Martin Bulmer's Sociological Approach
Martin Bulmer, Sociological Research Methods: An Introduction
Martin Bulmer’s three-tiered sociological inquiry could usefully structure my research.
Bulmer terms the first of these tiers the “general methodology.” establishes the general principles (or biases) structuring the research and is consequently concerned with (a) the ways in which the researcher constructs knowledge, and (b) how s/he attempts to persuade others that his or her knowledge is valid. Explored further in the subsequent section, I understand dialogical epistemology as the general method informing my work. Suffice it to say for the moment that this constitutes an extension of the discursive form and content comprising my research.
The second tier of Bulmer’s model consists of research strategies and procedures. Together these make up the research design in accordance with the general methodology. While valid for sociological research where clear-cut hypotheses are tested through experimentation, research design seems less applicable to discursive, speculative and practice-based approaches like mine. Where the structure of the work emerges through its making, research design runs the risk of overdetermining the creative investigation. To avoid this possibility while still providing sufficient organization to bound and realize the research, I propose to rely more heavily on the third and final layer of Bulmer’s methodology: research techniques. These are the fact-finding operations used by the researcher to collect data. Research techniques in my project are also the methods for making the work. These methods include collaboration, improvisation, attentive listening, documentation and representation, self-observation/critical reflection, developing online lexicons and cultivating a Web 2.0 sensibility through working with blogs, wikis and social networking sites.
Notably, I understand all these techniques as tools for my own collaborative practice; they do not necessarily extend to those with whom I am collaborating. Working with , Critical Practice, Future Reflections, Unnamed Collaboration and HTAP has taught me that collaborative art making is extremely demanding. As group work involving significant time, energy and psychic investment, it is also unpredictable and fails more often than it succeeds. It is consequently important to adopt research techniques accommodating these factors, which is why I increasingly appreciate my own project as primarily subjective in scope. While I aim to identify and model what I perceive as best practices, it is not my intention to prescribe them as requirements of collaborating on this research. Having said this, methods like action research may be useful in certain projects where the constituency collectively recognizes their need. I have not, however, included these possible approaches among my methods, as (a) they will be contextually determined and thus cannot be predicted in advance; and (b) I do not anticipate them playing a significant role in realizing the research.
Finally, it is worth acknowledging that the techniques described here (see links below) are more accurately understood as my “methods” than my “methodology.” While providing significant context, their descriptions neither consistently nor rigorously explicate the relationship between their rationale and the philosophical assumptions underpinning my research. I have consequently replaced what Bulmer refers to a “general methodology” with “general method” in discussions of my project.
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