Theory of Knowledge & Research Methodology

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  • 1.TOPIC 1: RE-APPROACHING POLITICS: ONTOLOGY & EPISTEMOLOGY BPAM 311

2. BRAINSTORMING [1] Consider the following statements: 1. Dictators are the strong leaders (e.g. Adolf Hitler, Kim Jong-il) 2. Women like fashion; men prefer functions. 3. A prosperous city ensures that everyone lives happily and that there is no poverty. 4. Prosperity ensures stability and social harmony. 2 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 3. BRAINSTORMING [2] Two points to be pondered: 1. How to testify the above statements? 2. How to understand How are our knowledge and understanding defined and re-defined? 3 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 4. ONTOLOG A theory of being (existence): whether there is a real world out there, that is independent of our knowledge e.g., essential/fundamental differences between genders, classes, or religions existing in all contexts and at all times? 4 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 5. EPISTEMOLOGY [1] A theory of knowledge Address 2 questions: 1. Can an observer identify real or objective relations between social phenomena? 2. If so, how? Our social world is affected by the social construction of reality/double hermeneutic: 1. 1st hermeneutic level: the actors interpret the social world 2. 2nd hermeneutic level: their interpretation is interpreted by the observer E.g., Mr. Tsang: Hong Kong is a city with stability and prosperity because of the full support from the central authorities Mr. Wong: Mr. Tsang holds pro-establishment stance. Mr. Li: Mr. Tsang is patriotic. 5 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 6. EPISTEMOLOGY [2] It can be a case that the establishment of real relationships between phenomena can be known through direct observation, or cannot be directly observable. E.g., The relationships between Donald Tsang and the central authorities (We can directly observe through which the central authorities support economically Hong Kong like CEPA, free visit, etc.) The relationships between Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of HK and Virginia Ip (friends?, enemies?, or both, as shown in Ip contested in the Legislative Council By- election in December 2007) 6 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 7. SCIENTIFIC (POSITIVE) VS. HERMENEUTIC (INTERPRETIST) APPROACHES [1] The empiricist tradition played a crucial role in the development of social science 1. Scientific approach: Knowledge starts from our 5 senses develop generalizations about the relationships between physical phenomena develop a casual statements with a given set of conditions regular and predictable outcomes Identify the causes of social behavior, focusing on explanation. Use the rigorous scientific methods that allow social scientists to develop laws, which would hold across the time and space (e.g., surveys). 7 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 8. 8 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 9. SCIENTIFIC (POSITIVE) VS. HERMENEUTIC (INTERPRETIST) APPROACHES [2] Positive position: Establish casual relationships between social phenomena develop explanatory and predictive models (focus on quantitative analysis) Realist position: Deep structural relationships between social phenomena that cannot be directly observed (use both qualitative and quantitative data) 9 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 10. SCIENTIFIC (POSITIVE) VS. HERMENEUTIC (INTERPRETIST) APPROACHES [1] 2. Interpretist approach: The world is socially constructed, focusing on the meaning of behavior The emphasis is upon understanding Such an understanding tends to use qualitative evidence that offers their results as one interpretation of the relationship between social phenomena studied. 10 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 11. DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO ONTOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY [1] 1. Positivism: Assertions: a) the world exists independently of our knowledge of it b) natural science and social science are broadly analogous (similar): can establish the regular relationships, use theory to generate hypotheses which can be tested by direct observation. Hence, direct observation can serve as an independent test of the validity of a theory c) aim to make causal statement / establish casual relationships between social phenomena d) separate empirical questions (question about what is) from normative questions (question about what should be) 11 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 12. DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO ONTOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY [2] e) introduce the scientific method into the study of society: social science can be possible in case of following the scientific methods; deriving hypotheses from theory and then testing them in an attempt to falsify them f) to achieve objective measures, we need hard data from government statistics, election results - E.g., in studying political participation: interested in measuring the level of voting, party or pressure group membership, direct action or whatever, and relating it to demographic variables (e.g., class, gender, race, age, education, religion) g) aim to establish the precise nature of the relationships between these variables and participation in order to produce casual models 12 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 13. DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO ONTOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY [3] Criticisms: a) Misinterpret how science really proceed i) pragmatist position knowledge is mediated by the concept we use to analyze it, so there is no way of classifying, or even describing, experience without interpreting them theory affects both facts we focus on and how we interpret them, thereby affecting the conclusions we draw if the facts appear to falsify the theory: theory and experiment (e.g., survey, case studies) are not simply separable ii) domination of a particular paradigm that is unquestioned and which affect he questions scientists ask and how they interpret what they observe scientific investigation is not open, certain conclusions are unthinkable 13 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 14. DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO ONTOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY [4] b) obvious differences between social science and physical science social structures do not exist independently of the activities they shape (e.g., marriage is a social institution/structure + lived experience) social structures do not exist independently of agents views of what they are doing in the activity: people are reflexive and changeable (e.g., voting behaviors) social structures change as a result of the actions of agents, social world varies across time and space 14 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 15. DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO ONTOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY [5] 2. Interpretist position Assertions a) the world is socially or discursively constructed b) interpretation/understanding of social phenomena affects outcomes; and that can only be established and understood within discourses or traditions focus on identifying those discourses/traditions + establishing the attached interpretations and meanings to social phenomena c) knowledge is theoretically or discursively laden double hermeneutic 15 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 16. DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO ONTOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY [6] d) there is no objective truth, the world is socially constructed, role of social scientists is to study those social constructions e) use qualitative methods: interviews, focus groups, vignettes, etc. to help us establish how people understand their world (e.g., the understanding of the political and political participation help us study the nature of political participation in a given setting) f) use ethnographic techniques (participant observation, transcribing texts, keeping diaries, etc.) to produce thick description (Geertz, 1973), aim to establish our own constructions of other peoples constructions of what they and their compatriots are up to. They generalize and develop a narrative about the past based upon the meanings which the actions had for social actors. 16 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 17. DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO ONTOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY [6] g) Michael Foucault argues that experience is acquired within a prior discourse language is crucial because institutions and actions only acquire a meaning through language to understand the object or action, political scientists have to interpret it in the wider discourse of which it is part (social discourse) so as to structure meanings 17 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 18. DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO ONTOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY [7] 3. Realism Assertions a) the world exists independently of our knowledge of it. b) social phenomena/structures do have casual powers (casual statements) c) not all social phenomena are directly observable, so we are involved in inference to the best explanation d) a dichotomy between reality and appearance e) might use both quantitative and qualitative methods to deal with the issue in different aspects 18 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 19. DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO ONTOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY [8] quantitative: use findings through surveys to measure the level of a certain trend qualitative: how the people perceive such a certain trend Criticisms a) positivists: due to the fact that they denied the existence of unobservable structures, they disagree with the realists assertions b) interpretists: no structures that are independent of social action, and no objective basis on which to observe the actions or infer the deep structures 19 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong 20. CONCLUSION This topic is not aimed to let you decide which approach is the best, but to let you know the existence of different approaches to see things, as well as such differences are based on epistemological and methodological assumptions. There is no perfect and the best method to all of the questions. Based on the nature of question, try and choose an appropriate and a feasible way/s to conduct your research and then collect and analyze your data. 20 BPAM311|T1|Dr.Wong