Researching Real-World Problems: The Value of Dismantling Disciplinary Discourse

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The tendency for social science research to fall, explicitly or implicitly, under disciplinary or paradigmatic boundaries can mean that real-world complexity is ignored, thereby limiting the potential for holistic understanding and sustainable outcomes. What might appear on the surface to be a straightforward economic, social, cultural, environmental, or political issue invariably masks a multifaceted problem that is nested in the chaos of a lived environment. Drawing on a range of case studies, this paper argues that such complexity obliges researchers to explore a multitude of social, biophysical and even social-psychological parameters that transcend traditional boundaries. Real-world complexity requires both researchers (and research designs) to be extremely flexible; researchers need to be willing to respond to the yet to be foreseen. They must also be confident to engage in multiple methods that are likely to be drawn from varied and sometimes conflicting research traditions. Other challenges include being comfortable with the possibility of not being able to account for all variables; managing researcher subjectivities; and developing empathetic understanding of a range of stakeholders that may not all be part of the academic research world. This paper explores these challenges with the aim of working towards social science research that is realistic, practical, and of the highest utility.


Keywords: Transdisciplinarity, Research, Inquiry, Epistemology, Complexity
Stream: Research Methodologies, Quantitative and Qualitative Methods
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Zina O'Leary

Senior Lecturer, School of Natural Sciences, University of Western Sydney
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Zina O’Leary is the author of three recent books published by Sage Publications that relate to the application of social science research to on-the-ground problem solving including, Researching Real-World Problems: A Guide to Methods of Inquiry (2005). As a social science researcher, Zina is the research coordinator of the WHO Collaborating Centre For Environmental Health and has lead numerous research and development projects in a number of counties including Malaysia, Palau, Hong Kong , Fiji and the Philippines. These projects have included research training programs in Malaysia and Fiji, development of national planning processes in Palau and evaluation of environmental health programs in the Philippines. As a senior lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, Zina heads up postgraduate units in research methods and professional practice in the applied sciences and maintains an active role in teaching, scholarship and research nationally and internationally.

Ref: I08P0851