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  • 00:14

    Martyn Hammersley, thank you verymuch for spending a little bit of time talking to us.Nice to be here.And the question I wanted to ask youis, methodology-- who needs it?Yeah, well, I think that's an interesting question.Because I feel quite ambivalent about it.I think, from one point of view, you might say,well, it's obvious that if you'regoing to do a piece of research then youneed to know quite a lot about particular methods,and you need to acquire certain sorts of skills, and so on.

  • 00:48

    But I think there's a point beyond which it can actuallyget in the way and is actually a problem.I mean, the question you've got to ask, immediatelyafter "methodology, who needs it,"is, what do we mean by "methodology"?Because I think the trouble is that "methodology"can mean different things.I think the core meaning of "methodology"really is what you might call a sort of ongoing reflectivenessor thoughtfulness in doing research.

  • 01:18

    That you need to-- obviously, thereare lots of decisions that are involvedin doing a piece of research, right from the startand right through to the end.And you have to make the best decisionyou can in the circumstances.But you have to be prepared to reflect on thatand think about the assumptions thatwere built into the decision that you made,what the consequences might have been,what you could actually learn from that.

  • 01:44

    It seems to me that that's the core of what methodology is.But, of course, when people talk about methodology,they're thinking very often about training coursesor even publications-- the huge literature on methodology.So the question there is, well, what's the value of that?

  • 02:08

    I think then you've got to say, well, what sort of contentare you thinking about?So, I mean, I tend to think in terms of at leasttwo sorts of categories.One is what you can call "methodology as technique,"which is very much about learningabout particular methods, learning particular skills.And that's obviously essential.

  • 02:29

    But there is an issue about-- you know,given the huge range of different methodsthat are used in social science, how much of thatdoes somebody starting out on a particular project needto know?And I think you need to have an overview,but you don't need to have an in-depth knowledgeof the whole range.And I think there are dangers.

  • 02:50

    I mean, there are dangers with the current pressuresto increase people's knowledge and skills in relationto quantitative method that I thinkthat I would prefer the emphasis to beon learning the logic and the basics,rather than learning sophisticated methods.Because I think that's what's required.You can always learn sophisticated things later,if you've understood the basic logic.

  • 03:16

    I think the logic, in one sense, is straightforward.But I think there are issues to think about, about what exactlyit is you do when you're looking for correlations, for example,I think.The other problem with methodology as techniqueis that it can lead to rigidity.You know, if you read some of the booksabout research methods, they give a very cut-and-driedpicture of how you should do, say, grounded theory, you know.

  • 03:40

    First you do this; then you do that.And yes, you need to know the basics about,you know-- this is what you have to think about;this is a particular form of coding that you can use.But I think you have to be flexible,and you have to retain the element of reflexivity.

  • 04:01

    The other kind of thing that you findwithin the methodological [INAUDIBLE] genrewould be methodology as philosophy.And that's obviously very important,in terms of feeding this process of reflectionthat you need to think about someof the fundamental methodological issues.You maybe even read some of the philosophical literatureabout those issues.

  • 04:22

    But, again, you can have too much of it.The methodologist philosophy can raise questionswhich are not necessarily important for how you're goingto do your particular project.They can also just confuse you, basically, and leave youin a quandary.And then you can end up spending your life reading philosophyrather than doing research.

  • 04:45

    So I think there are pluses and minuses.So that's why I think "methodology, who needs it"is good, because it points to-- on the one hand,there are things we need.On the other hand, there are dangers and potential problems.So is there a distinction between methodologyas technique and methodology as philosophy?

  • 05:06

    I think there's a fairly clear distinction, yes.I mean, I think if you look at the different books thatare published, then you would probablybe able to categorize them, to a large extent,into one category or another.I mean, there's lots of mixture, of course.But there's often a difference in emphasis.

  • 05:26

    A lot of the literature mixes the two togetherand mixes it in a particular sort of way.That's useful and important.You've got to think about, well, whatare the assumptions that are associated with this method?But the question is, well, how fardo we accept that method as it's specified, rather than thinkingnew ways to interpret it?

  • 05:54

    Sometimes people talk about discourse analysisin terms of five different kinds and you mustn't mix them.That seems to me to be quite the wrong approach.That yes, you need to understand the diversityof different forms of discourse and analysis.But you need to be prepared to be flexible and thinkabout how you might combine them or howone might inform the other.Equally, when people got forward particular methodsand draw on methodologies f philosophies to do that,they often talk in quite crude terms-- philosophical terms.

  • 06:26

    So quantitative research is positivist.This kind of qualitative research is interpretivist,or it's constructionist, or whatever.All of those terms are contested termsand they're problematic terms.And rather than taking them at face value,I think it's important to think about what they might meanand think about, you know, does quantitative researchhave to be positivist?

  • 06:47

    And I think the answer to that is, not necessarily.But it depends on what you mean by positivist.I mean it's almost-- it's just an insult, now, really.It has very little standardized, agreed content.So, you know, what I think is crucial to methodologyis reflectiveness, is thoughtfulness, but,at the same time, doing research as a practical activity.

  • 07:10

    So the thoughtfulness has always gotto be geared to what it is you'retrying to do in a particular project, what it is you'retrying to learn, you know, what method you're trying to learnin order to do something.And you can identify things that youwant to go and find out more about-- issuesthat you want to think more about.And you put those on one side, and you do that later.

  • 07:32

    And you get on with doing research.But get on with doing your research-- that's fine,but leave places within it where therecan be a more reflective turn, where you can go backto some of those questions.It's getting that balance that's important, I think.So are there communities that youhave in mind who are not being reflectiveenough about the process of researchand not thinking methodologically?

  • 07:59

    I guess I could be thinking of government, as consumersand commissioners of research.Well, I think that what scope youhave for engaging in methodological reflexiveness--there is an awful lot, depending on the kind of researchthat you're doing.Certainly if you're doing researchthat is relatively short-term, fundedby an external body, somebody working within the [INAUDIBLE]commission, or something like that, where you'vegot a very specific task and you'vegot to complete it within a short period of time.

  • 08:33

    Seems to me the scope for reflectivenessthere is limited, both in terms of the timebut also in terms of what you can get away with, if you like.The task is defined by an external agency.Seems to me that the great value of academic researchis that you have more space for the kindof methodological and theoretical reflectivenessand thoughtfulness that's necessary.

  • 08:57

    Having said that, what counts as academic research-- you know,that varies a great deal.And increasingly the trend is mosttowards a well-specified focus to the research, identifyingwhat the impact of the project will be, and so on.And so I think that the pressures actuallyare on the space for methodological reflection.

  • 09:24

    I think it's becoming harder and harder to engage in that.And it feeds on something which researchers themselves--and particularly people just starting out doing research--often feel, that if they start to engage in reflectionthey actually become scared about it,because they realize that there are questionsthey don't know the answers to.

  • 09:46

    And they realize that there's literaturesthat are relevant to what they are doing that they don'treally know anything about.And sometimes the reaction to that is to say,well, I can't think about it.I can't think about that.I've got to focus on what I'm doing.And there's an element of-- up to a point,that's a good reaction.Because, as I say, you've got to be pragmatic.Otherwise you'll end up being a philosopher.

  • 10:10

    But I think you've got to try and resistthe external pressures to narrow the scope for thoughtfulnessand also your own-- if you have that sortof emotional reaction, I think you've got to say,well, I'm just going to open this space a bitand just think about what I'm doing.And then I'm going to get back to it.I mean, other people have a different reaction.

  • 10:30

    Some people actually want to spenda lot of time engaging in methodological or philosophicalreflection about what they're doing.And the opposite danger is [INAUDIBLE] there, youhave to say to them, well, yes, that's good, up to a point.But if you go much further with that,you won't be doing your project.You'll never get back to it.You'll never be able to complete.And the pressure on people to complete projects,now, is much greater than it was, say,when I did my PhD research, 30 years agoor something like that.

  • 11:01

    There was much less emphasis on completing with a specifiedtime.So we have more space for reflection.But it's important to keep that element open, as far aspossible, so that you can use methodological thinkingto improve the quality of the work that you're doingand to think about what you can learnfrom what you're doing now for what you're going to do later.

  • 11:31

    Thank you.Martyn Hammersley, thank you very much.

Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Publication Year: 2011

Video Type:Interview

Methods: Methodology, Philosophy of research, Reflexivity

Keywords: academic discourse; challenges, issues, and controversies; commissioning; flexibility; knowledge, skills, and abilities; logic and social science; philosophy ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Professor Martyn Hammersley explains that methodology can be defined in two ways. It can be the skills and techniques used to do research, or it can be the philosophy of research. Too much emphasis on either can derail or limit research.

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Methodology: Who needs it?

Professor Martyn Hammersley explains that methodology can be defined in two ways. It can be the skills and techniques used to do research, or it can be the philosophy of research. Too much emphasis on either can derail or limit research.

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