You have to ask yourself, what a geographer is doing talking about the construction of questions? However, it is vital for us as geographers to understand the tools that we use to understand the world.
For the first geographers, going back to Ptolemy, it would have been inconceivable to think that the world is always changing. In his era, philosophers assumed that the world is in a steady state. Society, physical systems and events, historical or otherwise were repetitive activities or cycles.
In the early-Christian era, the idea that the world has a beginning, a middle and an end and a linear structure was a radically new approach. Judaeo-Christian thinking introduced the concept of self-determination and turned thinking about the world on its head.
The idea that the world had a beginning, a creator who designed with intent led to the thought that we can study the world and test our findings. It took a long time for this idea to develop into the modern scientific investigation approach.
As geographers, we use a philosophical structure to understand relationships in a spatial context. A structure that we must regularly evaluate.
Paradigms are ways of thinking about things. Research models frame the way that we think about the world and how we develop the questions that we ask.
So the first thing that we need to do is ask ourselves what our particular paradigm is. Once we understand our thinking processes, then we can have a much better understanding of how to approach the questions.
Various research epistemological, ontological and methodological approaches shape our paradigms. So what do all these big words mean and how do we deal with them as a researcher?
Over the next couple of blogs, I will try to raise some of the questions that social geographers should understand. However, I hope to be able to give you a better understanding of what the various frameworks are so that you can get a better understanding of what your approach to research methods will be.
One place to start is to ask whether we are working from a subjectivist or an objectivist approach. Subjectivists will rationalise their methods in different ways to objectivists.
Let’s take a quick look at qualitative research methods based on Flick 2009,
We can observe through focus groups, do research through semistructured interviews, or undertake our methodology through content analysis. Most research will follow a mix of the above methods and each of the above methods has advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate between these, Flick (2009) uses the example of a hotel chain looking at the Internet to see what people say about them. They might be observing the activity of visitors or doing a content analysis of the written material. Alternatively, they might use focus groups, for instance, they can be used to position a brand, or could have a range of people look at a series of photographs of a location to solicit people’s feelings or reactions to the; photographs, place or an issue.
In the process of Content Analysis, reading copious materials is the task, but it could include nonacademic material to see what people say about an issue and how they are reacting to it.
However, you go about your analysis your sample size will be an important but not central theme. Large samples may provide diversity, but are there other ways of doing this.
In the next couple of blogs, we will have a look at some of the words that I have identified and we will look at some of the methods that we use and compare what they mean for different types of research.