Are We as Attentive to Method as We Should Be?
Interest in methodological issues in the field of mass communication and media studies is experiencing something of a revival. We find evidence of the trend in publishing, as well as the themes of conferences and postgraduate courses. Looking back we can see a longstanding tension surrounding methodology in our field, which is a something of a hybrid of influences from the social sciences and the humanities. In the social sciences issues of methodology have traditionally been quite central -too
... quite central -too central, some critics say, and point out that certain dominant methods have tended to steer the focus of enquiry rather than the research question, as should be the case. A sort of positivist methodological fundamentalism has prevailed, a preoccupation with method, to which both the content of the research and issues of relevance have been subordinated. Say critics. Within the humanities, by contrast, attention to methodology has been slight and not at all central. That is, relative to the social scientific commandment to make one's methodology explicit that we find in textbooks, postgraduate courses and discussions of method in dissertations, articles and research reports. Method is a non-concept within classical studies of the Arts and methodological questions are usually quite peripheral. Fetveit (2000) writes quite frankly that methodology is simply less relevant in the Humanities. As a consequence, courses and books devoted to choice of method have been scarce, as has discussion of methodology in dissertations. The notion that in the humanities it is impossible to separate theory from method, or theory from empirical analysis, is -or has beenwidespread. They are so closely integrated that there is no need to differentiate a part called methodology and subject it to judgement or reflection. This may be the root of the antagonism toward methodological concerns that imbues a good share of research in the humanities to date. Obviously, the comparison is rendered in very broad strokes. Still, it is useful as a backdrop to different basic perspectives on issues of methodology that we encounter in social science and Arts studies of media and communication. The field is also highly multidisciplinary, with influences from Sociology, Political Science, Psychology, Ethnology, History, Literary Criticism, Linguistics and Film Studies. This makes for a miscellaneous assortment of methods to take into account. Is such an undertaking even possible? In my view, we have lost sight of several important aspects of the question of methods and methodology. To some extent, it may be a consequence of the great variety of methods being used in our field, but it may also be symptomatic of more sinister tendencies relating to choice of methods in scientific inquiry more generally. I shall return to this. In the following, "methodology" is used to designate a meta-perspective on methods, e.g., treatments of methods in theoretical, epistemological and ontological perspectives. "Methods" denotes more scientific procedure and concrete approaches -in short, how we go about it. The two levels are equally important, and it is also important to discuss how they relate to each other. A disclaimer is called for here. The criticism I put forward in the following does not apply to the whole of research in our field; rather, I am referring to certain tendencies that, in my view, threaten to undermine our researchand others'. The criticism is not confined to research in Sweden and the Nordic region, nor does it apply uniquely to studies of media and mass communication.