Psychosocial research marked a break with the traditions that had dominated scientific thought in psychology and other especially social disciplines. Among other things, it has made it possible to generate orderly and systematic means of making scientific knowledge and understanding reality (that is to say research methods), avoiding the classic separation between the individual and the society.
Then, we will make a general assessment of the traditions that have marked psychology as a scientific discipline and we will describe the concepts of methodology and method, to finally present the main characteristics of psychosocial research close to the critical orientations of contemporary thought.
Main research traditions in psychology
As a scientific discipline, psychology has been one of the traditions and transformations that have historically marked the field of science. The paradigm that has traditionally dominated this field has been the positivist, Which is based on the idea that there is a reality that can be revealed from a specific methodology and method: the hypothetical-deductive, which offers us to explain, predict and manipulate the functioning of this reality.
However (and since this paradigm is also established through the separation between nature and culture), in trying to explain social phenomena, which did not seem to follow the same patterns as natural phenomena, the hypothetico-deductive method collided to a few challenges. Many of them have been solved by calculating probabilities, i.e. from predicting future behaviors, taking care not to involve external factors in the process, or in other words , by evaluating these probabilities in an objective, neutral and impartial manner.
Some time later this paradigm faced new challenges, when through relativistic theory, chaos theory and feminist epistemologies, among other theories of knowledge, it became clear that the researcher’s position is not neutralBut it is a position situated in a particular body, experience, history and context; which in addition, inevitably affects the reality you are studying.
From there, very diverse research methods have emerged which make it possible to take into account the terroir of the experience as a key element; as well as valid and legitimate, in the construction of knowledge.
Methodology or method? Examples and differences
The concepts of methodology and method are widely used in research and are also often confused or used as synonyms. If there is no single or definitive way to explain them, and they do not necessarily have to be separated, here is a proposal to define both the methodology and the method, as well as some differences in the models. .
Methodology: put the tools somewhere
By the term “methodology” we generally denote the theoretical perspective in which fits the procedure or the system that we will follow during an investigation. For example, the traditions of contemporary and Western science are often divided into two broad frameworks: qualitative methodology and quantitative methodology.
The quantitative methodology is that which has been particularly appreciated in the scientific field and is based on the hypothetico-deductive method which seeks to establish probabilities and predictions by appealing to the impartiality of the researcher.
On another side, qualitative methodology has gained ground in the social sciences and in critical orientations because it helps to develop understandings about a reality by retrieving the experience of those who are involved and involved in that reality, including the same person who is investigating. Hence, the concept of responsibility and ethics in research has assumed fundamental importance.
Moreover, from there, a methodological-inductive model was set up, which does not seek to explain a reality but to understand it; which implies that an action or a phenomenon is not only described, but interpreted by describing. In addition, they are interpreted by a person or a group of people placed in a specific context, with which it is understood that this interpretation is not exempt from judgments; it is an interpretation elaborated in correspondence with the characteristics of this context.
The quantitative methodology and the qualitative methodology have criteria of scientific rigor which make their proposals valid in the field of science and can be shared between different people.
Method: tool and instruction
On the other hand, a “method” is an orderly and systematic way that we use to produce something; therefore in the field of research, the “method” generally makes a more specific reference. the research technique used and its use.
The method is then the one we use to request information that we will analyze and which will then allow us to propose a set of results, reflections, conclusions, proposals, etc. An example of a method can be interviews or experiments which are used to request and aggregate a set of data, such as statistical figures, texts, public documents.
Both the methodology and the research method are defined according to the questions that we want to answer with our research, that is to say according to the problems that we have posed.
An approach to psychosocial research
As we have seen, scientific knowledge is traditionally produced from an important dissociation between the psychic and the social, which gave rise to the already classic debates between nature and culture, Individual-society, innate-learned, etc.
In fact, if we go a little further, we can see that it is also based on the Cartesian mind-body binomial, which resulted in the divisions between subject-object and subjectivity-objectivity; where it is objectivity which is often overrated in the scientific field: reason over experience, a reason which, as we have already said, presents itself as neutral, but which is established between a multiplicity of norms , practices and relationships.
So the term psychosocial refers to the link between psychic elements and social factors that shape identities, subjectivities, relationships, norms of interaction, etc. It is a theoretical perspective and a methodological position that attempts to undo the false divisions between the social and the psychic.
The critical perspective of psychosocial research
In some contexts, the psychosocial perspective is very close to critical theories of science (those that pay particular attention to the effect of science on the reproduction of social inequalities).
In other words, from a more critical psychosocial point of view, he would not only seek to understand or interpret a reality, but locate the relationships of power and domination that shape this reality to generate crises and transformations.
Incorporate a critical perspective linked to reflection to promote emancipatory action; make alliances based on the detection of the power relations they maintain and at the same time open up certain possibilities for action; make an explicit critique of domain relations, assuming that the act of research affects and impacts the particular domain studied.
Examples of psychosocial research methods
Psychosocial research methods have been classified under different names to facilitate their use, thoroughness and reliability. However, considering how the person investigating affects the reality they are investigating; and that the methods are not neutral either, they can share some of the parameters with each other. In other words, these are flexible methods.
In this sense, any orderly and systematic way of collecting information to understand a phenomenon with the aim to blur the boundaries between the psychic and the social, could be a method of psychosocial research.
Some examples of methods which have been particularly relevant because they allowed to bring into play what has been described are discourse analysis, mobile drifts in research, biographical methods such as life stories, Auto-ethnography, ethnography and the already classic in-depth interviews.
There are also some methods that are more participatory like participatory action research and storytelling techniques, where the main objective is to co-construct knowledge between the researcher and the people involved, thus generating a horizontal relationship during the process of research and thus questioning the barrier between two practices that have been understood as separate: research and intervention.
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