5. Methods and Counting Crime

5.3 Conceptualisation

Dr. Wendelin Hume and Ashly Hanna, B.A.

As part of this second step, we need to create a mental picture of how we can find the answers to the research questions we have begun to develop and will now refine even further. Before exploring our research question through new research, we should continue to examine what research has already been done on this topic by others—both published and perhaps unpublished—and what theories or other ways of knowing, such as Indigenous ways of knowing, suggest the relationship between variables will be. This is the purpose of a literature review. You will notice that published academic research often includes a brief literature review of what other scholars have discovered on the topic. Consulting with an academic librarian can be helpful in performing a thorough literature review to include grey literature as well.

One basic way to conceptualise our research project broadly is to think about the cultural differences in how the world in general is viewed. From an Indigenous standpoint, typically all things are interconnected. All people and even animals, fish, birds, and plants are seen as interrelated. This way of seeing the world informs how we think and how we ask questions, and it impacts how we conduct research. From a stereotypical Western standpoint, on the other hand, things are viewed in a hierarchical and linear way with members of the dominant society at the top and everything else at different layers beneath them. As a result, research tends to name, label, describe, and then prescribe solutions from this vantage point, which tends to be self-serving (Redvers, 2019).

The debate about whether knowledge should include or exclude cultural components is central to understanding the difference between most Western research methods and most Indigenous research frameworks. Western research developed the use of the widely accepted empirical scientific method, in which knowledge is seen as objective and based on data that are independent of the feelings or values of the researcher: if it cannot be measured, it does not exist. However, many argue that true objectivity cannot be achieved and perhaps should not even be the goal of research. The fact that most research is conducted using the “objective” scientific method, while Indigenous ways of knowing are ignored, demonstrates a type of scientific colonialism, or abuse of power that Chilisa (2020, p. 7) defines as, “the imposition of the colonizer’s way of knowing and the control of all knowledge produced.”

Epistemology is the study of knowledge or ways of knowing, which is central to the practice of research. Epistemology delves into the nature of knowledge and truth. It challenges us to consider what it means to know something. How is knowledge distinguished from mere opinion or belief, and—importantly for social science—what are the ways by which we can derive or obtain knowledge? How might the latter differ across various cultures and contexts? Most Western researchers follow the Newtonian epistemology that “scientific knowledge has to provide an objective representation of the external world,” which it attempts to do by taking complex items and reducing them to their simplest components (Redvers, 2019, p. 43). In fact, objectivity and empiricism are deemed to be the cornerstones of Western research: researchers must be detached from the research process, and all data must be observable and measurable to exist and become a part of scientific inquiry.

A problem with this reductionist approach is that some frameworks—such as Indigenous frameworks—assume that we are all interconnected and so the whole is more than just its parts. Or, as Aristotle said, “the whole is more than the sum of its parts” (Redvers, 2019, p. 44).  The Western view usually sees this knowledge as being situated outside of culture, but many Indigenous and other scholars insist that “knowledge” is within a cultural framework that may value or conversely marginalise who or what is counted as part of that “knowledge” (Walter & Andersen, 2016). However, as we conceptualise our research project moving forward, we will want to avoid using only a rigid Western view of the scientific method and be certain to learn from the Indigenous community helping us with the research while including relevant cultural components.

As we conceptualise our two research projects, we will want to continue to include the cultural components identified in step one, namely, Two-Eyed Seeing and the collaboration and cooperation between the researcher and the researched. Whatever method is chosen in the next step and for all future steps, we will want to be sure to involve the cultural community and maintain an open mind as they provide us with insights and feedback. We will strive to maintain a balance between scientific rigor and cultural inclusiveness while following ethical research practices and not bringing harm to our participants.



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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Wendelin Hume and Ashly Hanna, B.A. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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