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CRIM40002

Qualitative Research Methods


Semester One, 2015
Name: Marcelo Oliva Olave
Assessment 1

CRIM40002
Qualitative Research Methods
Semester One, 2015
Name: Marcelo Oliva Olave
Assessment 1

Scientist as an observer. Communication in observationbased methods.


One lie told is that we write what we see.'
(Jones et al. 2010, p.483)
Science as a social artefact that let us know more about the world
in which we live in is determined by its own limitations. The
improvement of methodologies and techniques in science assists
us to get an idea of how reality works, but to reach a clear
understanding of our world we need to be aware of how humans
make use of these methods and how we relate to them. On the
other

hand,

human

capabilities

to

observe,

measure

and

understand the world are determined by our biological, social and


cultural contexts. In this sense, even when science and their
techniques can improve our way of knowing and understanding the
world, scientists have to face a double limitation, that given by the
artefacts that we build, and that that corresponds to our own
limitations as beings-in-the-world.
In this essay will be discussed how reality seen by social sciences is
unavoidably

shaped

by

observers

structural

determinants

(Maturana & Varela 1992) and the features of the scientific field
(Bourdieu 1975, Popper 1973) where the worlds representations
are mediated by relations between artefacts, techniques, language
and human capabilities (Latour & Woolgar 1986). It will be

CRIM40002
Qualitative Research Methods
Semester One, 2015
Name: Marcelo Oliva Olave
Assessment 1

discussed in what sense these representations could be an


imperfect approach to the reality outside our eyes, and in what
sense they could be considered lies, taking into account the
concepts

of

ethics,

responsibility

and

scientific

rigor

for

observation-based methods.
To end this essay, it will be argued that emergent criteria within a
scientific community helps reach an agreement of how social life
should be represented and reported. These agreements condition
any

approximation

to

reality

and

any

consideration

as

misrepresentation or a lie about the world being seen. This


common agreement in the scientific community has their own
limitations too.
Science as a social artefact
Science as a social artefact that let us know more about the world
in which we live in is determined by its own limitations. We agree
with Bourdieus conception that even the purest science is a
social field like any other (1975, p.19), and in that very sense, the
operation of that field is determined by specific forms of interest
(scientific, but political visibility, recognition- and economic, too)
(Bourdieu 1975). In addition, as Prez Soto suggests, science and
scientific rationality are, in fact, historical products both lacking an
absolute fundament or and objective point of reference. In other
words, scientific knowledge is not a synonym for objective

CRIM40002
Qualitative Research Methods
Semester One, 2015
Name: Marcelo Oliva Olave
Assessment 1

knowledge

or

righteous

understanding.

It

is

historical

construction, with well-defined borders that can be overcome


(1998). The development of the scientific field since modernity
brought a promise: a set of formal procedures that should lead us
to approach to the objective Truth as much as possible (Prez Soto
1998). Instead, now its possible to consider that in the scientific
field, the problem itself its related to the scientific method:
Epistemology, or Philosophy of Science, never reached a Scientific
Method (Prez Soto 1998). Instead, it defined formal rules that are
self-referent in order to determine if they are in compliance with
the general accepted scientific method, and it operates as codes of
scientific honesty which violation is absolutely unacceptable
(Lakatos & Feigl 1974).
Selection of methods, a matter of preference
The improvement (or increasing diversity) of methodologies and
techniques in a particular field of scientific development influences
our perception of having a more complete understanding of how
reality works, reflecting what

Popper (1973) and Laudan (1990)

point out as an Ideology of Progress. Foucault proposed its own


methodologies as gadgets or toolboxes than can be used to
develop new approaches and to reach a better understanding of
how social systems work (Foucault & Gordon 1980). Nevertheless,
scientific methods only can help us to reach that goal if we

CRIM40002
Qualitative Research Methods
Semester One, 2015
Name: Marcelo Oliva Olave
Assessment 1

understand how scientists make use of them, and relate with them.
Even when demonstrated reliability during yielding data justifies
the selection of a particular methodology, selection of methods can
be related to the positions of the scientist in the scientific field
(Latour & Woolgar 1986). In other perspective, is of particular
interest how Foucault, talking about the relations of power in the
production of discourses of truth, noted the issue of observation
and registration of knowledge as an exercise of power (Foucault &
Gordon 1980). Even if method selection gives some particular
sense of reliability and validity, it is also a matter of preference and
a choice made actively by the scientist, and the use of the method
can transcend the pure aim of getting reliable data (Latour 1987).

CRIM40002
Qualitative Research Methods
Semester One, 2015
Name: Marcelo Oliva Olave
Assessment 1

Researcher as observer. Lying in lies?


Human capabilities to observe, measure and understand the world
are determined by our biological, social and cultural contexts
(Maturana & Varela 1992). Moreover, we note that when an
observer describes what is observed (its environment, social
interactions) it makes an exercise of meaning attribution that
constitutes the reality in which the observer lies (Maturana & Varela
1992). In this very sense, and in reference to the aphorisms of the
authors, we do not see what we do not see, and as observers, we
can only generate explanations of what we see leaving blind spots
and acknowledging our cultural tradition. Even when science and
their

techniques

can

improve

our

way

of

knowing

and

understanding the world, humans have to face a double limitation:


that given by the artefacts that we build and use to observe and
measure-, and that that corresponds to our own limitations as
beings-in-the-world. If we consider its implications for scientific
knowledge, we agree with Cassirer in the sense that any scientific
explanation shows the nature of any observed and measured
object as we understand it, instead of how its own nature is
(Cassirer 1986).
When Jones et al. notice that one lie told is that we write what we
see (2010: 483), they refer to the line that can be drawn to
differentiate

reality

from

our

processes

of

perception

and

CRIM40002
Qualitative Research Methods
Semester One, 2015
Name: Marcelo Oliva Olave
Assessment 1

representations in this case, field notes as vivid representations of


what is seen. As Barry points out, referring Magritte, perception
always intercedes between reality and ourselves (1997, p.16), so,
unavoidably, witnessing the world and social interactions needs an
observer with its biological and cultural determinants, its processes
of perception, and the process of translation from perception to
text representation.

As Korzybski expressed, a map is not the

territory (Kendig 1990, p.241).


Is It really a lie told? Structural determinants of the observer have
been described, and we propose a way of understanding how
science field works. So, any reference to the reality seen by a social
scientist is conditioned by these elements and their relations and
mutual influences. Maturana & Varela (1992) discusses how the
constructivist argument taken to the extreme leads to a radical
relativism

(solipsism).

Nevertheless,

from

constructivist

approach, these conditions are inescapable. Being aware of the


interactions among these elements allows us to be sceptical about
a neutrality of the scientific field, the role of the observer, and the
products

of

representation

the
is

science,
mediated

acknowledging
by

relations

that

between

any

world

artefacts,

techniques, language and human capabilities (Latour & Woolgar


1986) that responds to historical contexts. We dont believe that
the affirmation that one lie told is that we write what we see is an
objective truth. Rather, language and writing are the ways in which

CRIM40002
Qualitative Research Methods
Semester One, 2015
Name: Marcelo Oliva Olave
Assessment 1

science describes its assumptions and findings about the world.


Theres no other way to do it.
Reporting observations. Codes for decryption/codes for
action
We accept that science can describe reality shaping it by its own
ways of understand it. This is conditioned by language and
communication, and this process leads to an incomplete approach
to the reality outside our eyes. As Luhmann points out, every social
system works with its own communication codes (1989). In its selfreferent approach, the process of communication within the
science system is based on the difference produced by the binary
code true/false. Errors can be identified as productive mistakes in
the operation of this code, which leads to a selection and
acquisition of new scientific knowledge that has only provisional
certainty (Luhmann 1989). If we admit that these representations
are contingent selections of provisional certainties, they should be
interpreted

instead

of

being

considered

just

lies.

But,

to

acknowledge these limitations within the structure of the scientific


system, we should take into account the concepts of ethics,
responsibility and scientific rigor for observation-based methods.
This involves the observer to acknowledge its own experiences and
previous knowledge, at least, to make its way of reporting
interpreting- reality as transparent as possible in order to make

CRIM40002
Qualitative Research Methods
Semester One, 2015
Name: Marcelo Oliva Olave
Assessment 1

possible any interpretation by a second observer, based on deep


and

rigorous

description

of

methods.

This

encourages

to

acknowledge that in the observers knowledge, there is subjectivity


(Prez Soto 1998).
Researchers should avoid whatever is coded as misconduct within
the scientific community, and understand the risks associated with
this

kind

of

actions,

acknowledging

that

misconduct

is

unacceptable (Lakatos & Feigl 1974). Any approximation to reality


and any consideration as a misrepresentation or a lie about the
world being seen responds to an agreement of how social actions
should be represented and reported. This common agreement
within the scientific community also has its own limitations. As
Bourdieu pointed out, science lead us to discuss representations of
reality, and every representation corresponds to (and is determined
by) ideological strategies and epistemological positions (Bourdieu
1975). From an operational perspective, science is an observing
system that depends on its own structures (Luhmann 1989). As
Levi-Strauss states, uses of language not only implies life in a
society but is indeed the very foundation of that life(1954, p.581).
Also, all social sciences, in one way or another, are concerned with
language (Levi-Strauss 1954).
Conclusion. Limitations, limitations, limitations

CRIM40002
Qualitative Research Methods
Semester One, 2015
Name: Marcelo Oliva Olave
Assessment 1

As we have discussed, science as a social artefact, a social system


and a field, features diverse limitations. The development of
methods

and

techniques

open

up

opportunities

for

further

development of science and scientific knowledge. Nevertheless,


human capabilities to observe, measure and understand the world
have their own determinants. Scientists have to face a double
limitation, that given by the artefacts that we build to observe, and
that that corresponds to our own limitations as beings-in-the-world.
To report its observations we construct representations that are
mediated by relations between artefacts, techniques, language and
human capabilities. In this sense, imperfect approaches to the
reality outside our eyes require taking into account the concepts of
ethics, responsibility and scientific rigor for observation-based
methods within a scientific community that helps in defining proper
scientific knowledge, but features its own limitations.

CRIM40002
Qualitative Research Methods
Semester One, 2015
Name: Marcelo Oliva Olave
Assessment 1

References
Barry, AM 1997, Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation
in Visual Communication, SUNY Press.
Bourdieu, P 1975, The specificity of the scientific field and the social
conditions of the progress of reason, Social Science Information,
vol. 14, no. 6, pp. 1947.
Cassirer, E 1986, El problema del conocimiento en la filosofa y en la
ciencia modernas. 2, Desarrollo y culminacin del racionalismo ...,
Fondo de Cultura Econmica, Mxico.
Foucault, M & Gordon, C 1980, Power/knowledge: selected interviews and
other writings, 1972-1977, Pantheon Books, New York.
Jones, L, Holmes, R, Macrae, C & Maclure, M 2010, Documenting
classroom life: how can I write about what I am seeing?,
Qualitative Research, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 479491.
Kendig, M 1990, Alfred Korzybski: Collected Writings, 1920-1950, Institute
of GS.
Lakatos, I & Feigl, H 1974, Historia de la ciencia y sus reconstrucciones
racionales: simposio, Tecnos, Madrid.
Latour, B 1987, Science in action: how to follow scientists and engineers
through society, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Latour, B & Woolgar, S 1986, Laboratory life: the construction on
scientific facts; with a new postscript and index by the authors,
Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ.
Laudan, L 1990, Science and Relativism: Some Key Controversies in the
Philosophy of Science, University of Chicago Press.
Levi-Strauss, Claude 1954, The Mathematics of Man, International Social
Sciences Bulletin, vol. vi, no. 4, pp. 581590.
Luhmann, N 1989, Ecological communication, University of Chicago Press,
Chicago.
Maturana, HR & Varela, FJ 1992, The tree of knowledge: the biological
roots of human understanding, Shambhala; Distributed in the U.S.
by Random House, Boston; New York.
Prez Soto, C 1998, Sobre un concepto histrico de ciencia: de la
epistemologa actual a la dialctica, LOM Ediciones: Universidad
ARCIS, Santiago de Chile.
Popper, KR 1973, The open society and its enemies. Hegel, Marx, and the
aftermath. Vol. 2, Vol. 2, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

CRIM40002
Qualitative Research Methods
Semester One, 2015
Name: Marcelo Oliva Olave
Assessment 1