21 October 2009

Chapter 2 Now Available: Understanding Reality's Production

The thesis writing progresses! For those who are following along, the second chapter, Understanding Reality's Production: On methodology and method, is now posted to my Valence Theory thesis wiki. This chapter explains why I've chosen the particular methodology I'm using (constructivist grounded theory, for those playing along at home), and describes the research method, the participants, and other nitty gritties of what actually happened. Here's a taste:
Law draws on Latour and Woolgar’s seminal, 1986 examination of how scientific facts are produced in the context of “laboratory life” to make the argument that science produces the realities that it describes. This is not an arbitrary, “anything goes” epistemology, but rather the product of a rigorous and difficult process of what I describe as “adding to the cultural compendium of wisdom” (Federman, 2007). Heterogeneous research practices and diverse contexts contributed by both researchers and participants produce heterogeneous perspectives and interpretive realities – both of which are, arguably, imaginary constructs – that nonetheless manifest in multiple real effects and consequences. Law then proceeds to suggest that “perhaps there may be additional political reasons for preferring and enacting one kind of reality rather than another” (p. 13; emphasis in original).

In considering the researcher’s responsibility in his or her knowledge contribution, these “ontological politics,” as Law calls them, loom large, especially in the context of both affecting and effecting human behaviours in social settings. Peter Drucker differentiates between natural laws that operate irrespective of humanity’s often limited ability to understand and describe them, and the basic assumptions held by the particular select group of researchers and practitioners that,
…largely determine what the discipline assumes to be reality. … For a social discipline such as management, the assumptions are actually a good deal more important than are the paradigms for a natural science. The paradigm – that is, the prevailing general theory – has no impact on the natural universe. Whether the paradigm states that the sun rotates around the earth or that, on the contrary, the earth rotates around the sun has no effect on sun and earth. A natural science deals with the behavior of objects. But a social discipline such as management deals with the behavior of people and human institutions. Practitioners will therefore tend to act and to behave as the discipline's assumptions tell them to. Even more important, the reality of a natural science, the physical universe and its laws, do not change (or if they do only over eons rather than over centuries, let alone over decades). The social universe has no ‘natural laws’ of this kind. (Drucker, 2001, p. 69-70)

Don't forget to read the accompanying "Conversation with Nishida" on The Question, too.

PDFs for all chapters are available for downloading from the wiki's front page.

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