Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Research methods: insights into real life

Professor Jennifer Mason is leading a masterclass on facet methodology at CRFR’s international conference in June. You don't have to attend the conference to book a place on the masterclass - Book your place now - http://www.crfr.ac.uk/eventsandtraining/training/masterclass-facet-methodology/

Real life is complicated and gloriously messy.

Much of social science research is about enquiring into small sections or compartments of the lived world in order understand complexity better, to add information to the stock of knowledge around a broad research question in order to make sense of the world and help direct our responses to it, whether that be by raising further research questions, or by shaping policy or practice.

But research methods have their limitations and we felt a need to explore a new way of thinking about the practice of research that enlivened and animated our enquiries into everyday life and relationships. A method that freed us from the reductionist impact of compartments and typologies, but one which retained methodological rigour.

We have been developing an approach that we feel is a new mode of practicing and thinking about social science research, and it’s one that we’d like to share and discuss more widely.

The methodology we have been developing involves envisioning research fields as constructed through combinations of facets as we might see in a cut gemstone.

Now imagine that the gemstone encapsulates the thing we want to understand and explore. In facet methodology, the facets in the gemstone are conceived as different methodological-substantive planes and surfaces, which are designed to be capable of casting and refracting light in a variety of ways that help to define the overall object of concern. They will involve different lines of enquiry, and different ways of seeing. What we see or come to know or to understand through the facets is thus always a combination of what we are looking at (the thing itself, the ontology), and how we are looking (how we use our methods to perceive it, the epistemology).

The aim of our facet methodology approach is to create a strategically illuminating set of facets in relation to specific research concerns and questions: not a random set, or an eclectic set, or a representative set, or a total set.

The rigour of the approach comes ultimately from researcher skill, inventiveness, insight and imagination – in deciding how best to carve the facets so that they catch the light in the best possible way.
We believe facet methodology can make a contribution to debates about the ‘politics of method’, especially in relation to its emphasis on the significance of flashes of insight rather than the production of ‘maximum data’ of a descriptive kind.

Facet methodology was developed collaboratively through the work of the Realities programme at the National Centre for Research Methods, at the Morgan Centre, University of Manchester. 

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