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Popular Research Methodology Literature in Political Science

A survey of library catalogues of some of the leading universities worldwide offering courses in political science reveals that new publications on research methodology used in the discipline and published during the last 20 years almost equal, if not surpass, other areas of major concern in the discipline. It appears that the internal and external turmoil experienced by states and the waxing and waning of ideologies have influenced the disciplinary concerns of researchers. Has this influenced a widening or closeting of the horizons of knowledge creation and its correlate, the tools of enquiry? What kinds of texts are popularly used? How useful are they for the developing world?


Popular Research Methodology Literature in Political Science

An Overview

Bonita Aleaz

A survey of library catalogues of some of the leading universities worldwide offering courses in political science reveals that new publications on research methodology used in the discipline and published during the last 20 years almost equal, if not surpass, other areas of major concern in the discipline. It appears that the internal and external turmoil experienced by states and the waxing and waning of ideologies have influenced the disciplinary concerns of researchers. Has this influenced a widening or closeting of the horizons of knowledge creation and its correlate, the tools of enquiry? What kinds of texts are popularly used? How useful are they for the developing world?

The author expresses her gratitude for the Erasmus Mundus Visiting Scholarship to the Roehampton University, London during 2010 and for extensive use of its library for carrying out the research for this article.

Bonita Aleaz ( teaches political science at the University of Calcutta.

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his article enters into the continuing contestations over methodology1 bogging the discipline since much of the last century. In the first two sections it attempts an overview of the trends in research methodology visible in the discipline of political science during the contemporary period and in the final section it tries to locate and analyse some of the researcher’s own work through these emerging trends.

1 Questioning the Quantitative Base

The concern of political science with its methodological postulates can be traced to the inception of the discipline itself. It was born with the intrinsic ambition to provide foolproof environs to the States’ political functioning, and in the process to facilitate and secure not only the internal juridical structure, but its external parameters as well. Political theory became the primary tool to complement the strengthening of the discipline; at this stage, the methodological interests were to authenticate the structuring and validation of political theory. Subsequently, this obsession with theory, more specifically its engagement with the specific tools of theory construction, was to prove all too confi ning, so much so that the legitimacy to carry forward the appendage “science” has been seriously questioned. In many cases this i nner critique has led departments to rename themselves as p olicy studies or public administration.

In regions such as West Bengal the subject still remains one of the most popular at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels in the social sciences. But elsewhere in the country its existence has considerably dwindled. Under the University of Madras, for instance, one does not find a department of political science at all! Now this story has oft been told and does not require retelling. What does require emphasis is the trend that has been set in motion, the directions that have been traversed and the inputs that have been gained in the process. Have the social sciences gained through the emergence of new a pproaches or have they lost out to those espousing more of scientifi c investigations?

As far back as 1944, Franz L Neumann had strongly opposed the dilemmas faced by the discipline. Political theorists could not appropriate to themselves the role of moral philosophers neither could they become epistemological explorers. To him the “Behemoth”, invariably, was the state and it used concepts solidified by theory to “police” exclusions and inclusions.2 Neumann had experienced such discomfiture in wartime E urope and was justified in warning the discipline, emergent in post-war Europe, from replicating the same eclectic judgmentalism which had proved so fatal to communities in the past and unfortunately continues to be so. Political science, through its methodological disciplining, had put political t heory under the rubric of political ideology, and this had succeeded in bringing about the exclusivity of domains built up either by political science or political theory (Kettler 2006: 238). Neumann, quite surprisingly spoke of two concerns that he fervently wished to accomplish: to be associated with the Free University of Berlin and to be involved with a process of b ildung3 or political education. Neumann strongly referred to the binding of the process of the institutionalisation of political education, the shape of political enquiry and also the logic of political action. “Openness”, “freedom of speech and expression” were not tactical ploys to be flaunted in a vacuum by constitutions, but to be practised energetically by researchers/ academics at universities (Kettler: 238).

It is not a coincidence that other theoreticians had experienced the same sort of closures in other places. Helene Cixous, the French post-structuralist feminist, for instance, could write and express herself freely only at the “open atmosphere” of the Université de Paris VIII founded in May 1968 (Aleaz 2011). Academics even today feel constrained due to the subsuming of political theory under political ideology. University administrations, course materials and research have all been a ffected by this orientation.

…all political questions ought to be discussed openly and without r ancor, that no scholar and teacher has the obligation of accepting a political system, but that each of them has the obligation, knowing his own prejudices, of discussing openly and rationally every political a ction and conception … free scientific enquiry in a free society is i ndispensable for the self-determination of man (Neumann 1957: 215).

Emphasis upon methodology and epistemology and a sense of crisis in political theory have been shared by others as well. Dissatisfaction with the way political theory has handled crisis resulted in a blame game of sorts – some laid it at the door of its penchant for the natural sciences, some with its inordinate engagement with historicism or even its perforce search for alternative methodologies. All these periodic engagements have been under the scanner since some of the recent literature in political science, or under the broader rubric of the s ocial sciences have seriously engaged with these issues.

The Strength of Naturalism

Geoff Stokes (1990) writing in the International Political Science Review shows that a lack of ethical orientation to the problems confronting modern politics has largely been responsible for the current crisis. However, there is no uniformity in the conception of what constitutes “crisis” in political theory ( Geoff: 48). The impetus to theorise, to provide a uniform singular template for the problems existing in society, exists with equal urgency among all: the classicists or preferably those l abelled as the “epic” theorists as well as the traditionalists, even though the relative differences between their respective standpoints may be signifi cant (ibid).

Stokes directs our attention towards “epistemologies” as identified by Karl Popper and Charles Taylor. These were not as rigidly cast as those that advocated the scientifi c mould! The Popperian notion, for instance, can be aligned with the notion of “fallibilism” – knowledge is both uncertain and corrigible, and thus an open, liberal and democratic condition is a necessary. Similarly Taylor (pp 52, 53) points out that the strength of naturalism lies in its underlying image of human agency and the self, and a particular view of human dignity and freedom, not so much in the quality of epistemological a rguments. Putnam, Habermas, Gadamer, Richard Rorty, Bernstein, even Hannah Arendt, have all found answers to c risis in human society not in increasing levels of theorising but in “the Idea of good” as extolled by Putnam, or good life as elucidated by Habermas in conversation, dialogue, undistorted communication, or in the type of “rational wooing” that can take place when individuals confront each other as equals, as alluded to by Bernstein (Stokes 1990: 53).

John Law has been more scathingly critical about the situation in the social sciences. His book (2004) is called After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. When social science tries to describe things that are complex, and diffuse, “it makes a mess of it” (Law 2004: 2). This is because simple clear descriptions do not work, if what is being described is itself incoherent. There are things that have clear coherent images – income distributions, global carbon emissions, the terms of trade and the boundaries of nation states. These are stable realities that the social and the natural sciences deal with more or less effectively. But alongside these clear-cut phenomena are the complex aspects of reality that the social sciences are unable to comprehend by relying upon clear-cut “scientific methods” (ibid). In order to relate to the “slippery”, enigmatic reality new ways of knowing should be evolved in the social sciences.

However, it is interesting to know why social scientists such as John Law feel so constrained about the methodological d evelopments in the social sciences. The problem does not lie in the lack of variety in the practice of methods in the social s ciences, rather he would categorically label the propensity as the “dominant Euro-American enactments (that) produce and presuppose forms of manifest absence that are independent and prior to an observer; definite in shape and form; and also singular (there is only one reality)” (Law 2004: 145). The allegation is that a generality is unilaterally applied, with the assertion that if one wishes to understand reality properly then it is important to follow methodological rules. One does not r efute the requirements of discipline in research or the necessity of wide variety of data for scores of developmental purposes, but the rigour of its imposition is refuted. The idea that the methods generated in the Euro-American context are inevitable and also guide the type of data that ought to be collected, how they should be collected, and anything not falling within such methodological rigour should be down classed infuses hegemony in research methods that is unacceptable.

The truth is that methods not only help describe but they also produce the reality that they describe. To substantiate this

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argument Law gives instances from a scientifi c laboratory, r evealing that the methodological practices of the natural sciences, which the social sciences have been so eager to emulate since their inception, are not so sacrosanct after all. In other words, laboratory methods may be constructed rather than following a natural course of discovery. Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar observed the working of scientists and reported their observations in their 1979 published book Laboratory Life (Knorr and Karin 1981). They show how scientists actually lose sight of the materials used in the initial process of the experiment relying rather for their ultimate discovery on the appearance of similarities and differences in the subsequent mathematical equations that are formed.

John law maintains that the ethnographers of science are usually more or less “constructivist”. They argue that scientifi c knowledge is constructed in scientific practices. “The tools and practices of construction include instruments, architectures, texts-indeed a whole range of participants that extend far beyond people. Energy, money, chemicals, people, animals along with tools, instruments move into the laboratory at the same time as people along with paper and debris move out, in this process, the product of the laboratory emerges as constructed texts” (Law 2004: 19).

This is indeed a long description and does not concern us here, what is important to be known is that the sacrosanct nature of the scientific process of knowledge production has been shorn of its halo.

Evolution and Theory

The problem with methodology and methods and to a certain extent with content in political science, and with its wider c orrelate the social sciences in general rose to a crescendo with research such as Ira H Carmen (2007) and even earlier with works such as that produced by Alford, Funk and Hibbing (2005). The latter showed that genetics had a lot to infl uence political behaviour, even political ideological orientation. It is proposed that evolutionary biology can supply political science with a theory of the ultimate causes of human preferences and behaviours that it otherwise lacks. For the most part, political scientists are either unfamiliar with the social side of evolutionary theory or they misidentify its key features (Alford, Funk and Hibbing 2005: 703).

Far from being genetically deterministic, or leading exclusively to predictions that all human behaviour will be selfi sh, modern evolutionary theories stress that adaptive behaviour is frequently characterised by a guarded sort of cooperation.

The authors present scientific evidence, drawn from research on autistic individuals and monozygotic and dizygotic twins, of the startlingly important role genetics plays in shaping politically relevant attitudes and behaviours. Carmen, a political scientist as well as a genetic biologist, shows likewise how the transition from genetics to genomics can be made through scientific experiments that chart variations in human behaviours. He presents a new theory – sociogenomics – to replace the “shopworn” conceptions of “yesterday’s” political science. It is then demonstrated how social scientists can employ

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the tools of molecular biology to study and analyse genes, that can in turn help in coding for baseline political attitudes and behaviours. The theory and methods of sociogenomics, a ccording to Carmen, will serve to synthesise the social s ciences with the natural sciences in a broader consilient (uniting) framework, so that the laboratory of Darwinian investigation can become the laboratory of Aristotelian investigation (Carmen 2007: 34).

Each of these studies may have their scientific utility, but for a study of society and politics asking for free and open discussion such methods unnecessarily complicate and “mess up”.

The mess that we are in has been eloquently emphasised by two books: Bent Flyvbjerg’s Making Social Matter (2001) and the subsequent edited volume by Sanford Schram and Brian Caterino Making Political Science Matter: Debating Knowledge, Research and Method (2006). In fact, the present article was inspired by the hard-hitting arguments very cogently presented by the collection of articles in the latter volume. Schram and Caterino’s volume represents the chain reaction to what has been referred to as the “hegemony of scientistic social science” (Schram 2006: 31). The realisation that the very realm of social science was being taken over resulted in a series of movements, which was referred to as the renegade movement to promote perestroika in political science. In fact some years ago an eponymous “Mr Perestroika” had drawn attention to the growing constraints in the disciple, via the theories of rationality that proposed predictions and cumulative actions. It is a growing body of scholars, students i ncluded, who adopt either of the following criticisms (Schram 2006: 18):

(1) the overly abstract nature of work done in the social sciences t oday; (2) lack of nuance in decontextualised, large-sample empirical studies; (3) the inhumanness of thinking about social relations in causal terms; and (4) the inability to produce meaningful knowledge applicable to social life.

The paradigm upon which “scientific” social sciences are dependent has become overly exclusive since it refuses to recognise “single case studies”. These are not considered worthy of knowledge creation and are often refused by leading journals for publication, considered unfit for knowledge-creation, and thus unscientifi c.


As against this argument perestroika puts forward the possibility to question the idea that political science research e xists as a unitary enterprise, dedicated to the accumulation of an expanding knowledge base of universal, “decontextualised generalisations about politics” (Schram 2006: 19). Perestroika puts emphasis upon a more plural connection between thought and action, a blossoming of contextual, contingent and multiple political truths that involve a greater tie between theory and practice in specific settings. Such an a pproach is obviously not obsessed with development or modernisation per se but the contextually sensitive ways of comparisons of change. Through this method political s cience is obviously “freed” from the necessity of having to prove itself as a scientific knowledge base, instead, this approach (Schram 2006: 19)

would encourage scholars to draw on a wide variety of methods from a diversity of theoretical perspectives, combining theory and empirical work in different and creative ways, all in dialogue with political actors in specific contexts. Problem-driven research would replace methoddriven research. This becomes the formulation of social and political theory out of practical wisdom as Aristotle referred to in his “phronesis”.

In the same volume edited by Schram and Caterino, P eregrine Schwartz-Shea talks very forthrightly about the “ Conundrum in the Practice of Pluralism”, the opinion may be generated that by abjuring the “scientific” method of political science and advocating perestroika researchers merely wish to establish another form of exclusivity; they wish to publish their own perspectives, to monopolise research and get access to granting agencies! This has to be correctly understood. Perestroikans have argued not for eliminating statistics but for “balance” in the curriculum. Three suggestions are offered that have great signifi cance for the fl ux that has been created in the discipline. Pluralism in method connotes (1) to not criticise “rules, logic, sign and rationality in them”. The situation is one of a happy pluralism in which researchers imagine themselves to contribute to knowledge, to different wings of the structure; (2) it is not the perspective of pluralism that is questioned but the significance of the problems researched by different research approaches; and finally (3) researchers should think critically about the value of their research and its ultimate use, not only in a pragmatic but in a political way as well (Schwartz-Shea 2006: 219).

The very next year after the path-breaking Flyvbjerg v olume, Peregrine Schwartz-Shea along with Dvora Yanow undertook a painstaking research to review 14 books used as research methods texts for graduate and undergraduate programmes in western universities. They started out with two significant questions (Schwartz-Shea and Yanow 2002: 457):

To what extent do research methods texts reflect the breadth of methods used in political science and its fields? To what extent do they reflect contemporary ferment concerning questions of social reality and its “knowability”? These questions are intertwined with each other – epistemological positions on what counts as “science” affect the methods presented – and with the misleading distinction between “quantitative” and “qualitative” methods.

Peregrine and Dvora’s research is extremely signifi cant since, in the course of their work, they find that all these books eulogise the scientific method and these are used widely across universities. The other non-quantifiable methods are rendered invisible in the texts.

The Qualitative-Quantitative Quandary

The problem reached a climax after the voluminous contributions by the trio Gary King, O Keohane and Sidney Verba in the field of social enquiry through their landmark contribution

D esigning Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative R esearch (1994). It is important to give a brief overview of their approach before we can move on. The latter are still considered as having established path-breaking ideas in the approach to social enquiry and the book is considered compulsory reading in a majority of institutions offering research methodology courses in western universities.

King, Keohane and Verba had a significant impact on the discipline by providing a codified approach to each step in r esearch design – formulating questions, specifying testable theories, choosing observations, reporting results, etc. “The book encouraged methodological self-consciousness in political science, and this legacy can only be seen as benefi cial” (Mahoney 2000: 121). King, Keohane and Verba’s central a ssumption was to establish the superiority of quantitative r esearch; for this “they prioritised a thorough grounding and use of, in particular, regression analysis to overcome the short comings of qualitative research” (ibid). In other words, they had assumed that a template of quantitative research was necessary to hone and finalise qualitative research as well. The superiority of the method of scientific investigation shaped by quantitative analysis was unquestioningly infallible.

A large amount of research was produced along similar lines, either attempting a re-evaluation of what King, Keohane and Verba had done or proposing alternative lines of investigation. James Mahoney reviews a number of outstanding books, all of which were published after King, Keohane and Verba’s contribution; obviously the intentions of the researchers were to reopen the debate about methodologically sound usable principles in the social sciences. Mahoney refers to the period as the “after KKV” period, implying signifi cant breakthrough had been achieved in the field of social science query using qualitative methods.

A thorough reading of the books however indicates that the obsession with the scientific method continues unabated. Based on the books reviewed, and Mahoney’s own research, the following innovations in methodology are proposed: (1) process tracing and causal process observations, (2) set-theoretic methods and logic, and (3) strategies for combining qualitative and quantitative research (Mahoney 2010: 120). While explicating these, Mahoney divulges his own predilections: the usefulness of causal-process observations (CPOs) used in qualitative research and data process observations (DPOs) widely used in quantitative research. While sets have their uses he says in a large number of cases of process-tracing, non-comparable

o bservations are impossible to be included but remain useful as causal inferences. In the ultimate analysis, the alignment of the two types remains necessary. This dual legacy of King, Keohane and Verba – benefi cially increasing methodological awareness while controversially, and perhaps unproductively, promoting a singular quantitative approach – constitutes an important backdrop for what happened subsequently among researchers looking for answers in and through research methodology in political science (Mahoney 2010: 121).

Political Contingency as a Solution

The basic question of whether and exactly how qualitative and quantitative approaches can be combined still needs to be r esolved according to Mahoney. This challenge involves not only practical problems but also philosophical ones. What is

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the relationship between studies that seek to develop comprehensive explanations of outcomes in particular kinds of cases versus studies that seek to estimate the average effects of particular independent variables across a large number of cases? Can approaches grounded in set theory and logic be combined with approaches grounded in probability theory and statistics (Mahoney 2000: 144)?

If we turn to Gregory Huber (2007) perhaps part of the question is addressed, through his emphasis on the study of nonevents, rather than significant events. The question that still remains to be encountered is as Huber puts it “how should political science incorporate the fact that important political interactions are embedded in situations where outcomes are unknown prior to their occurrence” (Huber 2007: 205)?

The answer lies in the fact that political scientists have so long been influenced by the downstream effects of political contingencies, that they have always wanted to be prepared to face these eventualities, it is for such reasons that it has been important to categorise, to tabulate, to “provide answers”, so that in the process of policy formulation they are not caught off guard. However, the incongruity of not being able to provide all the answers despite our best efforts draws attention to the fact that we should perhaps look at the mediating effects of the contingent events which Huber refers to as “non-events”, not the events themselves. Such untoward directions of our research might provide a greater strengthening of our confi dence in facing the wayward and the dramatic political situations. An example given by Huber (2007: 215) is interesting to relate vis-á-vis the question raised: is strategic behaviour r eally relevant for understanding the contingencies that manifest in successful democratic consolidations and those that r esult in returns to military rule or authoritarianism? The contention is that focusing too much on the success or failure of observed efforts at democratisation may overlook the strategic interactions that explain when and how autocratic leaders or exclusionary regimes choose to experiment with democratisation in their own interests!

Some contingencies are completely unforeseen and are best avoided, rather “political science should make primary those foreseeable contingencies around which strategic political a ctors manoeuvre”. These like their unforeseeable counterparts are fundamentally probabilistic. Nonetheless, they matter because political actors have beliefs about the probabilities that they will manifest, and these beliefs shape the strategic interactions among political actors. The second argument is that “political science already has the capacity for incorporating this second form of contingency, knowable uncertainties, into analysis of strategic behaviour” (Huber 2007: 206). The way to account for this form is, not to study the observed probabilistic manifestations of contingent outcomes, but instead to study how strategic actors behave in light of those potential contingencies. Huber does not lose sight of the importance of game theory and probability theory in influencing human behaviour or events having links with human actions (ibid).

George Thomas (2005), on the other hand, focuses on the greater qualitative turn. Like Mahoney he undertook a review

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of a number of books all produced in the post KKV period, such as John Gerring (2001) Social Science Methodology: A Critical Framework; Barbara Geddes (2003) Paradigms and Sand Castles: T heory Building and Research Design in Comparative Politics; Charles Ragin (2000) Fuzzy-Set Social Science and Colin and Miriam Elman’s (2001) work, in a review article in the P erspectives on Politics. Thomas feels that the focus on aspects of the scientific process beyond the testing of hypotheses continues – science being “a systematic, rigorous, evidence-based, generalising, non-subjective, and cumulative” way of discovering the truth about the world (Gerring 2001: xv). So he feels that if science is the systematic gathering of knowledge, testing hypotheses – the central concern of statistical inference – is an important part of this. The scholars argue that whatever the methodological bent, qualitative or quantitative, there should be shared sense of evaluation and a common language; it is in this sphere that important differences are revealed.

Geddes, for instance, writing for comparativists with a qualitative bent, adheres to the foundational logic of statistical i nference. She says the main task is theory testing for social scientists and in this the rational choice approaches clearly are better suited since they deduce hypothesis from a particular model that has been tried and tested, and this makes them a better choice. “The big argument should be broken at its branching points, and hypotheses that purport to explain choices at different nodes should be tested on additional cases that fit appropriate initial conditions” (Geddes 2003: 14). Most of the authors affirm that the main task is the continual movement between theory and evidence that enables the clarifi cation of theory. Theories from which prepositions are derived are an inherent part of the empirical world and are part and parcel of the scientific endeavour, not a pre-scientifi c attempt.

Thomas categorically sets the tone of his analysis by stating that there has often been a consensus that quantitative and qualitative research share a “unified logic of inference”; that the differences between these “traditions are only stylistic and are methodologically and substantively unimportant”. All of the above-mentioned books share these convictions. Thus the dominant view of science within political science being drawn from physics and chemistry continues to build on the use of more and more math. Yet this exhortation, to be more scientific, has now led to a rebellion against this narrow conception of science; these books illuminate how science itself has qualitative foundations. Thomas’ own views enhance this (2005: 862, 864):

many of the concerns associated with qualitative methods increasingly find expression in quantitative forms. Conversely concept formation and theory building are just as important to quantitative research as to qualitative researchers.

What was once effect has now become cause, perhaps revealing that political science itself moves in a complex and nonlinear way? (2005: 864).

2 The Greater Qualitative Turn

It should be noted that the perestroika underlined in Section 1 has been in the making for quite some time and a whole lot of other kinds of research techniques have established their legitimacy in the social science research arena. Some of them are reviewed below. Hollway and Jefferson’s book is worth looking at in the overall repertoire of usable political science methods. What is needed first of all, which we ourselves perceive, is the need to appropriately interpret the voices of people; this is a felt need and is a democratic one (Hollway and Jefferson 2000: 3):

Who are we to note now any better than the participants when it is a fter all, their lives? If we are prepared to disagree, modify, select and interpret what they tell us, is this not an example of the kind of power that we as researchers have that should be kept in check by being faithful to the voices of those we are researching?

The problem is how to give voice to another’s experience without an adequate experience of the same oneself. We have ambiguous representations of another’s experience through text, talk, interaction and interpretation. “If justice has to be done to the subject of research then an interpretative approach is unavoidable” (Hollway and Jefferson 2000: 3). It is “unpatronising” since it allows people to know about others through their own accounts, but researchers should be seen as neutral vehicles for representing knowledge in an uncontaminated way as possible. The researcher should not be excluded due to any special objective as being of a different status as the subject of research. However, the “interpretative circle” creates its own problems, and the fact that interpreting the various representations rather than the experiences itself as ambiguously as possible has become a problem. The authors tend to argue for “the need to posit research subjects whose inner worlds cannot be understood without knowledge of their experiences in the world, and whose experiences of the world cannot be understood without knowledge of the way in which their inner worlds allow them to experience the outer world” (Hollway and Jefferson 2000: 4). It is made clear that in such cases the research subject cannot be known “except through another subject, in this case the researcher. Such a subject is named ‘psychosocial’ ” (ibid). The method is a blend of intuitive social research locating the subject exactly in the context/location of her experiences. This, it is believed, gives the subject absolute freedom to voice her concerns to the researcher in as real a manner as possible.

Discourse analysis, hermeneutics and such “interpretative” approaches had already influenced the intuitive turn in political science; perestroika definitely opened the fl oodgates of e nquiry to a host of other techniques. The infl uencing factors have been manifold and the field of enquiry seems to have boundless seams, yet the main crux of the query seems to be to provide as wide a platform as possible to researchers, to maintain ethics and to be inclusive. For this, drawing upon knowledge possible through a variety of techniques, is not a dispelling factor and there is no compulsion in proving the soundness of one’s fi ndings.

Use of “unobtrusive methods”, “mobile methodologies” and “phronesis” or “practical wisdom” in the fi eld are some of the additions made to the repertoire of advanced qualitative methods to achieve maximum results in explaining and providing answers to problems encountered by political scientists.

Making Methodologies Plastic

The propensity of social scientists to observe the world in its totality has given birth to the use of mobile methodologies i nspired, no doubt, by the heightened awareness of the importance of a better understanding of the movement of bodies through space. The methods proposed are varied, however, some of it has been explored by ethnomethodologists quite comprehensively. Even though geographers, sociologists and those specialising in urban studies had adopted these practices, the methodology itself has not been comprehensively developed. The trio of Ben Fincham, Mark Mcguiness and Lesley Murray bring out, perhaps for the first time, a publication on how to use the collection of methods referred to as Mobile Methodologies (2010). The researcher and the subject are both in a state of mobility, the intention therefore is that post hoc reflection, the idea of real time data gathering or the experience of the same is reflected as accurately as possible; and this in turn lends a real time or “vérité credibility” to the analysis (Fincham, Mcguiness and Murray 2010: 9). Explorations of mobile methodologies have included commuting by any transport, walking, autoethnography or even photo diaries.

The entire effort rests on the realisation that there is distinctness in the understanding of the social world in motion, it is important to understand that data generated in motion captures moods otherwise not perceived. Even though the movement may have the impression of corporeal passivity, these are not to be treated as periods of absence, or that are devoid of meaning but that which can have signifi cant impact or contribution to the overall analysis. Yet they are not durations that should be interpreted by filling them with overactive text and meaning. Therefore narrative practices must be developed that are more responsive to these other, rather more refractory, registers of mobile subjectivity. Another justifi able implication is that in an increasingly speeded up output-driven research climate, where the legitimacy of research is more prone to stifling rather than acceptance, “it is only through these fractured, shifting and critical styles of empiricism that a more responsive narration of subjectivity emerges: responsive not only to the vast range of corporeal sensibilities but also to the limitations of empiricism itself” (Fincham, Mcguiness and Murray 2010: 68).

Along with the above-mentioned, off the mainstream, research methods, Raymond M Lee adds his Unobtrusive Methods in Social Research (2000). The book may be called a companion volume to the initial research done by Eugene J Webb in 1966 entitled Unobtrusive Measures: Non-reactive Research in the Social Sciences. The intention behind the propagation of unobtrusive methods in the social sciences is that “the more anonymous the method, that is the less it is involved in face-toface contact, the more likely respondents were to admit to s ocially undesirable behaviour” (Lee 2000: 3). How people r espond to certain words also varied significantly. For instance Lee cites various surveys showing that the word “welfare” in questions about fi nancial benefits received by benefi ciaries drew

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“lower levels of positive response than the word poor” (ibid). Therefore the need to accomplish the “interrogation of experience, attitude and belief in other less direct ways” (Lee 2000: 1). The phrase “unobtrusive measures” was coined by Webb to refer to data gathered by means that do not involve direct elicitation of information from research subjects, these measures are non-reactive, in the sense they are presumed to avoid the problems caused by the presence of the researcher herself. Social researchers should devote more time and attention to sources of data such as physical traces (the evidence people leave behind in various ways as they traverse their physical environment), non-participant observation being among them (ibid: 2).

3 Notes from the Field

In the period of economic liberalisation, when governments’ have to compete with a host of other agencies to make themselves most effective, policy research has been adopted as an important instrument not only to push development through but also to legitimise governmental functioning. However, one finds that the desperate need to use information from the fi eld for “correct” results has put intense pressure on policy analysts and a multiplicity of methods is proposed for result-oriented output. A few points raised very appropriately by Albert Cherns (1986) regarding the pitfalls of “policy research” ought to be stated. These relate very categorically to the compulsions and untoward outputs associated with policy research. In the light of his observations I wish to briefly state some of my own experiences obtained in the course of research work in the “fi eld”.

All funded research is inevitably associated with a utilisation justification; this is associated with the fact that all r esearch has a “result”. Cherns draws attention to the fact that this compulsion suggests an altogether misleading sense of what a great deal of social research provides. Physical experiments and mathematical investigations produce “results” which are authoritative, till proved otherwise. “Nothing so straightforward is the lot of social research …the word conveys inappropriate connotations.” Social inquiry has many outcomes, “but they do not necessarily, even usually, take the form implied by the natural science model” (187). In other words the results need not be as expected but are useful n evertheless in the social sciences.

Second, quite often policy research takes on the form of community development projects defined as “action research”. In such projects the role played by the various groups negotiating in the project, their ideological affiliations, their motives, all have significant impact among the plethora of groups and committees that may ultimately intervene in the projects. In such instances it is interesting to know what end results are ultimately produced and/or who stands to gain ultimately.

In 2005 the Institute of Mass Communication Film and Television Studies of the University of Kalyani (IMCFTSKU, West Bengal) started a radio programme “Kalyani” under the Government of India (GOI)’s communication policy which allowed universities to run radio programmes for the benefit of rural masses. This was in line with the government’s policy to use innovative measures for development purposes (Aleaz 2010).

Economic & Political Weekly

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The article shows how the methods used for the daily broadcast were prepared by the institute keeping in mind the cultural, health, economic and related needs of the people. The objectives were actually dual – entertainment of marginalised rural communities and, through subtle means, to elicit their opinion and engage their attention towards development and better lifestyle. An interactive session via letter writing was encouraged to obtain the responses of the audience to the various segments of the programme.

The results obtained were completely unexpected, way b eyond anything the organisers of the year-long programme could have ever envisaged. The broadcasters were particularly conscious of the methodology, since the objective was clear (entertainment with information) it was constantly monitored keeping the variegated requirements of policy, innovativeness, along with the needs for development. The programme fell within the repertoire of participatory research since the target audience could air their opinions on the broadcasts through the interactive sessions; on the basis of their opinions even d esired segments of the broadcasts were envisaged. However, nothing could foretell that the large segment of female listeners would use the platform provided by the broadcast channel to air love poems and such compositions; to them the programme symbolised a human person to whom they could r elate emotionally! The broadcast channel provided an outlet of sorts allowing pent-up emotions, creative impulses and the very obvious need to relate to someone/something while remaining behind the veil of anonymity!

The results of this venture were not totally a waste, so far as the government’s communication policy was concerned. It did provide a valuable channel for interactive entertainment to farflung communities, informed them about various local a reas of development and was an indispensable avenue of knowledge creation. To the researcher, however, it revealed the various untoward nuances of methodological application and its outputs in social research!

Conclusion: The Assemblage and Beyond

We come to the conclusion of an extremely contentious subject. Do we validate existing methodology in the social sciences that substantiates existing theoretical knowledge and leads on to “credible” policymaking or do we vouch for an open methodology that contributes to “living theories”? We make sense of what we are doing through researching it. We gather data and generate evidence to support our claims that we know what we are doing and why we are doing it, and we test these knowledge claims for their validity through the critical feedback of others, these are our “living theories”. Such an approach becomes imperative today when each individual clamours for the right of expression. Any preordained universal moral principle militates against a lived form of life.

Life should have its own free space not only for formal communication but for any form of creative expression. Thus it is in this sense that we need to develop living, demonstrable criteria, which are subject to public scrutiny and critique, and yet adds on to knowledge.

The social sciences have to struggle inordinately at this social s ciences go much further than either explicit monetary because all universities, driven by the market compulsion to m otives or exact prescriptions as visible in their forced associaproduce have felt the axe in comparison to the natural sci-tion with the natural sciences. This leads us to a strong propoences. The entire perspective towards social sciences is very sition of methodological “assemblage” (Law 2004: 144). We obvious, downsizing of departments, total eclipse of some of can on no account countenance the hegemonising of the discicentres or their merging with other departments, renaming of pline by any one approach, epistemological contribution or departments to help greater market-orientedness, etc, is all o ntological position. The perestroikan influences have become very visible, not just in India but globally. But ultimately the too widespread for such limited visions.


1 In this article, “methodology” refers to a theory of how we do things. This is distinct from “methods” which are the specifi c techniques for finding something out. The former invariably influences the latter.

2 David Kettler (2006) provides an excellent critique of Neumann’s Behemoth.

3 Bildung (German) Education in the largest sense, that which has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of the individual.


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– (2010): “Community Radio and Empowerment”, Economic & Political Weekly, 17 April, Vol XLV, No 16, pp 29-32.

Alford, John R, Carolyn L Funk and John R Hibbing (2005): “Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?”, American Political Science Review, Vol 99, No 2, May, pp 153-67.

Carmen, Ira H (2007): “Genetic Confi gurations of Political Phenomena: New Theories, New Methods”, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 614, pp 34-56.

Cherns, Albert C (1986): “Policy Research under Scrutiny” in Frank Heller (ed.), The Use and Abuse of Social Science (London: Sage Publications), pp 185-97.

Elman, Colin and Miriam Fendius Elman, ed. (2001): Bridges and Boundaries: Historians, Political Scientists, and the Study of International Relations (Cambridge: MIT Press).

Fincham, Ben, Mark Mcguiness and Lesley Murray, ed. (2010): Mobile Methodologies (New York: Palgrave and Macmillan).

Geddes, Barbara (2003): Paradigms and Sand Castles: Theory Building and Research Design in Comparative Politics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press).

Gerring, John (2001): Social Science Methodology: A Critical Framework (New York: Cambridge University Press).

– (2007): Case Study Research: Principles and Practices (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Hollway, Wendy and Tony Jefferson (2000): Doing Qualitative Research Differently, Free Association, Narrative and the Interview Method (London, etc: Sage Publications).

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Kettler, David (2006): “Political Science and Political Theory: The Heart of the Matter” in Sanford F Schram and Brian Caterino (ed.), Making Political Science Matter: Debating Knowledge, Research, and Method (New York: NYU Press).

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Mahoney, James (2000): “After KKV: The New Methodology of Qualitative Research”, World Politics, Volume 62, Number 1, January 2010, pp 120-47.

Neumann, Franz L (1944): Behemoth: Structure and Practice of National Socialism 1933-1944, second edition (New York: OUP).

– (1957): The Democratic and the Authoritarian State (Glencoe Il: The Free Press).

Ragin, Charles (2000): Fuzzy-Set Social Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

– (2008): Redesigning Social Inquiry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Schram, Sanford Fand Brian Caterino, ed. (2006): Making Political Science Matter (New York: New York University Press).

Schram, Sanford F (2006): “Return to Politics, Perestroika, Phronesis and Post-Paradigmatic Political Science”, Making Political Science Matter (New York: New York University Press), 17-31.

Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine (2006): “Conundrum in the Practice of Pluralism”, Making Political Science Matter (New York: New York University Press), pp 209-33.

Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine and Dvora Yanow (2002): “‘Reading’ ‘Methods’ ‘Texts’: How Research Methods Texts Construct Political Science”, Political Research Quarterly, Vol 55, No 2, June, pp 457-86.

Stokes, Geoff (1990): “The Good and Rational Life: Method and Value in the Crisis of Political T heory” in International Political Science R eview, Vol 11: 1, pp 45-57.

Thomas, George (2005): “The Qualitative Foundations of Political Science Methodology” in Pers pectives on Politics, Vol 3, No 4, p 855.

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