As with epistemology, I find that I use bits and pieces of all cultures of inquiry without realizing there were so many varieties. As I glanced down the list for the first time, I found myself dismissing some while be drawn to others. As I read more, I realized that while there are similar components among all of them, some of the key differences were either appealing or not. The variances also help in choosing which one will be of more benefit for a particular subject matter.
The three cultures of inquiry I will reflect on are Hermeneutics, Historical and Action Research. Some of the concerns with Hermeneutics include a need for a substantial contextual understanding of the subject before you can even begin your research. Without a thorough knowledge of your subject, you can struggle through your research making it difficult to clearly lay out your interpretation of the concepts and ideas.
The Historical researcher is confronted with the challenge that ‘history’ is not simply events that have taken place in the past. Depending on the context, history can be looked at from the point of view of the present and/or future. Given that anything can be studied historically, knowing when to utilize historical research over other cultures of inquiry is a bit more of a challenging task.
Early users of Active Research would look to change processes or behaviours without any input from those involved. That lack of self-determination or empowerment made any changes more difficult to implement. The opposite can also prove troublesome. It is not always easy to get the input and participation of those involved in the ultimate goal of the research.
As to epistemological assumptions, Hermeneutics can be seen as the opposite of behaviourism. While it is the search for change, it does not look for established behavioural patterns to implement that change. The new concept is simply presented and adapted by all.
Historical researchers, however, look more to identifying what is unique; what makes their concept different and better that what was in place before.
With Active Research, change is achieved by consensus or input from all involved. Much like connectivism, the knowledge and skills needed for change is gathered from many sources. No ONE person is expected to do all the work on their own. Both the goal and procedure used are reached collectively.
A look at the relationship between researcher and the subject of research shows that with Hermeneutics one must not only have a passionate understanding of the subject but also be able to present it so it is grasped by those less passionate. One must always consider the context of the data used in the research to the context being presented. The two will often vary and, therefore, need to be clearly defined.
The Historical researcher is always looking for similarities and trends and therefore should enjoy form and patterns. A meticulous attention to detail coupled with extensive note-taking are all part of this culture of inquiry. The ability to read and develop a clear understanding of the original language of the subject matter is also most helpful.
The Action Researcher should take on the role of facilitator. They will help to plan the fact-finding process so that all involved can better understand and reorganize the new information to achieve the desired result. Critical thinking and problem solving will keep the participation of those involved on the right track throughout the exercise.
My personal reaction to the above three cultures of inquiry is, quite obviously, based on my experiences and current line of work. I have spent the last four years mapping our college’s courses and programs and helping faculty to develop curriculum to answer any and all concerns exposed in this process.
I have also been responsible for assisting our faculty to incorporate technology into all their courses. Be it online testing, e-portfolios, digital presentations, hybrid or online delivery, adaptive technology, etc., I have always realised the best results when the faculty member and I worked as a team.
I had originally chosen Hermeneutics as an example of what I did not like; a method, given the choice, I would not use. However, the more I read, the more I came to realize that this could be beneficial to me. I have been working on the curriculum for our new campus in Ta’if, Saudi Arabia for 6 months. Since there is no faculty in place and no one to work with, my interpretation of what is needed and required is the only source of information. My subjective understanding of the curriculum, in this situation, is what will be used to achieve our goal.
As I have already indicated, I believe all research has a historical component to it. I have always looked at the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ things were done to gain a better understanding of the direction we need to move in today. It is an approach I truly enjoy due to the success I have experienced with it.
Active Research is my go-to culture of inquiry. However, like Hermeneutics, my reasoning for that has also changed. While a great deal of the research I am involved in lends itself to being active, it simply is not the ONLY way to go. My preparation for Saudi has clearly demonstrated this. Having the input and participation of those involved and affected by the result of the research certainly increases their ‘buy-in’. My experience is such that change without input is rarely successfully implemented.
Therefore, while my preference is the Action Research approach now I can see that when the situation does not allow for participant input, Hermeneutics may be a great alternative.
Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful inquiry in social research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.