Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why talking about methodology?

A primary concern of mine is to become more and more aware of the plurality of possible methodological approaches within every field of study, and of the non-neutrality of the choice of one approach over another.
An acknowledged methodology, I believe, might be challenged and discussed, whereas an apparent “non-methodology” might be much riskier and subtler. In fact, an absolute absence of methodology is just impossible. Hence, authors who avoid methodological questions, or claim they do not need to face them, actually implement one methodology and suggest to their readers that this is the “natural”, the “right” or the only plausible one. In some cases, this amounts to say that one subliminally absorbs a methodological approach (for instance, one teachers' one) and then tends to reproduce it uncritically. In others, a similar procedure may have the negative output of making its upholders sure that there is no space for authentic research outside it. Hence, adopting another methodological approach would be tantamount to being no “appropriate” researcher at all.


Jayarava said...

I've heard Richard Gombrich say that there is no such thing as methodology, only method. Lots of approaches. But basically one method - conjecture and refutation.

As someone with no formal training in Indology, but a long interest and engagement with the subject, I often find the papers where there is a specific agenda less interesting than those who take a broad approach. It seems to me that 'methodology' is often an academic synonym for ideology, and the ideological content is often simply boring because I know what the conclusion is from the start.

It's not as if, say, a philological approach to conjecture and refutation cannot be informed by a historical, or sociological approach for instance.

Anyone who is attempting to write about a subject or a problem does of course need to make clear what their method is - though I suppose this could be done inter alia or implicitly. To ignore questions of method is to overlook the fact that we all have a method and all methods have limitations. It smacks of self-deception.

michael reidy said...

The standard method for the great systems is to flood your mind with a vast interconnected web of definitions that inhibit any other way of looking at the world. It seems a well appointed home but is it a prison? Others then in the analytic tradition offer you devices for escape but when you get beyond the guarded perimeter you are nowhere.

elisa freschi said...

Michael, thanks, your words about the "vast interconnected web of definitions that inhibit any other way of looking at the world" describes exactly my target. May I quote you, should I ever re-write about it?

Jayarava, I completely agree with your points about the fact that "we all have a method and all methods have limitations. Being aware of both points seems to me the best remedy against the risk of ideology (which builds the totalitarian web Michael refers to, whereas acknowledging one's method makes one aware of it and makes one aware of the possibility of other options). I also beg your pardon, I could have used "method" instead of methodology (=reflection on method) in a couple of cases at least.
I am not sure I understand your point about the only method, conjecture and refutations. Conjecture and refutation, too, do not occur in an epistemological vacuum, they depend on one's presuppositions and method…don't they?

michael reidy said...

of course.

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