Revisiting ontology (and epistemology): Communicating with one’s methodological others (those who think about research in terms of variables) (Peregrine Schwartz-Shea)

Revisiting ontology (and epistemology): Communicating with one’s methodological others (those who think about research in terms of variables) (Peregrine Schwartz-Shea)

In a “new, updated version of KKV”—so says the blurb: “a classic text in guiding strong research design” presents “a unified approach to qualitative and quantitative research in political science” ( The 1994 book, Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research, famously claimed that the difference between quantitative and qualitative work was a matter of “style,” obfuscating that “qualitative work” comes in both positivist and interpretivist forms. In Interpretive Research Design (2012), Dvora Yanow and I took on this claim arguing that advice such as KKV’s, perhaps suitable for variables-based research, would stymie the goals and purposes of interpretive research projects.

Part of the task of educating others about interpretive research is a discussion of the ontological and epistemological presuppositions ignored by KKV. I revisit these terms, with an emphasis on the former. Part I concerns examination of the meaning of ontology, comparing the dictionary definition with its meanings-in-use, applying Schaffer’s (2016) method to disciplinary examples. Part II reflects on a striking absence in the US debates over DA-RT (Data Access and Research Transparency): the possibility of ontological instability and its implications for “replication.” Part III provides resources and examples for communicating with one’s methodological others and challenges scholars using any “philosophical wager” (Jackson 2011) to make clear their assumptions concerning ontological (in)stability.

Peregrine Schwartz-Shea is Professor Emerita, Department of Political Science, University of Utah. She published her early research using experimental methods and rational choice theory. Shifting theoretical interests led to research focusing on methodological practices in political science and interpretive methods. With Dvora Yanow she is coeditor of the Routledge Series on Interpretive Methods (, and their coauthored Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes (2012) is the first volume in the series. They have been collaborating on institutional review board policy research since 2006. Professor Schwartz-Shea is past president of the Western Political Science Association (2012-13) and recipient of two mentoring awards, Excellence in Mentoring Award, College of Social and Behavioral Science (2018-2019) and the University of Utah Graduate Student Mentor Award (2012). She received a National Science Foundation grant to co-organize the Workshop on Interpretive Methodologies in Political Science (2009) and served on the Ad Hoc Committee on Human Subjects Research (2017-2020), which produced Research Ethics Guidelines for the American Political Science Association ( Since 2020, she serves on the editorial board of American Political Science Review and its Advisory Board for Research Ethics. For more information, see

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Date & time

Fri 18 Nov 2022, 12–1pm



Peregrine Schwartz-Shea

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Nick Cheesman


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