Saturday, January 31, 2009

Teresa: Researchers and their agenda

Regarding to what David just discussed, I kept thinking about another similar idea: Do researchers have an agenda? Should they have? Generally, people think that researchers that come from a critical/cultural approach are more “ideological”, therefore, they have an “agenda” (e.g., expose relations of power in society) while researchers that come from an empirical approach do not —or should not— have one because they should be more “objective” “detached” and approach research without preconceptions.
First, I think that the phrase “having an agenda” is negatively charged; therefore it may not be the best concept to use in this discussion. But if for “having an agenda” we mean “personal viewpoints/ideas/background/interests” that feed/guide our topics of interest, and ultimately, our research questions or hypothesis, then, I do think that every single researcher has “an agenda.” We do research about certain topics because we CARE about them. For example, some ways that I have heard empirical researchers referring to their work are: “I do research on internet and civic engagement because I want to explore in what ways this new technology is helping to create community and engage people civically,” “I do research on race and politics because I want to investigate the role played by race on political decisions.” I describe my own research —which is mostly quantitative— in similar terms. These descriptions reveal that they do think there are relationships between those variable; otherwise, they wouldn’t be investigating those topics. Of course, once we have posed research questions or hypothesis, we should make the observations in an unbiased manner —or as much as we can. This does not mean, however, that we had an idea or “an agenda” that moved us to certain line of inquiry in first place.
On another note, the fact that Lazarsfeld and Adorno were friends and tried to work together for a year or so also surprised me. In the beginning, it was a nice surprise because it confirmed my idea that quantitative and qualitative approaches are methodologically complementary. However, they followed two radically different paths (critical/cultural vs. empirical/behaviorist) that eventually could not get along.

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