Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sebastian's questions/comments

  1. Punch lists several dimensions that shape the “politics of research” and have a significant impact on qualitative studies that are seldom mentioned. These are personality, geographic proximity, researcher’s institutional background, just to name a few. In my opinion, these features apply to quantitative research as well. In fact, it is a reminder of a point I’ve made several times in class before, which is that the whole idea of discussing bias in social scientific research is nonsensical because there is no such a thing. Our personality, our geographic location, our institutional affiliation and many other aspects shape our research interests, questions, objects of study, methods, etc. That we acknowledging or not is something else, but we should stop saying that some research is biased or unbiased, that our research questions are biased or unbiased, that we did this or that in a biased or unbiased way.
  2. In Altheide & Johnson, Laura Nader criticizes the increasingly reductionist concept of ethnography. She asserts, "'ethnography' has been gradually reduced in meaning in recent years and in proportion to its popularity (...) ethnography entails deep immersion and is seldom accomplished in short periods of time. It is a special kind of description, not to be confused with qualitative and descriptive studies." Why does the concept have to fixed? What does she mean by other descriptive studies? What are the pros and cons of fixing boundaries to a methodological approach?
  3. Some authors have been criticized for investigating social groups while they are not part of the group (i.e., did not know Italian, was not an insider to the group studies, did not understand the importance of the family in Italian group life, etc). Why being an insider or "native" turns out to be a requisite for doing research? Why would that be more valuable than observing from outside? Does this mean that whites cannot do research on African American or Asian Americans and vice versa? What are the pros and cons of this insider/outsider dichotomy?
  4. Hopf defines two key principles regarding research ethics in the social sciences: informed consent and damage avoidance. How about others, such as integrity, responsibility, honesty, competence and transparency? Why single out informed consent and preventing harm?
  5. When Hopf argues that “what is not acceptable (…) is that questions of balancing costs against benefits (…) should be left to committees of research ethics, as is partly the case in the United States,” is she referring to IRBs? Or to panels that decide ethical complaints after they have been brought to the attention of an association, such as the ASA?

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