Joint Glossary

Use this section to create a joint glossary that illustrates our different perception or connotation of the same term.

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Picture of Mirko Wittka


by Mirko Wittka - Thursday, 24 January 2019, 1:58 PM

The term came up in the course discussions so far in connection to the outcomes of qualitative research and the validation of the analysis developed from it. In dealing with methodologies to harvest and classify data, many cultural, subjective and contextual factors may affect our research questions and knowledge production. How can we claim that our research has any validity or that it actually and accurately depicts the phenomena it aims to understand ---or impact?

The binary logic between Positivism of natural sciences and complete Relativism or perspectivism is challenged in Constructionism by an idea of knowledge that both understands and acknowledges its own limits (knows that it is cultural embedded and subjectively shaped), but at the same time has rigorous procedures to account for these variables and arrive to solid descriptions of phenomena, be them social or natural or ways of intervene on it. 

In natural science this means understanding that however precise mathematical models and sophisticated instruments may be, human grasp of reality however wide is always limited ,and what is called reality is disputed by different branches or models (paradigms) of science. So, instead of presuming to have objective truth, scientist may aspire to have the more robust or best possible description (tested both analytically and empirically) in a given moment of history. 

In social sciences, and particularly in arts and education, what this means is social and cultural descriptions cannot be separated from the cultural backgrounds (and biases) of those building such descriptions. This can take a very political and postcolonial direction (the variants of which can be explored in this article) but the essential take out is the same: specific perspectives and cultural conceptions clashing cannot be ruled out, in fact the only way for a researcher to arrive to the best possible description of a behavior or social situation is to fully and properly acknowledge all the forces at play in it and to find ways of counterbalancing their impact on results. (Maria)

Constructionism/constructivism  Epistemologies in which the social reality is seen as the result of constructive processes (activities of the members of processes in their minds). For example, living with an illness can be influenced by the way the individuals see their illness, which meaning they abscribe to it, and how this illness is seen by other members of their social world. On each of these levels, illness and living with are socially constructed. (In Flick, Uwe. (2014). An Introduction to Qualitative Research, Glossary, p. 535). (The italics and underline are mine (Paola's)).

See for contrast Positivism.

Entry link: Constructivism/Constructionism

Picture of Maria Villa Largacha

crisis of representation

by Maria Villa Largacha - Tuesday, 22 January 2019, 4:26 PM

Once one has, as researcher, embraced the idea of "weak knowledge" or "situated knowledge" that constructionism somehow secures, how can one navigate the political and epistemological sustainability of this type of research? 

Alternatively put: once we have become aware of the power relations shaping disciplines, and colonial (or generally Eurocentric, anthropocentric, etc) perspectives shaping institutional agendas and everyday practices where research is structured, how may one find an acceptable ground (premises, methodologies) to building knowledge? The mere act of choosing or representing a phenomena or object of study, 'the other' of our interest, is bound to superimpose on them a series of philosophical or empirical categories of which we may not be even conscious of, and that have the risk of being loaded with questionable assumptions embedded in our specific cultural and political point of view.

For an overview of the anthropological discussion see "Writing Culture" (1986), by G. Marcuse and J. Clifford, a key volume for redefinitions of anthropology regarding issues such as who should do fieldwork (e.g., people “at home” in the field or “native” anthropologists); how it should be done (e.g., collaboratively, including “informants”; in a reflexive way, problematizing “culture” and being sensitive to issues of gender, race, and class; or tracing the translocal in multiple localities); what topics should be studied (e.g., the “home” countries of anthropology, Western knowledge and science, or literary practices); and how the results should be ethnographically represented (e.g., experimentally). 

Entry link: crisis of representation