Debating the usefulness of research methods

Call me naive, but I still find myself fascinated with the amount of discussion that surrounds some research methods – particularly discussions that question the applicability or usefulness of research methods for any number of reasons. S. Thomas' "Artifactual Study in the Analysis of Culture" (1994) reveals some interesting points about artifactual analysis, particularly by highlighting the fact that many claim that because artifactual and cultural analysis is often contested, it is therefore a less useful research method compared to others.

In this instance, I side with Thomas in saying that although it is not expected that all artifactual analysis will remain uncontested, these critics are in the wrong. In fact, I feel that debate about the analysis of a particular artifact is actually quite valuable, and opens many opportunities for meaningful scholarly criticism and discussion.

Having studied photography in the past, I've experienced much of what Thomas refers to in saying that "different types of artifacts must be broadly studied not only for their formal or narrative characteristics but also for their appearance and placement over time" (1994, p. 686). Photographs are particularly good examples of artifacts that change over time. There are many examples of photographic work that has in the past been regarded as unprecedented documentary historical evidence, only to be disregarded as 'staged' or exaggerated years later by a researcher who has uncovered evidence of such. By talking about cultural artifacts of all kinds, and by comparing said artifacts to other research, developments, or ideas, there lies much potential for significant debate surrounding an artifact’s cultural and historical qualities.

Although we may (for any number of reasons) disagree with the usefulness of a particular research method – I think it is important to note that many research methods are very contextual, and therefore may be only applicable to areas that we are unfamiliar with. While debate is healthy, it seems that there may be a tendency amongst scholars/researchers (who are particularly passionate about their own practices) to immediately disregard the ideas of others.

- Amy

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