If you are a research nerd, you might like this 🙂
I wanted to share some of my thoughts as I progress through my postgraduate studies. During the module I am currently following, we explore our purpose before even selecting our methodology and it has to do with our epistemological and ontological stance. So here are some of my reflections…
The way in which I see and experience the reality/the world (ontology) and how I believe I gain knowledge (epistemology) is influenced by my interdisciplinary background that provided me with the environment to explore ideas through the lens of various disciplines, approaches, and tools. The most relevant example is my study of a Master in Ethno-Ecology, which was connecting ethnology and environmental sciences to understand the diversity and universality of human perspectives. Through my research thesis, I engage in a 6-month field-work with an indigenous community in the Indian Himalayas and explored their relationships to their multi-faceted territory and the agents of their systems (the humans, and non-humans such as animals, plants but also spirits). This experience taught me to adopt a fluid and reflexive position (bending on myself, being present and responsive in the moment by reflecting in and on action) to understands the nature of human interactions and how people were creating knowledge from a “bricoleur” perspective – a term was coined by Levi-Strauss to describe the “science of the concrete”, a form of knowledge that is “subjectively created” (in Campell, 2019, p. 33).
Humans are complex subjects who draw from a diversity of ontologies and epistemologies that may converge and diverge. In the field, working with a “tribe”, and my positionality and the many “selves” (white, privileged, unmarried woman, hosted by the village chief, a figure of authority and power) I brought (Reinharz, 1997) definitely influenced who I would be able to talk to, the areas in the village I would be able to access, and how people would see me.
In this regard, I consider myself a pluralist, acknowledging that there are multiple ways of viewing and experiencing the nature of the world. In turn, my perspective of ‘being’ in the world leads me to develop knowledge in qualitative terms, drawing from constructivism (multiple realities, depends on individuals, local and specific context) and constructionist (multiple realities, depends on interactions of individuals and social world, articulated through discourse). I am therefore inclined to use naturalistic methods such as unstructured interviewing and observations.
However, from my perspective as an international school accreditation evaluator, I was trained to use post-positivist methods, with an evidence-based approach of data gathering and triangulation, accompanied by semi-structured interviews. And as a student (during my Master’s degree in French didactics), I used quantitative research methods that involved data gathering in a test environment, comparison of data with a corpus using statistical computing. I have therefore experienced working in various contexts and while I do have an inclination in embracing a certain onto-epistemology, I do not believe I am stuck in one box and it’s rather the situation that demands a certain positionality (taking an eco-system perspective) than the person (me, bringing an ego perspective).
As I return to research after a gap of almost 10 years, I realize that I am gravitating back to an ethnographic approach but also connecting to a humanistic intention that my research should impact practices to better serve learners, valuing interpretivism over description and explanation.
Campbell, L. (2019) ‘Pedagogical bricolage and teacher agency: Towards a culture of creative professionalism’, Educational philosophy and theory, 51(1), pp. 31–40. doi: 10.1080/00131857.2018.1425992.
Reinharz, S. (1997) ‘Who am I? the need for a variety of selves in the field’ in R. Hertz (Ed) Reflexivity and Voice, London: Sage pp. 3 – 20