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The quality of logical inference: Abduction in comparative country case study research Rana Jawad Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath

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Presentation on theme: "The quality of logical inference: Abduction in comparative country case study research Rana Jawad Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath"— Presentation transcript:

1 The quality of logical inference: Abduction in comparative country case study research Rana Jawad Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath Qualitative Research Symposium 26 January, 2015

2 Some Key Principles Social phenomena cannot be separated from their social environment (Pawson and Tilly, 1997) Empirical research: all knowledge is uncertain, method is most important Scientific Inference: descriptive-causal (scientific rules) The researcher as the research instrument - character, disposition, research position, reflexivity, transparency Reasoning and types of knowledge = basis of logic of social enquiry

3 Research Background Social policy and welfare systems in the MENA region Institutional frameworks Causes and effects MENA region: weak or no social policies, lack of political legitimacy and state capacity

4 Abduction Abductive approach as defined by Blaikie (2000:114) made up of two stages (that follow Charles Sanders Peirce’s original formulation of findings and explanation): Describing social activities and meanings; and deriving categories and concepts that can form the basis of an understanding or an explanation (not prediction)

5 A different kind of Theoretical Knowledge “accounts or re-descriptions in social scientific language of social actors’ everyday accounts” (Blaikie, 2000: 116) Re-descriptions used to develop descriptive models or ideal types that aim to transcend everyday knowledge and include conditions which the social actors involved in the research were unaware of Experiential knowledge – personal experience and character of the observer are important

6 Generalisation These new understandings provided a basis for naturalistic generalisations founded upon the criteria of (1) “retaining the integrity of the phenomena"; (2) contextualising analysis via "thick description" (Stake, 1998; 2000) Generalisation about experience, what happens – not about theoretical relationships

7 Application to Research Key moments from the empirical research to show how the abductive approach supported the development of descriptive causal narratives of social welfare systems in the countries studied, but that this remained a contextually-contingent exercise.

8 Abduction and Theory Abduction can support theory building based on generalisation and not universalisation Philosophical principle of Phronesis which emphasises the fact that the social researcher will have to resort to some form of personal consideration or judgement or choice during the analysis process in order to decide what the most plausible hypothesis or explanatory framework is Experiential knowledge – personal experience and character of the observer are important

9 Phronesis: A different kind of knowledge Nicomachean ethics (Aristotle): 3 classes of intellectual virtue -Episteme (generalised scientific knowledge, ethics, rules) -Techne (craft knowledge; knowledge that meets designated ends) -Phronesis (ethical judgement, prudence, practical wisdom): context-based situated action -Overlaps between them, especially techne and phronesis

10 Techne and Phronesis Techne: Knowing how to make something Phronesis: Judgement, understanding the implications and making the right choices (rational, normative, situational) “What should I do in this situation?” Guiding action – not simply making true or false statements (Spicker, 2011)

11 Phronesis and In-depth Case Studies Generalised observations of experience Rmphasises case knowledge Attentiveness and flexibility of the researcher’s decision-making processes Readiness to refine judgement and see a situation in a new way

12 Choice And Logic of Inference The inevitable application of choice emphasises the use of logic of inference and it is the quality of that choice that matters Within case study methodology, the abductive approach needs to remain historically rooted so as to retain its explanatory power

13 Holistic Narrative Generalisations about processes in their social contexts A holistic narrative approach supports the triangulation of research findings and the researcher’s ability to gain deep understanding of the research context, and therefore enhance the quality of the logical inferences made during the research process.

14 Some Concluding Ideas Phronesis needs to be combined with episteme and techne – as a counterbalance – we already use it? Acknowledging that policy-based research is ambiguous - voice, testimony and experiential knowledge also matter Quality in qualitative research is about the attentiveness, flexibility and reflexivity of the researcher

15 Some Concluding Ideas Qualitative research as “a knack” – a pre- disposition Qualitative research as a form of “craftsman/woman-ship” – character of researcher and not just research methods…mindfulness, attentiveness, open mindedness Social policy in the MENA region: ability to see new forms of civic action, political legitimacy and state capacity


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