Selected Reads

The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process, by Michael Crotty

The Foundations of Social Research is another essential book for anyone involved in doing academic research. It has been one of my favorite go-to research methodology textbooks during my graduate studies (and still to this day). Any time I want a refresher on the theoretical foundations underlying research methods, Crotty’s work is to the rescue. 

Foundations of social research

One of the early things you work  on when doing academic research is the method or methods you will use to gather and analyze your research data. That is, you formulate a working idea or plan about your research methodology. Research methods and techniques are not orphan elements compiled in a toolbox that anyone can fall back on anytime they need a research tool. Indeed, research methods are informed by different ontological stances and epistemological positions. Whenever you use a research method,  you need to be able to clearly articulate the rationale  behind your choice and justify why you choose that particular method over alternative methods. To do so, you will need to discuss the theoretical foundations of the chosen method and demonstrate how they intersect or are congruent with the goals of your research. 

This is where crotty’s Foundation of Social Research comes in handy. It provides you with the theoretical insight required to form educated and theory-backed decisions regarding your research methodology. Crotty  maps out the main ontological and epistemological assumptions and philosophical perspectives informing social research and explains in a very accessible language what each of these intellectual positions mean and what their theoretical origins are. More specifically, Crotty covers the following concepts: positivism, post-positivism, constructionism, social constructionism, realism, relativism, interprevism, symbolic interactionism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, critical inquiry, feminism, postmodernism, poststructuralism, among others.

Method vs methodology

Several graduate students use method and methodology interchangeably. Method and  methodology are not the same. As Crotty explains, methods are “the techniques or procedures used to gather and analyse data related to some research question or hypothesis”. Methodology, on the other hand, refers to “strategy, plan of action, process or design lying behind the choice and use of particular methods and linking the choice and use of methods to the desired outcomes”. 

What is a theoretical perspective?

According to Crotty, a theoretical perspective is “the philosophical stance informing the methodology and thus providing a context for the process and grounding its logic and criteria”.

What is epistemology?

Epistemology is one of the key concepts in doing research. It is related to knowledge and ‘how we know what we know’. For Crotty, epistemology refers to the “theory of knowledge embedded in the theoretical perspective and thereby in the methodology”. An example of an epistemological position is social constructionism which states that knowledge is a social process that is socially constructed. 

What are the elements of the research process?

According to Crotty, any research process is composed of four main elements: epistemology, theoretical perspective, methodology, and methods. You start with questions about knowledge and its nature. That is, you make your epistemological stances explicit and comprehensible.  You ask what kind of knowledge you want your research to attain? Why should readers take your generated knowledge seriously?  

Next, guided by your research question(s) and the purpose of your research, you formulate a functional theoretical perspective that will guide how you will go about generating knowledge. In it you discuss the main philosophical stances undergirding your research strategy and the rationale behind them. At the methodological level, you lay out your action plan, mapping out the research methods you will use to gather and analyze data together with justifying your choices. 

An example illustrating the elements of the research process Crotty provides is this one: this example to Epistemology (e.g., constructionism), theoretical perspective (e.g., symbolic interactionism), methodology (e.g., ethnography), and method (e.g., participant observation).