Mixed Methods, Combined Theories, and Multiple Paradigms

Colloquium: Thursday, February 12, 14:00 to 16:00  in room A 2.35 (inside the CBS Library at Solbjerg Plads)

Interdisciplinarity is normally approached as a meta-theoretical issue. This week’s craft colloquium will be devoted to its infra-methodology. If the meta-theoretical issue is one of why we should mix our methods, combine our theories and multiply our paradigms, the infra-methodological questions turn on how to go about it. I should say at the outset that this is difficult work, and to fully appreciate this difficulty we must count it as a reason (though not an overpowering one) not to do it. What this means is that we should have our meta-theoretical arguments for interdisciplinarity in place before we struggle too much with the materials of the craft. We need a reason to make the effort.

This actually reproduces the basic problem of matching theory and method in general. After all, methods don’t provide easy routes to knowledge. Rather, they prescribe a particular set of difficulties that make possible a particular degree of precision in knowledge. They are the means by which we can come to know difficult things. Since the application of a method, then, means grappling with a particular set of difficulties, we must have some good reason to do it. And it is our theory that requires this effort of us. The conceptual apparatus that govern our thinking indicate the methods that generate our data. The precision of our concepts make demands on the precision of our instruments.

Now, in traditional, paradigmatic research, which is to say, in Kuhnian “normal science”, one does not, properly speaking, choose one’s theories and methods. They are given in advance of any research project, and are what we were taught in graduate school. At some point in time, early on in our careers as scholars (while we’re still students) we chose our discipline and, subjecting ourselves to it, we learned the received theories and their associated methods. Being a competent researcher meant knowing what combinations of theory and method were acceptable to our peers. It was a matter of doing ones part in the community.

Interdisciplinary work is precisely a challenge to this community feeling. The founding theoretical and methodological choices that are “normally” experienced as necessary, are now experienced as contingent. We see ourselves as having a choice of what theories to invoke and what methods to employ. And this, finally, means giving ourselves a choice of what company we keep, what community we are going to work in. We even sometimes imagine we have the ability to found an entirely new community, establishing an entirely novel combination of theory and method. In any case, the problem is to a large extent that of constructing your audience.

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