December 13, 2019

The research methods fireworks: RC33 as a main platform

It is as if in the last two decades social scientists more and more love to celebrate their research methods. When looking at all research methods initiatives, conferences, meetings, trainings, workshops et cetera that pass by in newsletters and emails, and when googling and checking what’s going on in research methodology in social sciences, at the end of each year the research methods fireworks seems to get bigger and more colorful. Of course we have several longstanding landmarks in the field – amongst which the American Association of Public Opinion Research and our International Sociological Association – and also new grown landmarks like the European Survey Research Association.  But in addition to such well-known and recognized institutions, it is in particular salient that the number and diversity of local and/or thematic platforms has been expanding to a great extent. Whether it is about some university business department that presents an open call for studies into phenomenological research designs; or thematic niche groups that discuss creative art-based methods; meetings on narrative methods in health research, visual methods in social work, transformative action research methodology in rural studies; as well as similar activities on main stream methodologies in interviewing and questionnaire research; et cetera, et cetera: such small initiatives are scattered around the research landscape.

Moreover, they are literally scattered and dispersed around the globe.  It’s since long and increasingly not just Western Europe and the US, but also initiatives in countries like – to name a few – China, Japan, India, Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel and the like. This is clearly the globalization of research methodology, as a theme that is being paid attention to. This is a really positive development. Not only because of the dispersion of research methodology, but also because – taken together – all these initiatives form a kind of natural methodological laboratory in which ideas, approaches, methods and techniques are explored, used and tested. Irrespective of the fact that many ideas or applications may fail or prove counterproductive, the diversity and liveliness of these initiatives are an enrichment of the field of research methodology.

While the large-scale landmark institutions like AAPOR and ESRA have a huge, positive impact on the standardization and harmonization of research methods, the relative autonomous small initiatives provide (knowingly or unknowingly) critical tests and fuel for enhancement of large-scale applicable methods. While the former development of ‘unification’ helped realizing the enormous achievement of creating high quality, valid (international, comparative) large-scale social research, the development of ‘differentiation’ serves foremost the huge field of local, specialized, applied, tailored studies that often are being performed in complicated circumstances that demánd specific methods as a prerequisite for valid research.

Both developments make why, to me, the RC33 methodology conferences and joined (ISA-RC’s) meeting are special and valuable: they are precisely on the intersection (or melting pot) of both, the large-scale standardization and local-niche like differentiation. Many researchers are working at the interconnections of both developments, sometimes seeking to further develop certain standardized procedures, sometimes aiming to scrutinizing just new types of methodologies. Those who are willing to learn, can open-up for really novel ideas or different applications, just by stepping into another session next door. Whether one gets out highly irritated or rather enlightened doesn’t matter. May be this RC33 experience was the start of something that matters, adding to the pallet of fireworks in research methodology.

Wander van der Vaart – Vice President for Finances


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