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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Method or Madness?

Once upon a time, I had a grad school professor who wanted to see methodologies in papers. The thing about methodologies is, the majority of papers don’t have them. So, having perused all the papers in the syllabus and found no examples, I sought more information.

“I’m supposed to what? Don’t I already have a clear thesis?” said I in consternation.

The other students I asked were equally confused and the Man wouldn’t deign to furnish examples, saying that he couldn’t possibly explain it better than he had.

(I submitted my final to the same Man from a hospital bed where I was having a baby because he didn’t accept frivolous excuses for lateness. Enough said on his quality.)

Many years later, I have read many papers (thought still a small percentage) with methodologies and here’s what I think:

Methodologies are stupid. Don’t ever write one.

My guess is that years ago, political scientists thought they could bulk up the sciencey-ness of their research by copying procedural descriptions from the scientific method.

But political science isn’t a real science. It’s a realm of theories and assumptions (good and bad) about humans. A romantic view of human nature has never accounted well for the evil in the world, and even a realistic view can’t predict a sudden change of heart, a quickening of courage or nobility. Neither has proved consistently useful in predicting human events.  Political science is not useless (hopes my husband, who paid for my degree), but it’s also not quarks and neutrons and thermodynamics.

In writing, purpose is stated in a thesis. From there, we needn’t break the natural flow of things to offer a stilted definition of what a position paper is. We all know that you’re going to use your words to support your ideas.

I’ve never met a methodology that did anything that the points of a well-constructed paper couldn’t have accomplished more artfully and powerfully on their own.

It’s as if a triple jumper began his run, then pulled up and shouted, “I’m going to jump with one leg! Then the other! Then I’ll land on two feet and try to make my total distance really impressive!” before continuing his event.

Wouldn’t that be helpful?

I just wanted to say that to the Man.

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