Tuesday, 12 March 2013

All Methods have Strengths and Weaknesses

Both Knight (2002)and Thomas (1994) describe how researchers have criticized the use of artifact analysis and other unobtrusive methods. One major basis of this criticism is that a research cannot know all of the context behind the creation of an artifact be it a document, picture or television show. They also present the issue that the interpretation of the artifact is affected by the researchers own assumptions causing it to be difficult to make an objective analysis. Regardless of these presented challenges both Knight and Thomas make a case for the usefulness of unobtrusive research and artifact analysis. Knight describes that the other methods that illicit information from individuals have drawbacks that unobtrusive methods do not. One example he gives is that the research itself can have an effect on those who are being studied. Thomas argues that artifacts are products of human behavior and we can learn much about the society from studying its artifacts.

This creates an apparent dilemma that these methods have both important purposes and large drawbacks. I think however that all methods suffer from this problem. They all have strengths and weaknesses. For me the solution is presented by Thomas (1994) when she states “I would argue, instead, for a certain relativism – for attempting to gather all the data we can from whatever sources offer the possibility of scholarly inference and to compare an argue over the validity of those inferences” (pg.686). In this statement I believe that Thomas is arguing for the use of many different methods and sources. I think that this is the best solution because all these methods have their strengths and weaknesses. Use and interpreted with the others as benchmarks we might be able to transcend the weaknesses of the methods and unite the strengths get more accurate understanding of human behavior.


Knight, P.T. (2002). Small Scale Research. London : SAGE Publications.

Thomas, S. (1994). Artifactual study in the analysis of culture: A defense of content analysis in a                postmodern age. Communication Research, 21(6), 683-97.

1 comment:

  1. Luker also touches on the failures of particular methods, in her less formal way. When writing about ethnography and the choice to study something within one’s own culture, she says that “you tend to highlight the weird and unusual, and you faithfully document the trivial, but you are hard-pressed to see any connection between the two” (p. 157).

    I do think that the answer, at least sometimes, to the shortcomings of various methods can be to use a mixed-methods approach. I wonder as well how often a research question has been better answered, or a gap in the literature addressed, simply by tackling the question/topic from a different methodological angle.

    Catherine M.

    Luker, K. (2008). Salsa dancing into the social sciences: Research in an age of info-glut. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.