EDPS 360 (A2) Fall 2013

Critical Theory & Methodology

In Cooperative Blog Posts on September 23, 2013 at 11:27 am

By Juweira:

Listening to Saunders on ABC Radio and his interview with Phillip Bell really got me thinking, what are we being taught as University students? I completed an undergraduate degree in Political Science and History and now I have come to realize that some of my course readings consisted of old Greek Philosophers’ works that were difficult to understand at first, but once I put some effort into my readings I was able to get the gist of these ‘theories’ and gather a better understanding of them. However, I also recall reading the work of some authors who went on a path of circular reasoning and did not explain the concepts they presented in their work. Moreover, they definitely threw me off and I lost my passion for Political Science. Although I had to read Raymond Morrow’s work twice, and listen to Saunders’ interview with Bell twice, I was eventually able to understand the concern they had with writers work focusing on abstract notions. I especially found it interesting when Bell pointed out the conversation he had with his 5-year-old friend who says, “My crayon is powerful. It’s got power in it.” Essentially, what Bell wrote about in his book, is a “diagnosis” as Saunders puts it and it is that, “re-theorizing all of human behaviour cannot be done.” Moreover Bell tells Saunders that the type of writing is “performative writing” and he adds that the work becomes almost like a “literature piece” because of its difficulty. According to Marrow this subjectivism is considered social phenomenology, the writing about a relationship that is created due to an interaction. The opposite of which is objectivism, the empirical aspect of theories.

I was pleased by the concluding question Saunders poses to Bell, which was along the lines of, “what is the medication for this diagnosis?” Bell’s response to the question gave me some hope, “that students need to learn to think critically.”  Being a critical thinker is important and I agree with both Saunders and Bell that the “methodological side needs to be emphasized.”

By Alannah:

Once again, as I was listening to Saunders and Bell, I felt as if we were posed with another answer without a question.  The answer is we have to teach students to think critically and analytically, but how do we do that? I’d start by saying that this is all Western philosophy (a hint at my relativist side). It negates fluidity in that they are very polarized, but I also understand these definitions are supposed to be quite generalized. Can a person not have epistemological values of materialism and idealism?

I have some criticisms to Saunders and Bell, referring to the E=MCcomment. I most certainly do not think this equation is ‘gendered’ in a literal sense, it could have metaphorical value but that’s also questionable. It leads me to another point about history though. If we were to use history as a ‘property’ to explain patterns in social behaviour, we have to account for its biases and flaws. One bias is that history is gendered, it’s [most well-known] perspective is that from men, hence having woman’s studies. Assuming that history has biases and flaws, can it really be used to explain social phenomena today? Consider the example in Morrow and Brown, they suggest people were switching from idealism and materialism. Which people were they? It was probably the upper and middle class people who had access to books, who could read and make choices with a reasonable amount of autonomy. Social class, like gender, biases history to the dominant voices at that time.

I also happen to be a partial relativist myself, whereby we only can understand what knowledge is in pertinence to our [subjective] culture and/or language. The ‘partial’ part is I understand our reality and agree with parts of it fundamentally, but I don’t believe we should push knowledge onto others [cultures] because it is considered objective and therefore absolute.

My question for everybody from both sources is, can reality exist subjectively and objectively? At the end of Bell’s talk, his advice is to think critically and analytically, which considering his knowledge there must be a distinction between the two. Could one be empirical and the other systematic, or maybe one is subjective and the other is objective?

By Jordan:

Can reality exist both subjectively and objectively?

Morrow and Brown suggest that there is a vehement divide between the two perspectives in regards to social theory (albeit, the article seemed to be a basic introduction, so who knows where the fun goes?). As I read through the article I made myself a checklist of defining factors for Objectivist theory (Positivism) and Subjectivist theory (Antipositivism/Humanist). Would you like to hear them? Ok.


-Natural scientific models of research are ideal in conducting empirical (empiricist) research.

-A unity between social and natural science is acknowledged.


-Social science is defined by the unique logical and methodological problems of interpreting meaning, subjectivity, and consciousness.

-Social and Natural sciences are divided.


The article continues with divide between Objectivism and Subjectivism by interpreting the each theory in regards to Ontology (the philosophical study of the nature of being), Epistemology (the study of knowledge and justified belief), and the Theory of Action.

In Ontology, the Objectivist view is of traditional or “naive” realism, stressing the reality of empirical facts independently of our consciousness of them, thus creating a scientific “picture” or representation of reality. The Subjectivist view is of nominalism/constructivism. The argument here is that there is a fundamental divide between our concepts and empirical reality. The suggestion is that our very consciousness alters or manipulates our understanding of “reality”. This got me thinking about dreams and subconscious. If our consciousness alters our understanding of “reality,” then why do we acknowlege a difference between our awake, conscious (allegedly) state, and our sleep-induced dream (subconscious) state?

In Epistemology, the Ojectivist view and Subjectivist views are reiterated in quite the same fashion as with Ontology. However, I found the concept of Idealism (Religion, 19th century) of “Man” guided by “soul” vs. (Physicalistic) Materialism of “Mechanism” reducible to biology, chemistry and physics, very interesting. These two theories suggest there is room for both Subjectivism and Objectivism within the same realm as each other. Up until this point I found myself being swayed to the Rebel Alliance, as I did not see the value in conducting empirical research (whatever that may be) in regards to putting a numerical value on Social theory. BUT, I understand and appreciate the importance of the science behind what our bodies are made of, how they are powered, and how they move. Although, these sciences do not address the question of what “guides” our bodies. This is where the connection between Subjectivism and Objectivism can be made.

Alas, in Theory in Action, Positivists will declare our intentions as “epiphenomenal,” or the Skinner “nothing but” theory (ie: “behaviour is nothing but the outcomes of histories of reinforcement”). Whereas,  the Antipositivists will declare our intentions as “voluntarism” and that our actions or intentions are a result of “free will”. The concept of “free will” is a philosophical “can of worms” for a another day. However, I view this divide as another opportunity to build a bridge. Why can’t there be a connection between “nothing but” and “free will”? I vote we take Objectivism and Subjectivism and build a bridge between the divide, or at the very least fill that canyon with water so we can canoe across every once in a while. In honour of the 5 year-old with the blue crayon filled with power–and words that you have to sound out in your head before you speak them– we shall call this new perspective “Crayolativism!” (Or something else that may, or may not come up later upon further reading)

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