a goal–not the only way, but a distinct way that can be described and followed, or not. And as with any path, it’s possible for one’s steps to stay on it or to stray from it–in other words, a method is intrinsically prescriptive because without prescription there’s no direction.
- Whereas method is sometimes equated with positivism, disclosure (viewed as unrelated to method or even anti-methodical) is often identified with hermeneutical understanding. Some qualitative writers argue, citing Gadamer’s words for support, that whereas the natural scientific method is used to generate empirical facts, the human sciences have no method and aim at the disclosure of truth. Disclosure and truth are regarded by these writers as incompatible with, or at least unsupported by methodical research in the sense of approaches to research that specify and “prescribe” their steps.
- What if methodical inquiry is a precondition for the experience of disclosure, lived scientifically? I want to propose that engaging in qualitative psychological inquiry is a lived-experience, one of the constituents of which is an experience of discovery that we can describe as “disclosure” (an important term in Heidegger and Gadamer’s work). I want to claim that when this experience of disclosure is situated within a scientific inquiry, disclosure is not obstructed by method, but in fact facilitated by method. In other words for the qualitative researcher, method prepares the way for disclosure.
I invite you to share your responses to this bare-bones outline by adding your comments in PhenomenologyBlog or in the other platforms in which we work. My aim in writing is to reach others in dialogue, and if you choose to respond, you become a participant in that project.