Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Moving to method

I’ve been battling with how to operationalize the various ideas that are laid out here and in my notebooks. How do I formulate a methodology and a method? My instinct is to use a methodology such as SCOT, articulated with an eye towards discourse analysis of visual materials as described by Gillian Rose. Of course, this whole road is filled with hazards. After spending an inordinate amount of time reading the various chronicles of disasters associated with these techniques, it’s time to start writing.

To start, I should probably articulate the difference between method and methodology—but I won’t. I’m convinced that I’ve already done it and where possible, I’ll crib from myself (see Potter, 1996; Wilson, 2002). In short, methodology: SCOT; method of analysis: Rose’s discourse analysis I.

The second thing to address is one of the ongoing threads of discontent with SCOT. To sum up a broad base of literature, one of SCOT’s goals is to overcome the technological determinism inherent is other approaches to the history of technology; however, in so doing SCOT has been criticize for being so value neutral as be banal. Several commentators note that other approaches such as process theory, or Marxist inspired strategies uncover the more important issues of social relations. In each of these arguments there are varying conceptions of ontology and significance. A hardcore SCOT researcher may claim that Marxist approaches reify an artificial construct such “capital” or “labour” that may have been well outside of the ken of the individuals who were actually working with the technology. On the other hand, other researchers may claim that SCOT uses a technique that artificially carves up categories of receptive communities while completely ignoring the underlying social constructs. To assess these types of criticisms, I want to introduce some very old science.

Francis Bacon is often credited with establishing the modern tenets of science. Empiricists discuss Baconian method the importance of learning from the world by gleaning evidence and direct observation; however, in his discussion of the Science Wars, Stephen Jay Gould claims that Bacon may have as much in common with social constructionists and he does with the empiricists. Of particular importance to Gould is Bacon’s discussion of “idols” or impediments, which he published in his opus Novum Organum. Bacon’s idols seem to be as relevant to us today as they were to him in 1620.

There are four idols. Idols of the theatre refers to the persistent use of old theories and philosophies to describe new phenomenon. Idols of the marketplace refer to false modes of reasoning, or to a complete lack of concepts or words to support new investigations. Idols of the cave are those individual peculiarities that blind us to certain things and predispose us to others. Finally, the idols of the tribe are those limitations imposed on us by the structure of the human mind.


Introduction of SCOT

Criticisms of SCOT

Similarity to ANT]


Potter, W. J. (1996). An analysis of thinking and research about qualitative methods. Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.

Wilson, T. D. (2002). Alfred Schutz, phenomenology and research methodology for information behaviour research. The New Review of Information Behaviour Research, 3, 71-81.


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