Processes of research by Jonathan Guy In this essay I will outline the primary methods of conducting research, their advantages and disadvantages and will outline where they are best utilised. In addition to this, I will select certain methods of research that I believe will be applicable to my own dissertation and state why I will use those particular methods to conduct my own research. The first question we should ask is what is research? John C. Merriam considers research as "a reaching out to bring together, organise and interpret what ever may be added to our store of knowledge... most truly exemplified when it involves the wider relationship of specific facts to the whole structure of knowledge." (C. Merriam, 1941, pg 890) In other words, something should be considered research when it adds to what we already know, especially if it does so through adding facts to out structure of knowledge.
Obviously, this is but one definition of research, there being much contention over what research actually is, or what should constitute research, however, as a simple definition, this should suffice. This being the cases, what is the purpose of research and what do we gain from it? Wilson Gee writes in "The Research Spirit" that he believes the purpose of research is to advance the human cause, "it is not strange that the world appraises so highly the research spirit which has led it through the darkness of a past into the light of a present and will still guide it on beyond a golden dawn of a future" (Wilson Gee, 1915, pg 95-98). He believed the primary purpose of research itself was to search for the truth bringing to light new facts as well as reinterpreting old ones. Its purpose with regards to what we have gained from it is visible all around us.
If the enlightened few has not proposed and conducted empirical research (people such as D. Hume, I. Kant, C. Darwin, I. Newton etc) of centuries past, if they had not begun "systematic studies of natural phenomena" from which man gained "not only insight into, but a great measure of control over, the physical universe, quite beyond the wildest dreams of the earliest pioneers in these fields" (Wilson Gee, 1950, Pg 179), it is arguable we would still be a religious driven, superstitious backwards people in a feudalist society, never advancing our search for knowledge, happy in our ignorance. To further state its importance, John C.
Merriam writes "whatever it may have been considered in the past, research is no longer a plaything or a luxury. It is the fundamental requirement in the advance of civilisation" (Merriam, 1929, 56-57). Whilst there seems little argument over whether we should conduct research or not, its importance being more than apparent, the question now becomes in what manner should we conduct research and what advantages do certain methods have over others. There are numerous ways of conducting research but the most prominent are the science and scientific methods, the logical methods, the case methods, the statistical methods, and the experimental methods each of which shall now be considered. First we shall consider the scientific method. There is much debate as to whether social studies can be considered a science on the basis of how it conducts its research but any claims that it is a science are based more or less entirely on the scientific method and rational choice, characterised predominantly by its use of facts and empirical evidence to support its claims with in political "science." Karl Pearson states the scientific method as "The scientific method is marked by the following features: (a) careful and accurate classification of facts and observation of their correlation and sequence; (b) the discovery of scientific laws by aid of the creative imagination (c) self-criticism and the final touch-stone of the equal validity for all normally constituted minds" (Pearson, 1911, 6-78).
In other words, the scientific method is one which tries to discover objective facts which are then used to construct a theory whose conclusions hold regardless of the person considering the theory; the theory is external and objective to human interpretation. This approach to research has obvious advantages, namely its objectivity. It cannot be considered bias or subverted due to the theorise rs own predispositions or opinions and it should therefore be true of itself; it is not subject to change as it merely categories a factual state and it provides definitive answers from its research as opposed to just more questions or debatable theories. It does however have a number of disadvantages.
It is arguable that the scientific method has no place in political theory as much of it is based in abstract theorising which cannot be objectively proved one way or the other and as such would be dismissed as irrelevant by the scientific methods (which is clearly wrong). Further, unlike in the natural sciences, the scientific method tends to be only descriptive of political science and does not in fact advance it in any way, rather it merely attempts to describe the state it is presently in (for example, it would not predict who will win the next election, but it would say who won the last one). Therefore, the scientific method is best used if we wish the results of our research to return as objective facts, empirically provable and repeatable. Whilst this does not necessarily have a major place in political sociology, it is useful in interpreting quantifiable results that are not statistical in nature. In addition to the scientific method, we have the similar Logical method. The logical method is based in reasoning and is "the process of inference by which knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, is attained") Wolf, 1930, pg 15 - 16.
The logical method of the research process is effectively the process of formulating and proving a hypothesis based on reasoning and evidence. T. H. Huxley writes "those that refuse to go beyond fact rarely get as far as fact...
Almost every great step [ in the development of scientific thought] has been made by the anticipation of nature, that is, by the invention of hypothesis which, though verifiable, often had very little foundation to start with." Effectively, the logical method of research differs from the scientific methods in one very important way, it is inductive rather than deductive. The logical method seeks to hypothesis e and theorise about how it believes things are and then seeks evidence to support its theories, the scientific method seeks evidence in order to make its hypothesis. Obviously, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to this kind of approach to research as well. The logical method allows us to make theoretical leaps that we otherwise would not make using the scientific method. As Huxley states, often our logically determined hypothesis may be just as provable at the end as we would expect of the scientific method however, it requires the initial hypothesis that only the logical method would be willing to formulate. The logical method still however suffers from similar disadvantages of the scientific method; whilst it begins to distance itself from the largely descriptive nature of the scientific method, it still relies heavily on empirically provable fact, something that many political theories (due to their philosophical nature) will never be able to provide.
Therefore, the logical method is best used in an investigative manner, when we propose a theory within social science and then go about trying to prove it. Examples of such research methods could be Marx's work regarding historical social revolution. He hypothesis ed that eventually as society revolts against an oppressive system to create a fair distribution of the means of production, something that is supported by historical evidence. In addition to the above methods, there is also the case method to be considered. The case method is much more intuitive in its approach placing primary emphasis on social setting and context; to discover information about a given subject or field, we should attempt to research and understand the context within which it occurs.
"Case study methods emphasizes the total situation of combination of factors, the description of the process of sequence of events in which behaviour occurs, the study of individual behaviour in its total setting and the analysis and comparison of cases leading to formulation of hypotheses" (Shaw, 1927, Pg 149). In other words, this approach to research suggests that before we can understand why something is occurring, we first need to research and understand the context within which it takes place. Frederic Le Play, in his attempt to explain the phenomena of cyclical fluctuations in the economic and social prosperity of people, focuses largely on the social and societal structures of those peoples, such as family structures, trade unions, level of employment etc. All of these combine to create a context which in turn combine to effect a given result with regards to economic and social prosperity. Effectively, if we research the context, we should be able to predict the social and economic prosperity of a people without actually measuring it.
This approach is somewhat different from the scientific approach in that whilst it draw conclusions based on observable evidence, those conclusions are merely probable outcomes and not actually factual in nature. The cases-study method turn the logical approach completely around and forms a hypothesis based on observable evidence. There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to this approach as well. Whilst this approach does allow for a greater level of interpretation and also has practical application as a societal indicator or predictor, it is not as absolute in its results as the scientific or logical research methods and thus its conclusions can be disputed. Whilst any new information ascertaining from the scientific or logical methods of research can by their very definition constitute an increase in our knowledge and thus an advance in research, this case method merely seeks to make probably assumptions which may not necessarily be true. Further to the above methods, we now come to consider the statistical method, probably one of the most widely used methods along with the scientific approach particularly in the field of economics.
"the present is indeed a statistical age and knowledge of elementary statistics is fast becoming essential for the man in business and other professions generally" (Florence, 1929, pg 49). The statistical method of research can be considered less a research method and more a method of analysis. Its predominant use in research is when used in conjunction with the scientific method as apart of its empirical basis. We conduct investigation, gain statistical output from them and then use those statistics to draw conclusions. Statistics within themselves are not "facts" as such and thus why this methods differs slightly from the scientific method. Statistical evidence often forms the foundation of most theories but more importantly allows inferences from those theories to predict the future.
For example, economic statistics allow us to not only define present supply and demand but also to predict future supply and demand based on the presently observable statistical results. The advantages of this method are much the same as the scientific method as equally are its disadvantages. As a method in itself it is completely objective however, its disadvantage with regards to the scientific method is its ability to be misrepresented or interpreted in a bias way. The famous Disraeli quote which states there are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics helps characterise the problem of statistics being usable to support to different and opposing points of an argument.
For example, statistics show that in the first world war, when metal helmets were issued to replace the cloth caps, the number of wounded soldiers actually increased massively which on the face of it suggests the issuing of the metal helmets was a mistake. The statistic neglected to show that the number of soldiers killed had decreased by more or less the exact same amount. Therefore, its advantage of objectivity is only the case in so long as the statistics are not manipulated to support any particular theory with a bias in their application. Next we consider the survey method, a method of research which as it suggests relies on the collection of data through survey. Harrison writes "in short, the social survey is a cooperative undertaking which applies scientific method to the study and treatment of current related social problems and conditions having definite geographical limits and bearings, plus such a spreading of its facts, conclusions and recommendations as will make them, as far as possible, the common knowledge of the community and a force for intelligent coordinated action" (Harrison, 1930, Pg xxiv).
As such, a survey is used to research into and investigate a specific field, demographic etc with such fields clearly defined before hand allowing intelligent conclusions to be drawn from such research regarding the demographic or field in question (as to limit the research to any particular field it to limit what can influence your results to that field). The survey method is fairly self explanatory in how it is conducted however the type of research in conducts can differ between each survey, namely, qualitative and quantitative information. The advantages of a quantitative approach would appeal to the same advantages of the scientific approach, objective and unbiased, but again, if quantitative data collection is used, we dismiss anything that cannot be easily and immediately quantified and recorded in an empirical way. If qualitative data is collected, the reverse is true; the research loses its absolute objectivity and ease of manipulation and interpretation but it does expand the amount of data that can be collected and the depth to which the research can be conducted. However, results of a qualitative nature are not easily interpreted as the more statistical quantitative results are nor are any interpretations absolute, being open to many different interpretations from person to person. Finally, we come to consider the experimental method.
Again the experimental process of research seems quite self explanatory, conducting experiments, obtaining results and then further refining those experiments based on the results; this is what we normally refer to as trial and error, or what mathematics refers to as trial and improvement. "our study of scientific methods starts with the process of experiment, trial and error... learning by trial and error is common to all conscious beings and really to all living being if we extend the notion to include any adaptation to environment by acquired habits" (Ritchie, 1923, 21-22). In other words, we all, consciously or otherwise, use this method of research (or perhaps more accurately stated as a method of investigation) when ever we adapt the way we do something based on the results of when we did it previously in the hope of improving the outcome. As with all our research methods so far, there are advantages to this approach but also a number of disadvantages.
Firstly, this approach can be used without conscious referral to it, we often try to do something better the next time round, thus this research method is a reflection of personal experience, something that can be documented for others to benefit from. In addition, very much like the scientific approach, it can provide something empirical and testable. Further however, this approach can be used to "test" theories without a necessarily empirical basis (much like we would seek to prove a logical hypothesis but without the need of definitive proof like in the logical case) and then refine them. The advantage of this is that it reveals something new to us if it hasn't been investigated before that we otherwise could not discover; for example, I believe a 4 - 3 - 3 formation is best if team X wants to beat team Y. This can be tested, if it consistently fails, it can be altered and retested until the best formation is found. There would be no absolute truth to the case nor would it be immutable to change but it would guide us to a general opinion as to what is best and thus allow is to make a better judgement about how things are.
There are however a number of disadvantages, namely those already mentioned, that it does not provide any absolute evidence and sometimes, the information it does provide is subject to change or does not hold in all cases. Further, just as with the scientific method, if something can not be tested or empirically proven, then it is dismissed as irrelevant. Therefore, this method is best used when we are trying to investigate something we know little or nothing about but have the means to test, particularly if our knowledge is such that we could not propose a hypothesis that would bare any semblance to the situation or thing being investigated. We have now considered all the major research methods, how they are supposed to be utilised, what sort of results they return, when they are best utilised and what their draw back are.
With this information in mind, I now have to choose which methods are best used for my dissertation. My dissertation will focus on the economic and social justification of tuition fees beginning with the hypothesis that they are nothing more than an economic abuse of the inelasticity of university applications. Therefore, I believe that the Logical approach provides the best research method for my own dissertation. I have a hypothesis and have ensured that there are enough articles, journals and books regarding tuition fees for me to investigate and prove one way or the other if the hypothesis is correct. Further, the results that are obtained from the logical approach to research are much the same as those provided by the scientific approach, factual and empirical in nature. This method is however only the primary method I shall use.
As with all economics, I will be making reference to statistical information and data to support my assertions / hypothesis in a hope of proving tuition fees nothing more than a monopolistic abuse of inelasticity of demand for university places (even if on this basis they have an economic justification, they may not have a social one). Further, this particular dissertation also lends itself to the survey method of research, particularly as I have rather easy access to a large number of students as well as being able obtain information from a small number of MPs and councillors. Obviously, most methods have some value with regards to the investigation of such a dissertation however, I would like to refine my results as far as possible to statistical or empirically provable information and as such will try to refine by research to the logical method, the statistical method and to obtain this information, the survey method. There will be times when I will have to use the other methods of research, particularly the experimental method as much of my research may be based on a value judgement regarding the quantity and validity of arguments for and against the case, however, for the most part, I will try to stay within the bounds of the logical and statistical methods of research as I believe they offer the greatest advantage to me when writing my dissertation. Bibliography (contains direct text references and references from within texts, web references, article references etc) John c. Merriam, "common arms of culture and research in the university", Science, 1941 Wilson Gee, Social Science Research Methods, The University of Virginia Press, 1950 Wilson Gee, The research spirit, The Emory Phoenix (Emory University, Oxford, Georgia), 1915 John C.
Merriam, Institutes for Research in the Natural Sciences, The University of Chicago Press, 1929 Social and Political Science Research Methods, Madan Lal Goel and V. B. Singh, Ajanta books international, 1996 Karl Pearson, The Grammar of Science (A. & C. Black, London, 1911) A.
Wolf, Essentials of Scientific Method, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1938. Clifford R. Shaw, "Case Study Method", Publications of the Sociology Society, 1927 Philip Sargent Florence, The Statistical Method in Economic and Political Science (Routledge and Kegan Paul, ltd, London), 1929 Shelby M. Harrison, A bibliography of social surveys, Russell Sage Foundations, 1930 A.
D. Ritchie, Scientific Method, (Routledge and Kegan Paul, ltd, London), 1923.