Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Second Thoughts: Critique of Interpretism

After posting my initial post on interpretism, I began to reflect and read/re-read Crotty on the topic. Now I'm not so sure that either Constructivism or Constructionism (Crotty distinguishes the two), should be placed in the interpretist fold. I was not definitive enough when I labeled constructivism as a horse of a different color. Possibly it is more like a platypus of sorts, a species that dislikes categorization. What seems to be materializing, at least to my mind are not just many truths, as the constructivist would say, but multiple constructivisms, multiple phenomenologies (Crotty 83-84), and I suspect multiples of most other methodologies. My question is, "What is important." It is as though ambiguity being taken for granted in constructivism, the model has done its best to construct more of the same a (more ambiguity); this is no way to build a railroad.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Critiquing the Interpretist

I have become hesitant at accepting solutions that promise to deliver us from the two extremes. I find the interpretist model falling into this category at times. On the one hand, constructivism as one example says that it is neither subjective nor objective, but a horse of a different color (to use the words of the Wizard of Oz). This means that constructivism is to some extent a reaction to both objectivism and subjectivism, but is this actually the case. Could it be the case that constructivism is posited (pun intended) to be the new objectivism, or perhaps even the new subjectivist. Let me offer a case in point. Constructivism teaches us that there is no one way, no Truth (big T), but many truths (little t). So far so good, but is that really the case? If there is actually no Truth, then the statement itself (there is no Truth) can not be valid, because it poses as an absolute, what would have formerly been called a Truth. On the other hand, if there are many truths, then one of the many truths may be an absolute Truth, such as humans need water and air to exist. It is easy to assent to a interpretist model in social sciences, literature, or humanities, but it is not so easy to do so in the physical world. The physical world cares little of what humans think about it, it has no conscience, no consciousness, and no social-constructions of its own.

Let me propose, since there are many truths, that constructivism and the other models are only one of many models and that it may be very possible that no one model can answer all questions, just as no one man or woman can possess all the truth. That interpretist models can answer some questions in some situations (social constructions), may be a reasonable assumption. That intrepretist models can best answer all questions in all situations is a generalization which is unwarranted. That we may some day find a more useful model that can answer many more questions and possibly replace constructivism or other interpretist models is altogether likely. We have seen it happen at least three times in the 20th century educational contexts (idealism => logical empiricism => behaviorism => constructivism). It seems that total annihilation of one model by the next is never complete, and few models can expect eternal life in the academy.

It may be that case that constructivism is the current dominant paradigm because it best explains the dominant mode of teaching, not that it best explains the modes of learning. There actually seems to be no logical connections between the theoretical foundations of constructivism, how people learn (social construction of knowledge), and what constructivist teachers should do (Lerman). At the least, social constructions of meaning (or sense) are not limitless (Crotty), but very limited indeed. If this were not so, communicating with other humans (even in the same language), writing a book, giving directions to a male of the species, or typing on the computer would prove near impossible. In many cases, a cigar is just a cigar. And on second thoughts, I might retract the statement about giving directions to keep from looking ignorant before my female colleagues.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Second Thoughts on Kitchen Psalms

I think we all got a kick out of Kitchen Stories, but on second thoughts this was somewhat of a worse case scenario. I doubt if every objectivist research adventure is fraught with such methodological blunders, subjectivism, and collusion with the subject. An observer could not very well become drinking buddies with a penguin or grizzly bear or rattle snake. All situations, environments, and topics are not equal, not to mention that the context/environment could have a great deal to do with the choice of methodology and methods.

Therefore I am beginning to see Kitchen Stories as the characature it is, a cartoonish spoof of objective methodologies. I saw this more clearly when I read of ethnographic methods/methodology (Eisenhart seems to confuse the two). It is almost impossible to generalize ethnographic studies, and when it is attempted great error can occur. It is not that ethnographic studies are subjective, but it seems that since subjectivism is admitted folks don't feel that private or sectarian interpretations must be guarded against. One of Eisenhart's admissions of weakness was lack of mobility. Of course this is the case. A researcher can not study Amazon tribes anywhere but in the Amazon, and the study can have little or no correlation with the evolution of northern European society. Eisenhart seems unable to even define "culture," although this is the focus of ethnology. Culture, instead being the defining aspects of a group such as food, clothing, religion, art, et al, has become little more than individual habits or imitations. The quest for difference and diversity has had such an overwhelming influence on the methodology that ethnology has truly lost sight of both the forest and the trees, focusing on a NY Yankee's ball caps mistakenly left on-site by a boy scout troupe 3 years ago.

It seems as all methodologies wish to use some form of quantification. Even Eisenhart counts the number of Ph. D. students doing qualitative research at the beginning of a 14 year span and after it (18). It seems pretty ungrateful to bite the hand that feeds you. The article is also filled with the conflict thesis. I wonder if ethnology or critical theory could function without words like dominate, justice, fairness, narratives, change, poor, equality, poverty, economic, socialization, world view, multicultural, identity, manipulated, struggle, incongruities, incommensurable, contradictory, elite, hierarchy, violence, minority, relationships, contention, and gender. If these concepts are so important, why are they never defined or why do anthropologist and ethnologist argue over the connotations or applications of the words. The surrender to uncertainty has made the methodology of uncertain value to some if not many. No wonder that Eisenhart seems to be trying to salvage a sinking ship at times.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Psalms from the Kitchen

I don't know about the rest of you folks, but if I were a positivist stuck on a Norwegian farm in the winter in a 5 X 8 trailer, I would be severely tempted to take up drinking with the farmer, especially if he was buying. If I was a positivist anywhere in the world, I would take up drinking just to save my sanity. Even thinking about being a positivist makes my head hurt, even without a drink. It is not that I disagree with empiricism as an epistemology, it's just that I disagree with it as the only epistemology. It has also been revealed to me through an extended discussion with a positivist-materialist blend that is it nigh impossible to remove a researcher from his research. Why not just confess the complicity, tell folks what and who you are, and let others attempt to separate the research from the researcher.

I don't know why the original title is Kitchen Psalms. I wonder if the Swedes automatically think of the Hebrew Bible when the word Psalm is mentioned. The book of Pslams in the Hebrew Bible contains hymns, but it also contains royal Psalms, thanksgiving psalms, penitential psalms, and imprecatory psalms. I don't know if there is a connection or the title is incidental. Titles usually mean something.

Probably the most remarkable point in the film is near the end where it is realized that the observer had been observed, and the observed had filled in some of the details himself. Where the understudy feels that this has jepordized the objectivity of the research, the author of the study finds the phenomenon interesting and possibly the best part of data that was collected. Here again, the researcher determines both the validity of the data and its importance.

Melanie's viewpoint from a media perspective as film criticism is just another example of how we can see the same data differently based on perspective.

What I want to know from research is can we live with it. That is, do our conclusions reflect how earth folks really live or do I have to believe in Lilliputians or Martians to make sense of it all.