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  • Theoretical commitment and doing researching

    Posted on September 21st, 2014 hungyin No comments

    Among the readings this week, I feel lucky that I started from Tosh’s The Pursuit of History. Tosh provides a frame to discuss the perspective of social history in Marxism approach. The relation between practically writing history and theoretical commitment is very interesting. As Tosh already mentions about social science such as sociology and economics, I would like borrow the argument from a sociologist Max Weber’s Science as a Vocation, because it clearly explains the dynamic between theoretical commitment and doing researching. Weber states that no one can do a study without existing ideas. People must have something they care, so that they can do researches. This is where passion comes from. Thus, researchers have their values, and organize their questions and studies by their values. However, it does not mean researchers can interpret data following this value. If the research results are contradict with their value, researchers can reflect more about their values.

    While in some cases, having a strong theoretical commitment or stating one’s self cannot bring productive results. For example, for a long time every research in China has to follow its “historical materialism”, for they put value over their researches. However, in the context this week, I agree with Tosh that it is good to see Thompson displays his value in the beginning of his research. Thompson’s statement makes audience know the starting point of his research and be aware of his interpretation of sources. There may be multiple interpretations of the same sources, but it will be helpful to know how these interpretations come from. In other words, stating one’s lens clearly will make others easier provide more correction and feedback. Thus, it connects with some topics of writing is Digital Age we discussed in the past few weeks – how to deal with information online and external audience in such an open online world. I think identifying others’ values can help to judge the information they provide, and illustrating my lens can help my audience judge mine as well.



    10 responses to “Theoretical commitment and doing researching” RSS icon

    • Hungyin,

      I think you bring up an interesting subject when you talk about the “passion” of the historical researcher. I think we all have a passion for topics we are interested in, if we didn’t, our work would become boring and more than likely staid and irrelevant. So a historian needs to be passionate. I truly believe that. But passion needs its boundaries and integrity and ethics in research becomes those boundaries. And I agree, identifying your “lens” also helps those who read or study your work, or “look” at it in the case of the website “Sapping your Attention”, give you well thought-out, cogent and helpful critique.

    • Hungyin,

      Max Weber’s idea that no one can study without existing ideas is very fitting for class this week. Researchers gravitate to a subject because of previous works on the subject. Even if they take a unique approach their ideas and interpretations are based on prior knowledge of the subject. This enables scholars to build on, or off of each others work. A network of scholars could make this process move even faster or in many different directions. I also like that bringing in Weber, a sociologist, into the discussion highlight an interdisciplinary approach!

    • Hungyin,

      I also think it is productive for historians to discuss their own “lens.” According to Tosh,

      “One of the attractions of E.P. Thompson is that he made no secret of his sympathies – even acknowledging that one chapter in The Making of the English Working Class was polemic. This kind of awareness is particularly important in the case of those historians who have no particular axe to grind but can all too easily be the unconscious vector of values taken for granted by people of their own background” (207).

      This discussion of the social location and bias of the author seems to be borrowed from the social sciences. In my Theories of the African Diaspora class, most of our readings are in Anthropology and Sociology, and nearly every author discusses these things in the beginning of their work. It is less commonly seen in historical works, but if we are to accept that objectivity is a myth, we must also accept that the particular “lens” of the author is going to inform the author’s work whether she likes it or not.


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