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Methodology

July 8, 2009

This is the entire first part of my methodology paper:

A research methodology, as an instantiation of the scientific method, incorporates more than research techniques or “methods,” such as participant observation and content analysis. Broadly characterized, methodology, or the scientific method, is a specification of epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge, within the sciences.

A methodology must be carefully formulated in the context of a particular discipline or, to be precise, as a distinct undertaking within that discipline. So delineated, a methodology encompasses research techniques (either singly or in triangulation), a philosophy of science (as in pragmatism or empiricism), a theoretical (explanatory) perspective, the axiology (value system) of the researcher (whether made explicit or left unstated), and relevant modes of presentation or pedagogy.

The MarkFoster.NETwork™ project centers around the theory of emancipatory constructionism™, i.e., The Emancipatory Constructionist Paradigm™. That theory’s methodology, emancipatory research, can be defined by its attention to the empowerment and self-determination of the oppressed, not by its application of particular research techniques. In fact, a variety of investigative methods are utilized in this program.

Paradigm Chart

This project’s emancipatory research methodology focuses on the construction, including the historical construction, of online lebenswelten (lifeworlds). It triangulates the following research technigues: contemporary radical history (historiography), narrative approaches, participant observation, reflexive sociology, content analysis, phenomenology, and existentialism. The project has been developed around the online universe of The MarkFoster.NETwork. The research implications of emancipatory constructionism, a new critical theory, include an examination of relevant processes of social construction.

The Internet will be regarded as a metasociety, analogous to the concept of virtual communities. It is, in other words, a digital society, operating beyond particular geopolitical units, and, in its bits and bytes (tropes or attributes), is socially constructed in the minds of its participants.

The project has two principal dimensions:

  1. In its participant observational aspects, explorations of constructionist processes on the Internet, synchronous and asynchronous, will be explored through active engagement in, and utilization of, online communications media. Social construction, discussed below, is taken as heuristics and, in the social construction of online lifeworlds, as praxis. One set of behaviors to be explored is within the ongoing radical history project in mass media. Another is applied textual reasonings in situated settings.
  2. As a reflexive sociology, the construction of The MarkFoster.NETwork™ is examined through active engagement with others – on email lists, in chat rooms, and on message boards. Given the cooperative character of this process, the production of the network more accurately reflects social constructionism, an approach within sociology, than constructivism, a psychological perspective.

Methodologically, the term, emancipatory research, was coined by Mike Oliver in 1992. The construct has been particularly influential upon the social model of disability. As a radical approach, it frames the basic epistemology of this project. Oliver, in addition to being both an author and a disability rights activist, is Emeritus Professor of Disability Studies at the University of Greenwich. Emancipatory methodologies tend to adopt a stance which is simultaneously critical of normative research methodologies and concerned with exploring the experiences of oppressed persons, such as the disabled, in their own voices.

This project’s own emancipatory methodology has been developed through trope nominalism. That is to say, our observations of entities are of their tropes (attributes). We are only categorizing, or naming, them. Universal essences are rejected, while, concerning the essences of particulars, should they even exist, we remain agnostic. To engage in discourse upon such unknown quiddities is speculative (or metaphysical) and a waste of good time.

Emancipatory research may be differentiated from lifeworld research. The latter is grounded in phenomenology and, as such, incorporates the usual Husserlian categories, such as epoché and intersubjectivity. The objective of the researcher is, through a bracketing of her intentionality, to enter into the lifeworlds of disabled persons. As a nominalist, phenomenological reduction impresses me as both metaphysical (speculative) and essentialist. Indeed, I question whether such phenomenological reduction is even possible or desirable. Nonetheless, I have tried to be sensitive to this mode of inquiry where suitable.

Critical to emancipatory research is empowerment. Much of the relevant literature I encountered looked at marginalized groups, as in the feminist consciousness raising of the 1970s. Some of it came out of community healthcare and community psychology. The interest, in those settings, was on examining the promotion of wellness as a patient’s responsibility. (Anecdotally, I may have experienced an implementation of this strategy: A hospital seminar I attended, after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, incorporated many of the characteristics I came across in my reading.)

Here is a useful, if somewhat obvious, definition of empowerment:

Empowerment is a construct shared by many disciplines and arenas: community development, psychology, education, economics, and studies of social movements and organizations, among others. How empowerment is understood varies among these perspectives. In recent empowerment literature, the meaning of the term empowerment is often assumed rather than explained or defined….

As a general definition, however, we suggest that empowerment is a multi-dimensional social process that helps people gain control over their own lives. It is a process that fosters power (that is, the capacity to implement) in people, for use in their own lives, their communities, and in their society, by acting on issues that they define as important.

We suggest that three components of our definition are basic to any understanding of empowerment. Empowerment is multi-dimensional, social, and a process. It is multi-dimensional in that it occurs within sociological, psychological, economic, and other dimensions. Empowerment also occurs at various levels, such as individual, group, and community. Empowerment, by definition, is a social process, since it occurs in relationship to others. Empowerment is a process that is similar to a path or journey, one that develops as we work through it. Other aspects of empowerment may vary according to the specific context and people involved, but these remain constant. In addition, one important implication of this definition of empowerment is that the individual and community are fundamentally connected.

Page, Nanette, and Czuba, Cheryl E., “Empowerment: What Is It?Journal of Extension. October 1999. Volume 37. Number 5.

According to Milon Gupta, the manager of marketing and public relations for eHealhthonline.org:

The vision of the empowered patient is still lagging behind reality, but now e-health offers the opportunity for patient empowerment. Potential benefits include better health outcomes and higher cost-effectiveness. However, looking at the European situation, one realizes that a number of obstacles have to be overcome, before these benefits can be reaped.

The concept of patient empowerment emerged in the 1970s in the United States and Europe in the context of the civil rights movement. Patients and their organisations demanded a right to self-determination over decisions affecting their health.

In addition to political pressure for giving consumers and patients more rights, there were also factors in the healthcare sector itself, which supported this trend. Alternative medicine and the growing number of alternative treatments, especially for chronic diseases, increased the choice available to the patients. A growing sensitivity to environmental factors influencing health further fuelled the push towards patient empowerment.

Furthermore, regarding the dynamics of interpersonal discourse, their purpose or volition, as well as attributed truth content, are transitively situated in a designated function, not in any substantive content. Consequently, if a cultural narrative or truth system, one purposefully elucidated and enacted upon by a set of conscious elites, is realized in domination, its truth content has thereby been confirmed. This epistemological, or methodological, pragmatism, is accepted here. However, when pragmatism is schooled by the axiological principal that the sole value of social action is the achievement of ambition, with little or no regard for one’s defined adversary, the epiphenomena become Machiavellian or realpolitik.

Fortunately, there are, in addition to realpolitik and political realism, other present-day species of pragmatism. These include neopragmatism, a relatively conservative approach commonly identified with Richard Rorty, and incommensurability. The latter expresses Thomas Kuhn’s work on paradigms in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, or, as he preferred late in his life (though with little influence on the established lexicon), exemplars.

As a philosophy of science, this project utilizes a contemporary, and indeed an emancipatory, version of pragmatism. This perspective, which fuses pragmatism with critical social theory, has been generally referred to as critical pragmatism. As developed here, critical pragmatism retains the equasion of truth with instrumentality or agency. Nevertheless, the internalized, or reverse, Machiavellianism, such as characterizes Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, is thorougly repudiated.

The methodology also presumes a pragmatic conventionalism:

Unlike conventionalism, a philosophy of science that regards scientific laws and theories as freely chosen constructs that are simply devised by the scientist for the purpose of describing reality, Realism holds that laws and theories have determined and real counterparts in things.
— “Realism,” Encyclopedia Britannica

Critical social research must, in its conveyance, be praxical or pedagogical. In other words, it should address, not only the craftiness of domination, but the craft of emancipation. The pedagogy of this paradigm, whether in voice or text, is founded upon a nonessentialist (constructionist) version of Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy. Although similar to certain theologies of liberation, given Freire’s Marxian influences and his unabashed devotion to Roman Catholicism, its specific focus, inspired by his occupation as an educator, is upon conscientization, which is to say, a consciousness raising process among students regarding specific categories of oppression accompanied by the means to realize liberation.

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