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 Dry. 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 ND 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 begin by looking at the epistemology underlying Allen J. Coot’s (2008) work, “Inside the City: On Arbitration, Public Policy and Planning’. Scott, who was trained as an economist, provides in his work a basic outline for arbitration that can serve as practical tool for city planners and policy makers.
Coot’s epistemology is strongly influenced by his viewing the city as an agglomeration, set of fixed traits, whose character derives from a structure consisting of profit and social necessity (up. 15-21). In other words, these ontological assumptions directly give rise to his epistemological assumptions. With a background in economy, Coot’s position as researcher has a strong bearing on the outcome of his inquiry regarding the ‘urban’.
Coot’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). Coot’s substantive 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. 3, 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 his deviation most clearly at the epistemological level of Coot’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-quantitative perspective (given his background as an economist) and thus asserts an much ore essentialist epistemological approach. Scott shares to some degree the same view on the fluidity of concepts like “arbitration” and “city ‘ asserting the blurred boundaries, just as expressed in the works of Brenner (2013) and Gilbert (2007), and Moose (2010).
Yet throughout his article, Coot’s viewpoint after viewpoint gets derived from scientific claims of “fact” that are considered defined, static, and continually present in time. Thus, Coot’s article is a chief example of the malleability of research approaches themselves that are at the disposal of researchers. Lastly, I emphasized Coot’s background as an urban economist as I see that those methods of learning to see the world come to impact researcher’s stances in ways that they themselves often become unaware of. Scott uses economic activity to gain understanding on the processes that govern the processes of agglomeration in the city.
He asks questions such as: what are the factors leading to x, y, or z? He makes predictions and provides quantitative data that shows static definitions of a concept that even he himself deems fluid. What I find interesting about this article is how such a seemingly anti-essentialist ontology of the urban can be coupled with a much more seemingly structural epistemological approach. Therein, this article brings into perspective the broad range of possibilities found when combining tools in knowledge within research. Ontology Next, by looking at the ontological approach, I focus on an anthropological case study by Venezuelan anthropologist, Dry.
Rafael Sanchez (2008), titled, “Seized by the Spirit: The Mystical Foundation of Squatting among Pentecostal in Caracas”. In short the article is about the seizing of space and territory by Pentecostal squatters in the city of Caracas, and further, how the city has come increasingly polarize between sectors of the government and sectors within the society as a result of the Shaved administration at the time the study was conducted. Given his post-structuralism, anti-essentialist stance (sharply contrasting with that of Coot’s) Sanchez is interested in the resulting fragmented spaces that exist in Caracas.
In his research, he seeks to understand the tension between two buildings that have been seized out of religious empowerment. Dry. Rafael Sanchez, has an anti-essentialist ontology that deeply influences his epistemological approach in a way that manifests very much as one can expect: e acknowledges that instability in the concepts he sets out to explore through an anthropological case study, and asserts that the only way to truly understand them is by deconstruction of the assumptions that create a facade that there is a singular meaning.
At the heart of the research lies the Pentecostal asserted role as vehicles of God’s agency with which they justify their otherwise criminal acts, which Sanchez refers to as “a most aggressive voracious logic of space occupations”l (Ibid). The constant “processors” (Wyllie 2006) reiteration of “our God is a living God” that the Sisters express serves as key motif that brought out he resonance with the immediacy and the crisis of representation.
The article ends in a note highlighting the tendency towards a certain fragmentation, a transportation of the private sphere (ibid). In this sense, it deeply acknowledges its position in the spectrum on the post-structuralism side. At the ontological level, the qualitative perspectives asserted by Roy (2011), Gilbert (2007), and Moose (2010) are in harmony with those depicted in Sanchez work: they strongly show that there are multiple realities or truths; presented as what can be considered an anti-essentialist, relational ontology.
Given Sanchez anti- essentialist ontology we see his reason to approach his question qualitatively. Sanchez functions as the data collecting instrument and as such, he and the researched (in this case the Pentecostal sisters) are interactively engaged (Wyllie, 2006, Wylye, 2011). The qualitative element of his approach is best highlighted through his engagement and rapport with Hermann Juan crystallize; Sanchez is able to become a part of the process in the ontology, if as observer (ibid).
In sum, Sanchez ontological dimensions highlight the complexity of socially constructed elites and as such, should not be ignored because thinking of them brings new constellations that researchers can work with regarding how current urban occupation movements taking place in cities like Caracas (and elsewhere in global cities) can be understood from a human-scale perspective. Conclusion In each article we note the importance of the individual trajectory of each researcher and how it came to affect the way that they themselves do research now and how they function within their given environments (i. . Scott as a learned economist, and Sanchez as a learned anthropologist). Thus, the assumptions taken by both Sanchez and Scott associated with different ways of constructing knowledge (ontology) and the different forms of knowledge of reality (epistemology) play a vital role in their overall research process. Both of these works serve as great depictions of the versatility in research tools available through these approaches to bring about truth and knowledge, more so when they acknowledge the potential impact of their work from a more ethical and morally-oriented stance.
Sanchez reflection as an anthropologist provides him with awareness about the changing roles within a society and simultaneously, t can be argued, that his ontology is also in a sense always in the process of becoming and changing (Roy, 2011). I believe that his reflexivity learned through the practice of carrying out ethnographic work is chief in producing his ontological anthropology that seeks to shed light on alternate realities that reconfigure our understanding of the world around us.
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