Edited by Carlos Vargas-Silva
Chapter 1: Understanding the Relationship between Methodology and Methods
Stephen Castles1 Methodology and methods are often confused, or used as if they meant the same thing. Many articles in the social sciences have a section on ‘methodology’ that merely describes the methods used in a study, but does not actually discuss methodology. Methodology and methods are closely connected, but they are not the same thing. Methodology is about the underlying logic of research. It is closely linked to the branch of philosophy known as epistemology – literally ‘the theory of knowledge’. Epistemology asks such questions as: ‘What is knowledge?’ ‘How is knowledge acquired?’ ‘How can we know something to be true?’ A key dispute in epistemology is between ‘positivists’ who claim that there is an objective world outside ourselves as observers, and ‘constructivists’, who believe that meanings are constructed, interpreted and constantly reconstructed by people in their perceptions and social interactions. Methodology involves the systematic application of epistemology to research situations. It deals with the principles of the methods, concepts and procedural rules employed by a scientific discipline. Methods, by contrast, are specific techniques used to collect and analyse information or data. Data collection methods include, for instance, literature reviews, censuses or other large datasets, surveys, qualitative interviews, household budget analysis, life histories and participant observation. Data analysis methods include, for instance, literature analysis, content (or textual) analysis, qualitative analysis, simple tabulations, cross-tabulations, regression analysis, social mapping, network analysis and socio-grams. It is important to specify the methods of data collection and analysis in any report or...
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