Tuesday, 4 January 2005

Hard choices: researcher vs. blogger?

This post strikes a resounding resonance that I also struggled many years ago:

One of the comments I received from Inna Kouper on weblog conversation paper was about my involvement in it, the fact that as a researcher I could influence the conversation if you knew you were going to study it. I realised that Inna was right and included a statement that when the conversation was unfolding I wasn't going to study it.

So Lilia wanted to separate out the role of researcher and the role of a participant in a dialogue (blogger). Then...

...two weeks back I was struggling with another choice. I saw an interesting conversation unfolding, I wanted to participate, but I also thought that it would be a great "another case" to add to our paper since we discussed some future work with Aldo. Those two seemed to contradict: as a blogger I wanted to participate, as a researcher I knew that a better choice would be to stay away, so I could claim more objectivity in a future analysis.

Whoops! what is objectivity in the analysis of experimental studies? Later on, Sebastian Fiedler commented:

It is dead easy to cry for objectivity, reliability, etc. bla bla without ever exploring what this could and should mean in social research.

Of course, there are always proponents of one unified method for all sciences or one universal set of criteria of quality.

I have never understood why studying rock formations should and could follow the same set of rules like studying historically contingent affairs of human beings that are capable of self-reflection, change, etc.

I agree. As a Physics students over a quarter of a century ago, I learnt of the principle of uncertainty. The observation itself will distribute the state of the particle you are trying to observe. So "hard science" also recognised the dilemma...

...her being a long time participant in this particular social practice is putting Lilia in the privileged position to select especially illustrative materials to exemplify what she is trying to express.

The selection of episodes to include (or not to include) is a "subjective" decision (as oppose to objectivity)!

The question is of course, should social studies be criticised based on the notion of the researcher's objectivity or subjectivity? Unlike physical science, "social experiments" are difficult if not impossible (ethically as least). Social experiments are not repeatable. Social studies are NOT physical science and I don't believe the same set of rules (if any) should apply to judge the validity of reports on social phenomena .

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