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HOW TO RESEARCH IN SOCIAL SCIENCES AN EXPLORATION IN THEORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF RESEARCH
(Reading Modules – Research Methodology-Paper I)
Center for Research Studies
BIRLA INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGY
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PART - I
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK OF RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
PART - II
METHODOLOGY AND METHOD OF RESEARCH
PART – I
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK OF RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
RESEARCH: CONCEPT, NATURE AND SCOPE
“Who knows what is the truth, or who may here declare it?” Rig Veda, 3.1.12.
“We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species.” Desmond Merris.
“Wisdom is not the stock of knowledge but the effective use of knowledge and the never ending quest to learn more”. Anonymous.
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Albert Einstein.
Conventionally, the study of a subject or a discipline begins with the explanation of its meaning or definition and other basic concepts. The definition explains the meaning, highlights the nature and delineates the broad scope of the subject. The definition of the subject facilitates an under-standing of the nature of the subject-matter, explains the genre of the problems of study, and delineates the scope and relations of the given subject with other disciplines. The feature(s) that distinguishes the given subject from other disciplines may also become obvious from the definition. Thus, the definition familiarizes the readers, to some extent, with the subject in advance. Definition serves as the platform or springboard from where the study of the subject takes off. Therefore, the study of 'Research Methodology' in general and the Research Methodology of Social Science in particular may also commence with the formulation and explanation of the definition of 'Research' and its 'Methodology'. The definition of social science research may be expected to explain the conceptual framework and highlight the broad features of methodology.
This book focuses mainly on the research methodology of economics, management and commerce. But the methods of research used in other social sciences such as sociology, anthropology, psychology and political science have also been kept in view.
Properties of a Good Definition of Research Methodology
The definition of social science research and its methodology may probably be derived from the general definition of 'Research and Methodology’. The definition of any subject has to keep the following important aspects of a good definition in view. The language should be simple and unambiguous. Use of 'double meaning' words and phrases has to be avoided. 'Words' or 'terms' which require further definition or explanation should, as far as possible, be avoided. The definition should be precise and non repetitive; and it should be crisp in expression, simple in language and precise in contents. Subject-matter of the study and its scope should broadly be delimited. These criteria of a good definition will have to be born in mind in defining 'Research' and its 'methodology' also.
A good definition of 'research methodology' may be expected to furnish definite answers to the explicit questions of the following type: What is research? Why is research undertaken? What are the different types of research? How is research conducted? In other words, what is the methodology of research? What is Methodology? Does Methodology differ from method? Does the methodology or method(s) of research differ from subject to subject? More specifically, is the research methodology of social science different from that of natural or physical science? These questions will lead to a host of other questions: Does the nature of the subject-matter of investigation make the methodology or methods of research differ from subject to subject? This is an important question since the 'subject matter' of social science is 'Human Behaviour and its Determinants', 'Social Institutions', 'Organizations', 'Values and Culture', whereas the physical and natural sciences deal largely with lifeless and inanimate objects/matter. Life sciences such as zoology, bio-sciences and medicine are an exception. Does the nature of measurement of the variables and the parameters of a subject have some bearing upon the methodology or methods of research of a subject? Do the tools and instruments of measurement and the degree of precision of measurement of the variables/parameters affect the methods to be used in analysis and its rigour? Answers to these and such other questions will be quite germane to answer the question Does 'Social Science Research' and its 'Methodology' differ from 'Scientific Research' and its 'Methodology'? An attempt will be made in what follows to furnish detailed answers to such questions as have been posed above. An attempt shall also be made to enrich the answers with practical illustrations from all social science disciplines.
Received Knowledge As Base of Research
Research never starts from scratch. No research can be conducted in a vacuum. The awareness of the current state of knowledge, specially the available conceptual and theoretical framework, policy paradigms and the practical problems that the current or past policy had focused on, may be taken as the starting points of any research investigation. The knowledge of these aspects may also help in the selection of an appropriate problem for research. The awareness of these aspects or the knowledge about them is generally acquired by consultation and review of the existing literature. This requires extensive reading and understanding of what has already been written and propagated by the peers. The knowledge and understanding of the current state of a discipline is almost a pre or necessary condition for the growth of knowledge. Almost all researchers, including the pioneers, take advantage of the findings of their predecessors and contemporaries, irrespective of whether the research is repetitive/imitative, or innovative or even pioneering/pilot type. The research findings of the predecessors may be used to identify the precise nature and scope of the problem of investigation. The findings of earlier research may come as the bricks and mortars of the building blocks for the evolution of new theories, innovations or inventions, and or evolution of new methodology / method. The selection of an appropriate problem for research and the delineation of its precise nature and scope is, in fact, the basic factor that finally determines the nature and importance of the findings of any new investigation.
Growth of knowledge in general and discoveries, innovations and inventions of any variety in particular spring from those that already exist, one leading to another in a continuum or chain, though one may sometimes stumble upon some particular finding by chance. For example, the research findings of such scientists as Michael Faraday, Clark Maxwel, Heinrich Hertz and Oliver Lodge may be taken as the building blocks of Marconi's invention. This is not only the case with research in science and technology alone but it holds true for social science research also. The Keynesian theory/model of money, interest, aggregate income, consumption, employment and investment is rightly considered to have been inspired by his quest to fill-up the gaps in the classical theory and the urgency of the need to explain the then prevailing empirical realities, which the Great Depression had exposed to the academia for the first time and which were starkly in dissonance with the predictions of the classical theory. Naturally, the new phenomenon could not be explained and the problem of depression could not be solved on the basis of policy prescription embodied in classical theory. The empirical reality of Great Depression had thus rendered the theoretical boxes empty. The fact of Depression could not be explained by the classical theory. There was no other theory to explain Depression, while there were no facts to match the classical theory at that time. The theoretical boxes were 'emptier than the empirical ones’. The gap between the facts and theory, therefore, also needed to be bridged. Keynes' theory did this admirably. Then, the Keynesian model, in its turn, furnished the base for Harrod-Domar models of growth on the one hand, and it provided the spring-board for Milton Friedman's hypothesis that 'permanent income is the basic determinant of aggregate consumption' on the other. Friedman's thesis was an attempt to reconcile the observed short run instability with the implicit assumption of long run stability of Keynes' aggregate consumption function. The above mentioned theories may appropriately be considered as the logical and natural extensions of the Keynesian formulations. Each of these aptly fitted into the gaps that were detected in Keynes' theory.
Kuznets' research was inspired by the objective of empirically testing such assumptions of Keynes’ as the stability of marginal propensity to consume, and hence, save. It also attempted to operationalize the Keynesian theory by matching such concepts of Keynes as average and marginal propensities to consume and aggregate consumption function with empirical data. An objective of Kuznets' research was the testing of empirical validity of Keynes' assumptions, specially the temporal stability of aggregate consumption function.
Kuznets' pioneering research transformed Keynesian theory and the concepts associated with it into operational concepts. Kuznets' contribution not only facilitated empirical testing but it also made Keynes' theory amenable to be evolved into policy paradigms. It led to the
i) development of economy wide models of growth, and
ii) the procedure of empirical theorizing.
These together ultimately led to the development of macro economic empirical models in general and macro econometric models in particular, where Harod-Domar model constituted the bench mark. Besides, Kuznets' empirical findings also established that the long run Keynesian aggregate consumption function is stable, whereby Kuznet demonstrated the possibility of empirical verification of the Keynesian theory. Thus, Keynesian theory provided the theoretical base for the empirical research of Kuznets, whereas Kuznets established the efficacy and relevance of Keynesian theory as the basis of macro theory and policy.
These examples highlight the continuum in which the chain of research investigations has proceeded in succession. These examples amply show that no research occurs in a vacuum. No study can ever be conducted without reference to either some theoretical or conceptual or policy paradigms, which have already been developed by the contemporaries and/or predecessors. This necessitates an intelligent use of the received knowledge. This also facilitates the portrayal of one's research findings in an appropriate theoretical or policy framework in order to highlight the nature and extent of one’s own contribution to the growth of knowledge. In any case, exposition of one’s research in an appropriate conceptual / theoretical framework facilitates an assessment of the nature and direction of contribution made by the particular research investigation to the growth of knowledge. This may be applicable to the definition of a subject also. This suggests an examination of the definition of 'research: and its methodology' propounded by other reputed scholars.
Research is usually associated with the outcomes of endeavours of scholars who pursue it in order to earn such degrees as M.Phil/M.Litt/Ph.D./D.Phil or D.Litt/D.Sc. of some university. Another genre of research is associated with the findings contained in the project reports, while the projects may or may not be sponsored, or the projects may constitute an integral part of the programme of studies for specific degrees or diplomas. The 'common notion of research' also associates it with the findings of the scientists who do extensive work in research laboratories, research institutes or post graduate departments of the faculty of science of the universities, though research is also undertaken by scholars other than the physical / natural scientists. These notions of research portray obliquely the meaning and nature of research. This portrayal of research may, however, constrain the nature and narrow the scope of the subject-matter of research.
The discussion of definition (s) of research and its methodology may as well be started with an examination of definitions enunciated by other scholars. But let first day today or commonsense concept and the dictionary meaning be considered to highlight the nature and scope of research on the one hand, and to expose the distinction between the technical meaning and general notion of research, if any, on the other.
The literal meaning of research is 're-search', that is, ‘inquiring or searching again’. It implies that research is 'undertaking an inquiry for the second or more times'. This may hold true for repetitive or imitative research alone. The word 're' should be taken to imply an awareness and the recognition of the need for investigation of a problem, if research is not to be understood only as repetitive or imitative in nature. Alternatively, the term “re” may logically be interpreted as an attempt to either verify and validate the findings and the relevance of earlier research, or fill up the gaps that the findings of earlier research highlight or embody. Both these interpretations may restrict the scope of research. The commonsense notion also postulates research as 'an instrument of generation of newKnowledge’. Research may thus be defined as a ‘careful search for new facts’. ‘Uncovering or discovering of unknown facts’ may lead to 'new knowledge about what was unknown till date'. Newly discovered facts may facilitate the better understanding and explanation of the given phenomenon. The research findings may either enrich the existing knowledge, or extend / modify the same, or these may generate entirely new knowledge. 'New knowledge', in fact, denotes ‘knowledge added to the existing stock of knowledge'. Facts by themselves, need not necessarily be knowledge; these may as well be a part of information, news or communication.
Facts or information do not speak on their own; facts or data are made to speak. Detection of some pattern and regularity, underlying these facts, and / or rational interpretation of facts alone add to the knowledge in the real sense. It is only the rigorous analysis of the vast, complex and intricetaly interwoven facts, representing the complex mosaic of social or physical forces and the consequences emanating from their operations, that is, the ‘social/physical reality’ that leads to the generation of true scientific knowledge (Cf. Marshall, 1962). New knowledge, generated by research, adds to the existing stock of knowledge as well as it enhances understanding of reality. Research may, therefore, be associated with the discovery of an unknown part of reality, furnishing an understanding of facts, or enhancing, or modifying the understanding of the hitherto known reality. This aspect of research has been well acknowledged: Generation of new knowledge through research adds to the existing stock of knowledge, leading to the growth of knowledge (Cf. Redman and Moray, 1923).
In general terms, research may be defined as a ‘careful search or investigation into a specific subject to discover new facts’. It is presumed that ‘uncovering or discovering of unknown facts through research gives rise to new knowledge about what was unknown till now. Presumably the facts so discovered enhance understanding of the given phenomenon and enrich the existing knowledge about it. Discovery or awareness or the knowing of facts is thus explicitly considered to be the substance of research' according to this common-sense definition. But this commonsense definition coincides, in fact, with the theory of knowledge rather than with the definition of research. Growth of knowledge is the fundamental objective of the theory of knowledge: "The central problem of epistemology has always been and still is the problem of the growth of knowledge” (Popper, p. 15).
А. Kozhevnikova, Assoc. Prof of the Department of English for Humanities (Samara State University), Member of Board of Experts for...