Research Committee on Logic and Methodology (RC33) presents:
Global Discussion About Methodology? Epistemology In Perspective
Adriana García Andrade
Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Azcapotzalco, Mexico
When I read about how Sociology must be global, two kinds of thoughts appear in my mind. One is, of course, that we are in a global society (every known sociologist has said so); then Sociology, the discipline that gives society its reflection (as a mirror and in a reflexive way) should be global. The other goes something like this: I have known from day one I had to be a global sociologist, not only to generate knowledge that could be valuable but because if I didn’t quote a ‘big name’ (namely an Anglo-Saxon or European author), then no one would read what I wrote and researched about. For the time being, a global sociology is still a utopia. This has to do not only with the language barriers—I realized at the last World Congress in Japan that I am not as global as I think, as I will never be able to read Japanese. It is still a utopia because Sociology is a champ, and ‘truth’ is still produced by the ‘Northern Corner of the World’, as Wallerstein once said. However, I have to step back: Is not this Forum an attempt to talk about this imbalance in knowledge production? Then, excuse my digression and let me return to the topic that gives this text a title: methodology from a global perspective.
I think a Global discussion about methodology would involve different types of questions. For example, do we have a Global epistemology or epistemologies in dialogue? Or, can we talk about global methodological tendencies? And, should we discuss Global methods for research or would it be better to talk about more efficient methods and techniques for specific lines of research?
Here, I will only sketch an answer to the first question because answering them all is a complex endeavor and would need more than a few sentences. Also, I think it is a central issue that englobes the other ones. For my region (i.e. Latin America), the discussion about epistemology has had a prominent position in the methodological debates (for example: http://www.sociologia-alas.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Descriptor-GT16.pdf). In this case, I am using the broad sense of methodology as the process of creating knowledge (scientific knowledge) that involves not only a theoretical perspective and some techniques but also an epistemological position (how we know things) and an ontological position (what are the things that we know). In that sense, the first issue would be framed as follows: If we live in a Global World, does that mean that we know things more or less in the same way or are there crucial differences in the way we apprehend reality depending on our cultural/economic/scientific background?
From my perspective, trying to answer this question entails two things. First, we must take into account Bourdieu’s notion of habitus as a socially constructed capacity to perceive reality. If we do so, it has to be admitted that what we see (the way we see), how we feel, what we are interested in is not only a question of our biological bodies (our human brains); but also about the societies we live in, and the scientific communities we are socialized into. In that way, as Weber said, our interests are mediated by values that are social. So, can we say that sociologists in a so-called ‘underdeveloped country’, let us say Mexico, know society the same way as sociologists in a ‘developed country’, let us say the UK? Is their sociological habitus the same? This is not something that can be solved right now; it is an empirical question. We would have to investigate the traditions of knowledge that are being developed in each scientific community, the exemplars used (to quote Kuhn) and the styles of thought (Hacking) of the members of the sociological community that make plausible some ideas and data to be valued as knowledge. But that is not the only thing. Sociological knowledge is not only what sociologists decide it is; but also ‘reality’ plays a big part. Our interests in certain phenomena have to do with the society we live in. Is the UK different from Mexico? The first and most obvious answer would be yes. In that sense, the society pictured by a sociologist in the UK would be different from the society pictured by a sociologist in Mexico (not only because of the different theoretical backgrounds but because the ‘reality’ per se is different). The problem starts if we use the same epistemological perspective from the UK to understand Mexico. Sociologists that point out to these differences, even though they do not use Bourdieu but a Marxist or a Decolonialist perspective, include a political/sociological variable into scientific knowledge and talk about the ‘epistemologies of the South.’ The need for epistemological paradigms in Latin America would depart from the idea of imposed ways of observing realities that come from the dominant ‘First World countries’.
But, if we are a Global Society, shouldn’t we think that, as Sociologists, we have one way of knowing the world? Not only because we are ‘wired up’ the same way, but also because we live in a more or less similar social reality and share some theoretical perspectives. Answering this question, in my perspective, is an empirical task. To show the complexity of this, I would like to give an example from my own research. Some colleagues and I (García Andrade & Sabido Ramos 2013) realized that scholars from all around the world were researching love and the body as parallel but contemporary enterprises. Of course, love as a subject is as old as mankind, but in the recent years it has raised a remarkable amount of interest in disciplines as different as neuroscience, sociology, biology, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and a large etcetera (see Jónasdóttir 2014). This is a global tendency. The issues this raises are: Is Global Society in need for answers on what love is, and that is why it has a significant place in today’s global society? Or, because science has become global in its research trends, now topics such as love (or the body) are researched all around the world? I do not have the answer to this, but what was evident in our research was that even though love is a research topic of increased interest in different regions (UK, US, Australia, Canada, France, Spain, Mexico), the research problems and methodologies, the authors used, even the discipline of reference for the topic are different. The only regularity was that Freud and Foucault were cited in all the regions (García Andrade 2013). So, even though there are clearly global tendencies (e.g., love and the body as topics of study), the ways of approaching the subject, the disciplines and the problems raised are different in each region. In this case, we could talk about different epistemologies to approach love in different regions. This does not solve, however, if the difference is primarily given by the social realities being investigated (that influence our way of approaching reality itself) or by the different scientific habitus conformed. Or even if there is a dominant epistemology setting the trends of scientific discovery (cf. Abend 2006).
In conclusion, what should be evident is: (1) that the way we know (epistemology) is relevant and a needed issue to be raised when we talk about methodology and scientific knowledge in a global society; and (2) empirical research needs to be done.
Abend, Gabriel (2006) “Styles of Sociological Thought: Sociologies, Epistemologies, and the Mexican and U.S. Quests for Truth,” Sociological Theory 24(1): 1-41.
García Andrade, Adriana and Olga Sabido Ramos. (2013) Cuerpo y afectividad en la Sociedad Contemporánea. Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Azcapotzalco: México.
Jónasdóttir, Anna. (2014) “Love Studies: A (Re)New(ed) Field of Feminist Knowledge Interests” in Anna Jónasdóttir and Ann Ferguson (eds), Love. A Question for Feminism in the Twenty-First Century. Routledge: New York.
Adriana García Andrade is Professor of Sociology at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad Azcapotzalco in Mexico City. She has a PhD in Philosophy of Science and a BA in Sociology. She is a member of the research group “Teoría y Pensamiento Sociológico” (Theory and Sociological Thinking) and member of the National System of Researchers in Mexico (SNI). She specializes in philosophy and sociology of science, sociology of affectivity and contemporary sociological theories. She is the author of the book “Giddens y Luhmann: ¿Opuestos o complementarios?, coeditor with Olga Sabido Ramos of the book “Cuerpo y Afectividad en la Sociedad Contemporánea”, coeditor with Lena Gunnarsson and Ana Jónasdóttir of the book: The Power of Love: Towards and Interdisciplinary and Multi-Theoretical Feminist Love Studies (in press), and author of several articles on love from a sociological perspective. Currently she is VicePresident at Large for Latin America in RC 33 Logic & Methodology of ISA.
Banner Image: House of Knowledge, sculpture by Jaume Plensa, as seen looking up from the inside. Photo courtesy of Tim Green, modified, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).
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