For a relational epistemology of educational research
In this theoretical contribution I firstly discuss an epistemological conflict: the distinction between a form of knowledge that derives from the methods of investigation, logic, and types of reasoning traditionally used by the natural sciences, and a form of knowledge that is achieved through certain approaches of the social and human sciences. Roughly speaking, this is the distinction between quantitative and qualitative research. It is widely and persistently held by the social and human sciences that the epistemic method of the “hard sciences” results in knowledge which is static and infallible, and restricted to the adoption of a positivist paradigm. This paper shows that this opinion is not justified and comes from a logical confusion—specifically, from a confusion between monotonic and non-monotonic reasoning. In the second part of this paper, I investigate the difference between quantitative and qualitative research not so much based on substantial and distinctive characteristics, but rather on the type of relationship which is established between researcher and research subject. The “I-Thou” relation at the basis of Buber’s dialogical principle illustrates the peculiarity and value of some research approaches in the educational field. The paper ends by examining Levinas’ criticism of the “I-Thou” relation’s reciprocity and his thesis that responsibility can only emerge within an asymmetrical relation.
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