Epistemological and Ontological Methods in Urban and Development Studies
Assignment No. 1
Nicole de Groot
Epistemology and Ontology
Word count: 1500
15 October 2014
Professor Fracesco Colona
Research focuses on investigating, on finding things out. Regardless of one’s stance within the field of research, today’s researchers have a wide array of tools from which to choose from when they conduct research. Before any research is drafted, however, the approaches in epistemology and ontology lie at the foundation of any research plan. Epistemology is the study of knowledge, and Ontology the study of being. Each serves a crucial role in allowing us to come to grips with understanding the world around us, and processes in our everyday environments. With this significant basis in mind, this essay attempts to discuss the roles of epistemology and ontology by analyzing two research articles, one by Allen J. Scott, and one by Dr. Rafael Sanchez, respectively through each approach. Parallels and contrasts to a number of articles covered in weeks 2 and 3 of the course readings are highlighted. At the core of this essay, the effort in this discussion is to explore the strengths and limitations in ontological and epistemological approaches, as pursued by each author, and to a larger extent see the role that these play in the field of urban studies research today. Epistemology
I begin by looking at the epistemology underlying Allen J. Scott’s (2008) work, “Inside the City: On Urbanisation, Public Policy and Planning”. Scott, who was trained as an economist, provides in his work a basic outline for urbanization that can serve as practical tool for city planners and policy makers. Scott’s epistemology is strongly influenced by his viewing the city as an agglomeration, a set of fixed traits, whose character derives from a structure consisting of profit and social necessity (pp. 15-21). In other words, these ontological assumptions directly give rise to his epistemological assumptions. With a background in economy, Scott’s position as researcher has a strong bearing on the outcome of his inquiry regarding the ‘urban’. Scott’s position in defining the urban is more strongly essentialist because he criticizes research in urban studies such as those by Roy (2011) and Gilbert (2008) that have in recent years brought great emphasis to the cultural issues (i.e. identity, every-day life, etc.) that in his view “depreciate the essential economic foundations” at the heart of urban development and capitalism. (Scott, 2011). Scott’s substantivist epistemological approach in conceptualizing the ‘urban’ is less concerned with the agency of individuals at the human scale, and disregards it as “a less-than-definitive understanding” (p. 13, ibid). While Scott and Brenner (2013) both agree that it the concept of urban has become a fragmented, ubiquitous, concept, difficult to define (p. 7), Scott deviates strongly from Brenner at the ontological level. We see this deviation most clearly at the epistemological level of Scott’s approach as he includes strictly categorized, hard, statistical data to provide as static a definition as possible of a concept whose boundaries he even affirms have become inherently blurred. (ibid). In spite of this paradox found at the ontological level where Scott and Brenner (2013) may almost see eye-to-eye, at the epistemological level Scott moves even further away to the other end of the [epistemological] spectrum, fully equipped with his near-quantitativist perspective (given his background as an economist) and thus asserts an much more essentialist epistemological approach. Scott shares to some degree the same view on the fluidity of concepts like “urbanization” and “city” asserting the blurred boundaries, just as expressed in the works of Brenner (2013) and Gilbert (2007), and Mosse (2010). Yet throughout his...
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