Objectivity, Positivism, and Epistemological Others

Note-taking for Principles of Empirical Research with Christine Voulgarides

Weber, Max. [1904](1949). “Objectivity in Social Science and Social Policy,” In The Methodology of the Social Sciences, Max Weber, translated and edited by Edward Shils and Henry A. Finch. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press. Pages 49-112.

Max Weber - The Methodology of the Social Sciences

Sociology arose in order to make value judgments about measures of state economic policy. For Weber, though, an empirical science can’t provide binding norms and ideals that you can use to immediately derive policy from. “An empirical science cannot tell anyone what he should do—but rather what he can do—and under certain circumstances—what he wishes to do.” Social science can attain objectivity only by keeping out the researcher’s value judgments about their subjects’ goals. In the same way, economics claims objectivity because economists don’t take positions on what people are supposed to value.

Continue reading

Examining the Assumptions Underpinning Interpretive Inquiry

Note-taking for Approaches to Qualitative Inquiry with Colleen Larson

Willis, J.W., (2007) Foundations of Qualitative Research, Sage, chapters 5-6.

Jerry Willis - Foundations of Qualitative Research

Postpositivist social science research involves six steps:

  1. Find an idea to research. The idea can come from anywhere, including your experience or whatever qualitative data.
  2. Develop or select a theory. It can be a nineteenth century style all-encompassing theory, a Merton-style midlevel theory, or a minitheory like learned helplessness. Sometimes you choose a theory to test first and then look for a way to test it.
  3. Develop specific, testable hypotheses derived from your theory (the hypothetico-deductive model.)
  4. Design a study to objectively gather quantitative data under controlled conditions that allow you to draw conclusions about your hypotheses.
  5. Analyze the data using standard statistical techniques and interpret the results using the guidelines of the scientific method. A positive outcome supports your theory but doesn’t prove it beyond any doubt.
  6. Report your work in an objective scientific paper format.

When social scientists differ on the outcomes of research, it’s usually a conflict of paradigms. In the 1950s and 1960s, psychological studies of gay people found they weren’t as “well adjusted” as straight people of similar backgrounds and age. At the time the assumption was that homosexuality was a deviant pathology, so that alone explained the unhappiness of gays. When the field started thinking of homosexuality as just another sexual preference, they interpreted gay unhappiness as the result of persecution by a hostile society. The same empirical observations support different conclusions depending on your assumptions. So is postpositivism in social science really more about arguing beliefs than proving truths?  Continue reading

Classical composers, Bowie and Björk

This post originally took the form of a couple of Twitter threads, which I’ve collected and edited here for easier reading.

Greg Sandow asks two very interesting and provocative questions of classical music:

When the Museum of Modern Art did its first retrospective of a seminal musical artist, no surprise it was Björk who reached past music into the larger cultural world. Some day, couldn’t somebody from classical music do that? When a major musical artist died and the New York Times did more than 20 stories tracing his influence on our culture and on people’s lives, well, of course it was David Bowie. Couldn’t it someday be someone from classical music?

My answer: Probably not.

Björk in 1993 by Jean-Baptiste Mondino David Bowie

Continue reading

Games for learning research method overview: interviews

Note-taking for Research on Games and Simulations with Jan Plass

Interview With The Vampire

Magnusson, C., Rassmus-Gröhn, K., Tollmar, K., and Deaner, E. Haptimap User Study.

Gomoll, K. & Nicol, A. (1990). User Observation: Guidelines for Apple Developers.

The Apple developer guidelines recommend incorporating user observation and feedback early and often in the software design process. Rather than receiving a set of requirements and then executing against them, developers should make prototypes quickly, test them regularly, and then iterate repeatedly. While these guidelines refer to observations of users as they interact directly with an application, they can also inform the process of interviewing users.  Continue reading

Descriptive Participant Observations on the Culture of the Park Slope Food Coop

Writing assignment for Approaches to Qualitative Inquiry with Colleen Larson

The Park Slope Coop (PSFC) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1973. It offers sustainably and ethically produced food and grocery items. Because it needs only to cover costs rather than turn a profit, the PSFC’s prices are substantially lower than a typical Brooklyn grocery store. Since its founding, it has grown from a small ad-hoc organization into a substantial neighborhood institution with over 17,000 members. Only Coop members are allowed to shop, and members are required to work a monthly two hour and forty-five minute volunteer shift. This is unusual—most food coops give members the option of paying a membership fee rather than working. The PSFC is managed by a core staff of paid employees, but members perform much of the day-to-day labor, which helps keep costs low.

Park Slope Food Coop exterior

The aisles are narrow, stacked floor to ceiling with inventory. Per the web site, the store carries “local, organic and conventionally grown produce; pasture-raised and grass-fed meat; free-range, organic and kosher poultry; fair-traded chocolate and coffee; wild and sustainably farmed fish; supplements and vitamins; imported and artisan cheese; freshly baked bread, bagels and pastries; bulk grains and spices; environmentally safe cleaning supplies, and much more.” The PSFC generates over fifty million dollars in sales revenue per year, with a “shrink rate” (merchandise lost, damaged or stolen) of about half the industry average. The environment feels markedly different from a typical grocery store. There is a conspicuous absence of candy, magazines, soda, marketing aimed at kids, and branding and marketing generally. The only periodical available is the PSFC’s own Linewaiter’s Gazette, which resembles a high school newspaper.

Continue reading

Frank Ocean – Pink and White

I’m working on a new music theory course with the good folks at Soundfly, a continuation of Theory For Producers. We were looking for contemporary songs that use modal interchange, combinations of different scales to create complex blends of emotion. Soundfly producer Marty Fowler suggested a Frank Ocean song, which I was immediately on board with.

Frank Ocean - Blond

Frank is one of the freshest musicians and songwriters out there–his song “Super Rich Kids” is one of my favorite recent tracks by anyone. For the course, Marty picked “Pink And White,” a simple tune with a deceptively complex harmonic structure.

Continue reading

The Interpretive Turn: From Sociological Positivism to Constructivism

Note-taking for Approaches to Qualitative Inquiry with Colleen Larson

Willis, J.W., (2007) Foundations of Qualitative Research, Sage, chapters 1-4.

Jerry Willis - Foundations of Qualitative Research

The simplest way to define the difference between quantitative and qualitative research methods is that one uses numbers and the other uses words. But in reality, qualitative researchers use stats too, and all quantitative studies contextualize their findings with qualitative arguments. The real difference is not in the type of data being collected and studied; it’s the foundational assumptions behind each method, otherwise known as their underlying paradigms.

Paradigms of inquiry Continue reading

More salsa-dancing social science

Note-taking for Principles of Empirical Research with Christine Voulgarides

Continuing with Salsa Dancing Into The Social Sciences by Kristin Luker. See the first part of the discussion here.

Salsa Dancing Into The Social Sciences

Canonical sociologists usually have well-bounded sets of questions, and answer them using well-bounded sets of theories and previous findings. Qualitative researchers have questions that emerge out of theoretical and purposive open-ended research. Luker describes the case that “chooses you,” or “the one that you sample yourself into.” You want to ask: What is this a case of? and: How do you expand it to another level of generality?

Continue reading

Measurement in games for learning research

Note-taking for Research on Games and Simulations with Jan Plass


Kiili, K., &; Lainema, T. (2008). Foundation for Measuring Engagement in Educational Games. J of Interactive Learning Research, 19(3), 469–488.

The authors’ purpose here is to assess flow in educational games, to “operationalize the dimensions of the flow experience.” A flow state involves deep concentration, time distortion, autotelic (self-motivating) experience, a loss of self-consciousness, and a sense of loss of control.

Continue reading