Methodological Communities

Prior to conducting Primary Research, engage in rhetorical analysis: evaluate the methods used by your audience. What ways of knowing, what epistemologies, define your community?

Methodological Communities are


Just as people with similar religious beliefs, political loyalties, or cultural practices can be said to make up a community—even though they have never met—those who share research methods and philosophies of knowledge–ways of knowing–may also be viewed as a community.

Methodological Communities may form around

  • archives, texts
  • specific research methods
    • how to ask research questions
    • how to choose subjects
    • how to analyze information
  • shared assumptions about the kind of knowledge particular methods may generate
  • agreement regarding what sort of knowledge

Academic disciplines and professional organizations are types of Methodological Communities. These institutions codify research methods through dialectic, research, publications and training programs:

  • Professional organizations such as the APA (American Psychological Association) or MLA (Modern Language Association) prescribe best research methods in handbooks for researchers. Practitioners publish on their methods.
  • The scholarly conversations of professional researchers reflect on, criticize, and reify research methods. Publications create a history, a literary canon, a body of texts.
  • The graduate programs and professional programs in academic and professional fields train students and employees to follow methods prescribed by professional organizations and practitioners.

More often than not Members of Methodological Communities tend to agree with one another

  • about how to gather and interpret information
  • about how to reason from information, texts and sense experience
  • about what constitutes acceptable knowledge-making methods.

However, members of Methodological Communities do not always agree with one another about what results means–their knowledge claims. For example, some ethnographers believe their research produces positivistic (generalizable) knowledge–i.e., knowledge that is universal. Other ethnographers may dispute that assumption: they may argue ethnography can only produce knowledge that is context specific, postpositivistic knowledge.

Researchers within academic and professional disciplines engage in dialectic (argument!) with one another about

  • epistemology
  • their shared histories (who said what, when they said it, why they said it, etc.).
  • research methods
  • their shared futures–what’s possible, what adjustments they need to make in response to changes in technology and culture.

The beliefs and actions of Methodological Communities evolve just as literacies evolve. Change comes from