Relational constructionism

by Dian Marie Hosking

Relational approaches to inquiry

Discussions of research tools in the social sciences often have contrasted quantitative and qualitative methods. However, - as many have argued - the dualism seems very unhelpful and far from ‘the point’ so to speak. For example, both approaches are used in the service of the same paradigm or perspective, usually (post)positivism. If we start from the point of view of relational constructionism the qualitative/quantitative distinction misleads by tacitly assuming the relevance and helpfulness of distinctions such as:
  • Objective – subjective
  • Explanation – understanding
  • The real world – representations of the world
  • Ontology - epistemology – methodology
  • Inside (e.g., intrapersonal, intra-organisational) – outside
  • Individual - society
  • Truth – fiction
  • Theory - method
My own view of relational-constructionist treats the above differentiations as social constructions that reflect particular historical-cultural contexts. I prefer not to ‘start’ with these assumptions. Instead, I ‘start’ with the relational processes in which social constructions are made. Further, in studying these, I see theory and method as inseparable and ineluctably intertwined. For this reason, I find talk of ‘method’ rather dangerous and potentially misleading.
The purpose of this web page is to give some help to those who wish to undertake their inquiries from a relational-constructionist perspective. In my view this (a) opens-up certain possibilities and (b) invites the inquirer to give a central role to some issues that many have long recognized but have handled (theoretically and empirically) in ways different from those being proposed here. On the latter, such issues include:
  • Seeing the inquirer as part of (rather than apart from) their inquiry
  • Recognizing multiple local-contextual knowledges/practices -
  • Including ‘the inquirers’ own knowledge/practice as just one of many communities of practice
  • Seeing inquiry as intervention
The possibilities that now receive warrant – rather than being dismissed as ‘not science’ or irrelevant include:
  • Treating reflexivity as a crucial aspect of the conduct of the research. This is not just from the point of view of ‘methodology’, but also in relation to the practical utility of the research for ‘the locals’ - and as a more or less ethical way of ‘going on in relation’ with one another.
  • Giving more emphasis to the intervention aspects of inquiry processes.
  • Directing interest towards emancipation or liberation… to critical aims rather than to ‘advancing’ some collective and transcendental knowledge base.

Subjects related to Qualitative Research on this Website