Author: Viv Straw

Epistemology and ontology

If a person’s ontology is like their skin, and not like a cardigan, something that they can take off or change, it will define their epistemological approach to their research. Ontological approaches can be divided into four general groups: Realists and positivists both believe in a real physical world that can be measured, touched and quantified while people who hold a constructivist view would argue that there is no real world that is independent of our senses. In short they don’t believe that. In a positivist or realist world we have access to the world and therefore can plan for what might happen. They believe that the world can be studied objectively and that we can make causal relationships between event a and event b. A positivist would suggest that there are causal relationships in the sense that where it can be shown that event X has occurred there will be a relationship with with event W such that event W caused event X. On the other hand a constructivist will argue that there is not a real world that is independent of our senses. To understand the world they create a double hermeneutic:- 1. what we are doing is identifying what people understand about their world. 2. as observers we are not objective so the best we can do is understand our understanding of their understanding. The third...

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How well do we do seminars as Geographers?

Research Methods and Design This review of four seminars at the University of Canberra in my interest area of; governance, resilience and social capital in urban and regional planning will outline the research questions, the methodology and presentation and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology and whether the results are convincing. While I found each of the presentations to be helpful there were some significant communication issues in all of them and some valuable lessons about asking the right questions, being clear about the methodology and presenting the outcomes in a clear and legible manner. Analysing the economic cost of political instability in Fiji Maneshwar Rao and Xiadong Gong (2014) looked at Fiji prior to the military coup in 1987 and to the unsettling period of political activity up to 2010. The question; has political instability had a direct impact on the economic growth of Fiji? The methodology was to analyse a number of similar countries that had parallel economic development patterns and build a synthetic Fiji option to assess what might have happened to the Fiji economy had the coup not occurred. They identified that between 1970 and 1986 Belize had a very similar pattern of growth and about 26 countries had slightly similar trajectories with a range of variations. From the study of these 26 countries they were able to build a synthetic Fiji which...

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Research Methods for Geographers part 1

As Geographers and associated professionals such as planners there is a time when we will need to begin to look at a subject matter and have a need to delve deeper into the merits of a matter or the issues that we are dealing with. Often we are much too busy just doing the job and practising the arts that we have had the opportunity to learn at university or have learned on the job and through natural processes of professional development. But there comes a time when that is just not enough and we want or need to know more about a subject. So, How do we go about that, how do we begin to add to the knowledge base that we have accumulated or that our profession has accumulated? Ultimately there are three things that we need to do when we research an issue: find out what is known and work out what we think the gaps are in the knowledge, find a method to fill the gaps we have identified, Write up the results of our findings. To add to the knowledge base we need to work out how we know what we know and then work out how we are going to add to the knowledge we have. To understand this process we first need to work out: How do we acquire knowledge and add...

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Research Methods for Geographers part 2

This is the second instalment of the research methods and research design work that we are putting on this post. It is based on a lecture by Don Fleming Associate Dean (Research) University of Canberra… In the first segment we looked at the question of how do we know things and how do we add to the vast store of human knowledge? In this post we will be asking ourselves what types of questions we can ask ourselves about our subject area and how will they will help us to add to the  store of human knowledge. But  why do I as a geographer need do research? Especially if I work in a policy making area, teach or work for an NGO, these seem to run more on process than research. The future will require more and more of a scientific basis for our activity as geographers, if we can’t keep ahead of the game, we will loose our way. And Geography nearly did loose its way in the ’70’s and ’80’s giving rise to many offshoots that carried our purpose on for us. Research and policy are like cousins; good policy should emanate from a thesis that is supported through well organised research. The research process will refine the question or thesis until it is one that can be answered in the context of the issues. Teaching, policy...

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