Research Methodology - Questions - Where I am now, or where I think I am. / by Ally McGinn

In the previous post I explored a few of the methods that might be used. This post discusses methodology in fuller terms.

A foundation, a marking of where I am, before the full research begins.

We have had a suggestion that the exploration of our tacit understanding is important at this point. Meaning that it is important to use information we already know and have explored, which is logistically harder to condense into a bibliography.

We’ll begin with this diagram again, which i need to be able to answer to get to my sources of research.

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Who we are as researchers forms methodology, but this is broken down into the reality we are looking at (ontology) the questions we ask (epistemology, and ontology) the lens we are looking through (theoretical perspective), the worldview (paradigm) and our tools (methods).  

The epistemological and ontological concerns will arise in direct response to the research being done and aren't necessarily questions to be answered now. However, understanding my theoretical perspective is something I can certainly begin to unpick.

One of the first questions I should cover relates to my aims and objectives. Which brings me to the distinction between inductive vs deductive research.

Inductive vs deductive

Research is the gaining of knowledge in some way, and there are many practical applications and areas of research, many that we don't acknowledge as such. Deductive research can be described as research where the question or theory is known and tested, whereas inductive can be described as generating new information from an exploration of subjects, materials or processes.
I see this as the division between knowing the question you are asking and trying to figure it out through process - which is a very big part of many artists studios, including mine.

In terms of placing myself, I would say that I am an inductive worker, although in research I lean more towards deductive at times.

Qualitative vs quantitative

The previous post deals with the definition of these terms, but a moment should be taken to explore them on a personal level.
I am, as are many artists, a qualitative researcher (tacit knowledge, with an emphasis on value) although at times I use quantitative methods (occasionally subconsciously) to help move my practice.

Research to date

In future, if I continue the blog as I expect to, I may come back to explore research i have done to date. If i hope to underpin my practice in its entirelty this seems to be something I will need to do. However, for the purposes of a module of the MA, that backgrounding is not going to be possible now. I know these things, they have shaped my practice to date and i have notebooks filled with information, annotated texts and diagrams, to solidify and support my practice. 

I may refer to this information in this blog, where I do I plan to reference the information as much as possible. The information has been assimilated, to a certain extent, and I may assume in places (I hope to control this).

The urge to quantify the research to date, is strong, but this blog is not a definition of my practice, but instead serves as a record and research tool in my ongoing research. 

Aims and Objectives

In the simplest terms, I aim to develop my contextual knowledge to enrich the work being done in the studio. In addition, I hope to gain an understanding of the balance of research within the practice itself. The haptic nature of explorations in the studio.

I have a broad range of interests, especially when we take into account the depth that can be found in a single material, for example. Any aspect of the practice, materials or context could, with a little research, become a vast exploration.

For now, we have been advised to look at the practice, and it's associations, in broader terms. A focused subject will be chosen quite soon but for now, my objectives centre around expanding the terms around my practice and mapping their connections.

I'm not going to go into this with more detail today. There will be a post in the next week detailing a better-defined series of aims and objectives.

Approach

One thing I can say about my methodology since starting this blog is that writing is at the heart of it. At the beginning of each post my knowledge is like the page, rather empty, but through the writing, I have to articulate, and that is impossible without understanding, which leads to research and often an hour writing a single paragraph.

Trying to explain these terms, and ideas helps to understand them, which explains the bulging context folders I was known for producing during my BA.

Through reflection on the practical practice of research, I've come to acknowledge that this is something I have always done when researching. A very practical approach.

As an artist, I have a practice-led perspective, where my interests are led by the work being done in the studio. I research something because it has potential impact or impetus, which is worth stating.

Paul Minot, a senior lecturer at Bath Spa, gave a wonderful lecture this week about the practical realities of a practice-led approach, and the way the outcome of the research might be formed, which is not always as simple as it appears.

“Research – means to search for something in a systematic way. “ Re-search.

The paradox of research is: 1/ if you know what you're looking for, whats the point of looking for it? How will you find anything ‘new’? 2/ If you don’t know what you're looking for how will you know when you’ve found it?

In other words – if a theory exists whats the point in re-stating it? And, how do you know if there is a theory at all?

‘re-search’ = ‘re-collection’

‘Anamnesis’ – a philosophical idea (from Plato) that suggests that we already ‘know’ everything but we just haven’t recalled it yet. Making recollection an approach to research, which can be interpreted to mean, that research is best driven by instinct.

What we should be taking from this is the importance of instinct. We should go with what we know. We are artists and that has an impact on the way we research as well as the subject.

Only later in the process does a ‘method’ emerge, once you become more aware of what's driving the instinct. In Paul’s experience, there are four methods, all determined by identifying patterns in the research. (we are looking for patterns)

  • Sometimes the theory becomes before the content (The instinct can be interest and curiosity.)
  • Sometimes the theory comes after the content.
  • Sometimes the theory is the content
  • Sometimes the content is the theory – there is no theory, just making. (Making something you don’t understand and then researching the thing you have made. Its important to remember that is a form of research. There is a methodology in the process itself. Theory can come afterwards, written by someone else.)

The important thing to remember at this point, and taken from the lecture, is that the form the research takes and the outcome occupies are not as obvious as it would first appear.

Paradigm

Trying to pin down a single paradigm that defines or exemplifies my stance seems an enormous task, and I could well be confusing the issue.

I found this quote really useful “A scientific paradigm, in the most basic sense of the word, is a framework containing all of the commonly accepted views about a subject, a structure of what direction research should take and how it should be performed.”

Reading it made me realise I missed my paradigm by being too involved in it, to me the paradigm is obvious.

My paradigm is the context of art history. I am researching from the perspective of an artist, and my research to date has been in this field. I have a keen interest in the definition of art, and it's potential to impact the appreciation of art outside the gallery. Much of my research to date has revolved around this issue. (Explored in greater depth in the next post - ‘Mind maps’)

However, I still felt that I was being clouded on the issue of what a paradigm is. Thankfully one of the research books has been returned to the library and i have discovered the following table (page 20 in a brilliant book called ‘Visualising Research’ detailed listed at the bottom of the page)

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During research it is singularly important to question our assumptions. With an interesting similarity to the development of the art world, the methodology of science remained mostly unchanged for 300 years, following the positivist paradigm, which can be defined as a distance approach, with an emphasis on fact, empirical evidence and a removal of value associations. Following that came the post-positivist paradigm, which challenged traditional notions and expanded the field.

The above table articulates, in a way that i currently cannot, the definition and examples of what a paradigm is, and how we might understand it to better understand our research.

Theoretical perspective (where do I stand as a researcher?)

Defining my theoretical perspective involves discussing my approach, which is firmly in the practice-led column. Through writing this post i have better come to understand what those words mean, in practical terms, and have built my perspective without realising it.


Conclusion

This is something I'm going to be coming back to in the coming months, as the methodology is put into practice.

So to my methodology - how I am going to do this - I'm going to continue using haptic, objectivist and semiotic methods of research to explore the headings that come from the mind mapping. I plan to write short blog posts about each subject (be it a person, artwork, or idea)

I am coming from the perspective of an practice-led artist, meaning i am most likely to use a mixed method approach, as this is remarkably similar to my studio practice - no single medium, theory or visual subject defines the work definitively, there are always overlaps.

This can be described as a ‘bricoleur’ - or a pieced together approach, that combines a “close-knit set of practices that provide solutions to a problem in a concrete situation.” Brewer and Hunter (1989)

The thing i have found most interesting about this term (covered on page 74 of ‘Visualising Research’) is that the form the research takes when presented is often a bricoleur, the method becomes the work.

Based on the table shown above i can extrapolate that i have a ‘relativist’ ontology (i cannot deny that my study and writing to date have had a definitive interpretive slant), a ‘modified-objectivist’ epistemology (given that distance is required to a certain degree when researching art history but the combination with practical, ontological, research in the studio emphasises the relationship between the two) and a ‘hermeneutic, dialectic’ or possibly ‘modified experimental/manipulative’ methodology (given that my methodology is still something i'm studying it might be simpler to say a mixed-method or bifurcated methodology)

Although labels are not always a positive it would appear that the specifics i have identified would have my methodology most closely aligned with the constructivist or post-positivist paradigm (although i fully expect this to change as i come to know the subject of research more)

Next post - mind maps…..


Bibliography

Brewer, J. and Hunter, A. (1989) Multimethod research: A synthesis of styles. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Gray, G. and Malins, J. (2004) Visualising research. Oxon: Routledge.

Martyn Shuttleworth (2008) What is a paradigm [Online] Explorable. Available from: https://explorable.com/what-is-a-paradigm [Accessed - 10th October 2017]

Minot, P. (2017) Research methodologies week 3. Research Methodologies module, MA program 2017/18. Bath Spa. 10th October 2017.

Whiting, M. (2017) Research methodologies week 3. Research Methodologies module, MA program 2017/18. Bath Spa. 10th October 2017.