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Международная научная конференция «Современные методы социально-политического исследования общества» РАН, Москва, 27 мая 2010 г. Карл Бруккмайер Методы и методологические проблемы синтеза знания в социально-политических исследованиях: вызовы междисциплинарности. 1. Ретроспектива.

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Карл Бруккмайер

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Karl bruckmeier

Karl Bruckmeier

Methods and methodological problems of knowledge synthesis in socio-political research:

the challenges of interdisciplinarity


1 looking back

1. Looking back

  • Early social sciences and classical social scientists have been interdisciplinary (and synthesis oriented) without using the term interdisciplinarity

  • An explicit effort in interdisciplinarity was made by the sociologist Robert Lynd (1939) who argued: to achieve improved problem solving capacity and better functioning of institutions requires to break down the disciplina-ry walls, cross-fertilize each other, fill in the gaps, provide `an inclusive frame of reference, perform the `highly necessary service of synthesis and `ask long-range and, if need be, abruptly irreve-rent questions of our democratic institutions (Marien 2007, 956; see Lynd 1939, 16)

  • In present discussions about interdisciplinarity and know-ledge synthesis (inside and outside the social sciences) similar questions are still on the agenda


2 looking around

2. Looking around

  • In some disciplines and subject areas of science knowledge synthesis is much more sought for than in the social sciences e.g. in the medical and health sciences. Their example can give an idea when knowledge synthesis becomes important

  • The more a discipline or research area is subject to applica-tion and practical use of its scientific knowledge, the more it seems to be open for knowledge integration and synthesis

  • The other main argument for synthesis is that of the complexity of the topic or problems(s) to study which requires combina-tion of knowledge from different fields of specialization and different perspectives

  • Both arguments have in common that interdisciplinarity, integra-tion and synthesis of knowledge develop outside academic research and universities, in the social or political practices of professions where knowledge is applied


3 the context of methodological questions of research and synthesis

3. The context of methodological questions of research and synthesis

  • Reducing questions of scientific knowledge production to metho-dological ones is insufficient to understand the knowledge problems

  • A more systematic accounting for scientific knowledge generation includes several contexts to reflect the interconnected knowledge problems of research and synthesis:

    1. ontology (understanding social reality: paradigms and worldviews that guide scientific research)

    2. epistemology (criteria for truth)

    3. theory discourse (concepts and generalizations)

    4. methodology (for research, analysis and synthesis)

    5. application discourse (knowledge transfer and knowledge sharing, also teaching)

    6. ethical discourse (questions of research, knowledge application, cooperation)


4 why interdisciplinarity and knowledge synthesis

4. Why interdisciplinarity and knowledge synthesis?

  • A classical answer - problems are interrelated; problems are more complex to solve; disciplines are growing more specialized; and the very nature of interrelated and complex problems creates the necessity to integrate the efforts of highly specialized scientists in their solution On the other hand, interdisciplinary research and teaching are not natural to the universitys organization and reward system. (Bruhn 2000, 62)

  • A more systematic accounting for interdisciplinary know-ledge production would include: creation of new knowledge through crossing the boundaries of scientific disciplines, filling knowledge gaps between fields of specialized knowledge, conceptually codifying the progress of scientific knowledge, reacting to societal and political demands for new knowledge or knowledge for problem solving, connecting the different actors (scientists and non-scientists) that are using scientific knowledge (Egnus et al 2000; 14f).


5 controversies

5. Controversies

  • The controversies around interdisciplinarity, whether and how it is possible without dilettantism, would lose much of their meaning when misunderstandings are cleared

  • To acknowledge, as Dogan (1996), that specializa-tion in disciplines and subdisciplines is one process of knowledge generation, recombination of special-ties or integration of knowledge from different fields another - and both together give a more complete picture about the scientific processes of knowledge generation


6 the nature of interdisciplinarity

6. The nature of interdisciplinarity

  • A main function of interdisciplinarity is knowledge integra-tion. The predominant understanding of knowledge integration is that it happens only in empirical research

  • A more systematic understanding of interdisciplinarity refers to the forms of scientific knowledge use in the whole knowledge chain with three main forms: generation, dissemination and application of scientific knowledge

  • Knowledge generation is predominantly research, dissemination happens through education, training or teaching, application is applied research or application as a separately organized process of knowledge use in manifold forms like political programs or projects for development

  • The differentiation of forms or phases of knowledge use is not only an analytical one: the forms are linked with institutional forms of knowledge use or different forms of organization of scientific knowledge use inside and outside universities


7 universities

7. Universities

  • are since the middle ages the traditional cultural institutions for scientific knowledge production and dissemination in European countries - they are no longer the dominant institution of science and research

  • Although throughout the last half century in many countries, Russia included, a multiplication of universities and higher education insti-tutions happened:

  • This form of enlargement and differentiation of universities covers another change which is reflected in the presently ongoing epistemo-logical discourses under such names as interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, mode 2, triple helix where new forms of research outside universities or in cooperation between universi-ties, political and economic institutions are discussed


8 for inter and transdisciplinary research the methods vary strongly

8. For inter- and transdisciplinary research the methods vary strongly

  • but the problem is not different from conventional disciplinary re-search insofar as the theme or problem studied and the specific re-search questions determine the methods possible, and the methods applied in such research are methods applied also in disciplinary research

  • The new method question that comes up with inter- and transdisci-plinary research is twofold, regarding

  • (a) the methods used for cooperation with researchers from different disciplines or specialisations and in the case of transdisci-plinarity) with non-scientists (that is, to a large degree: methods of communication, interpretation, discussion, negotiation group- and thematically specific communication) and, linked to that

  • (b) the methods used for integration and synthesis of know-ledge from different disciplines or knowledge fields


9 methods for knowledge synthesis

9. Methods for knowledge synthesis

  • In simple forms synthesis is a routine component of all research to review the relevant research before a new study is done

  • Knowledge synthesis is not one method, although it is traditionally understood so, as a basic scientific method complementing analysis, and each requiring the other (Ritchey 1991, Barton & Haslett 2007, p.144f)

  • Knowledge synthesis in simple forms of integrating empirical data does not cause new epistemological, theoretical and methodological problems: synthesis of this kind is e.g. statistical meta-analysis

  • Methods for knowledge synthesis develop through research about the workability, efficiency, validity of the methods to create new significant knowledge, as is, e.g., suggested for improving the systematic review methodology in synthesis (Trocco et al. 2010, 8)


10 the widespread methods of synthesis

10. The widespread methods of synthesis

  • can be divided in aggregative (meta-analysis, sys-tematic review, literature review, meta-ethnography) and

  • non-aggregative (secondary analysis, cross-case comparison, grounded theory, interpretive phenome-nological analysis; see Weed 2005)

  • In all forms of integration and synthesis a problem of joint terminology and language is involved. This can be traced in different types of synthesis, theo-retical synthesis (with concept transfer and inte-gration), synthesis of quantitative data and the-matic synthesis of qualitative research. For the method types different problems can be identified


Synthesis problems

Synthesis problems

  • Theoretical synthesis: Can several theories be maintained in know -ledge synthesis or are they reduced to one? Can theories be directly subjected to empirical verification? (yes for grounded theory)

  • Synthesis of quantitative data (e.g. meta-analysis) is focused on questions of validity and verification, neglects more critical questions about the guiding assumptions, hypotheses, normative ideas that affect the production of data

  • Synthesis of qualitative data - normative components, guiding ideas and assumptions in knowledge production are discussed, but the methods are less formalized and standardized. Synthesis is open to different interpretations and to controversies about the best evidence. Some methodological progress has been made in the discussion about systematic reviews in qualitative research (Thomas & Harden 2007) where interpretation and review processes are more structured (including preparatory stages of searching for studies, quality assessment and extracting data from studies - ibid. p. 6f)


11 preliminary conclusions

11. Preliminary conclusions

  • Difficulties in knowledge synthesis are related to

    (1) problems of common language and understanding of scientists with different specializations

    (2) to questions of power (whose knowledge and interpreta-tion counts)

    (3) to normative problems (how to deal with values, world-views, paradigms, guiding assumptions)

    (4) to problems with the elaboration of more general and formal methods for knowledge integration

  • The finally important question formulated by Nowotny (2005a):

    (5) contextualization: where is the place for people in our knowledge?. The question opens up for further analysis of knowl-edge synthesis processes as social practices of knowledge use in the production, dissemination and application of knowledge:

  • Method development is not the only difficult issue in knowledge syn-thesis, and method problems require a more thorough study of re-search and synthesis as processes of social practice of scientists and their cooperation with knowledge users


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