I. On particularizing and generalizing strategies of research.
Strengths and weaknesses of each strategy
Implications of each strategy for the design of studies
Particularizing strategy in research is concerned with an event or phenomena in a particular time and space and for its own sake. This time-space context of analyzing, hypothesizing, and drawing specific meaning of the phenomena or event is an attempt to primarily develop historical knowledge in hope that consumers would find meaning and significance in the historicity of the findings.
The idea of developing historical knowledge itself, as a forte of the particularizing approach then assumes that the event and phenomena investigated cannot be duplicated or cumulative research findings are structured as a goal of research.
Some of the examples of most-often quoted research which utilizes this strategy can be gathered by the so-called qualitative tradition in research; from phenomenological, historical, case-study, ethnography, or critical theory.
Among these studies such as Claude Moustakis's A Study of Loneliness, Paul Willis's Learning to Labor, William Labov's study of speech of New York kids in genre of "student's right to their own language movement', Lynds' study of Muncie, Indiana called Middletown in Transition, Freud's psychoanalytic work, Marx's notion of history through his inversion of Hegel's logic, Darwin's Origin of Species, Bernstein's and Woodword's journalistic case study called "All the President's Men", Benjamin Bloom's The Development of Talent Research Project, Howard Gardner's original study on seven different individuals and their 'intelligences, Robert Bellah et. al's study of individualism and commitment in American life, as well as ethnographic studies of Franz Boas, Margaret Mead and Clifford Geertz---- all these are prominent ones which provide rich, thick, and in-depth narrative description of a phenomena or event. They are retrospective in knowledge construction.
Generalizing strategy in research, on the other hand is concerned with developing generalizable statements, which are independent of historicity. i.e. independent of the context of time and space. This strategy attempts to discern patterns, in chains of events and conjure laws, which explain the causality of these events or so that the statements of truths the strategy generates can be used to ultimately develop scientific knowledge.
Because the nature of science is to falsify and to prove and disprove and so that immutable laws can be suggested, and because science as a framework (and 'a culture in itself too') lives and breathes on the refining of strategies and instrumentation to arrive to such generalizable knowledge claim, quantity in studies are the key orientation of the generalizing strategy.
The hope for the strategy is to provide explanatory power to particular knowledge claims through a series of inquiries, investigations, experimentation, and empirical investigations through as rigorous mode of scientific process itself (a process of framing the issue, testing hypothesis, data collection, conclusion, and generalization) so that theories generated can hope to stand the test of particularity and time.
Thus studies such as those characterized by frameworks, which does not deviate from the logical-positivistic mode of inquiry and those, which assign corresponding value of variable, and relationships to the elements of the inquiry themes are attempts to arrive at scientific knowledge.
Primary illustrations in these studies include most obviously those in the scientific and mathematical fields or in any which can be (albeit inappropriately, as in the term 'qualitative') are those such as Lewis Terman's longitudinal study of giftedness (though there is also a narrative component to it), most United Nations' studies which deals with 'indicators ' such as the ascertaining of "physical quality of life index', World Bank and OECD studies on indicators of development via computing of per capita income, Gross National Product, and the like, Project Follow Through (a 30-year study to 'debunk' child-centered learning and Constructivist principles of teaching) and of course the one called Third International Maths and Science Study (which shook the American business and corporate elite into backlashing American education standards and hence brought about Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the same manner the Japanese-economic-superiority-scare brought the National Commission for Educational Excellence's report A Nation At Risk into existence and the same manner The Sputnik brought the revamping of the Maths and Science curriculum of the 60s.)
In essence thus, the generalizing strategy is about finding patterns and law of cause and effect and consequences in the order of things, so that the knowledge generated can be claimed to be one, which is scientific.
The strength of the particularizing strategy is (according to its proponents and those trained to see the 'superiority' of it over other number-crunching method,) is in its ability to generate rich, thick and in-depth for that particular event or phenomena. This is indeed an appealing claim as one might be attuned to the idea that narrative, participant observations, interview transcripts, data from phenomenological research, data from the methodology of grounded theory, narratives of the researcher as action researcher, or notes from the 'researcher as postmodern flaneur' (as a critical ethnographer would put it), or even a James Joycean type of field notes--- all these are interesting reading which attempt to capture the moment-in-time of that particular event or phenomena.
And indeed many a historical account of phenomena (except ones attempting to describe the paranormal or extra-terrestrial!) are well regarded particularly in the field of history and political science which points to the idea that we can learn a lot from history and historical analyses so that history becomes therapy and certain histories would not repeat themselves.
And in the case of strategies such as case study methods, ethnography, phenomenology which utilize a triangulation method entailing structured, semi-structured, or unstructured postmodern stream-of-consciousness type of in-depth interviews---in these, the strategy entails the highly valued contact with human beings as respondents so that the ultimate aim of research is to "not bury the human being under data".
The weakness of this strategy is that because it is seduced by the richness, depthness, thickness, narrativeness, human-interestness, and interestingness of that particular event and phenomena, it gets seduced by the "goodness" of the data gathered. Statements and knowledge claims it makes becomes end sin themselves.
Thus we hear those claiming that the beauty of case studies and phenomenology for examples, is in their uniqueness of not being able to be generalized! It becomes then a strategy, which cannot provide explanatory power to a range of events and phenomena to come; those which require patterns to be discerned and predictions to be made and generalizables to be drawn from.
In short, the particularizing strategy cannot be an optimal strategy to serve such an end for theoretical construction because of its limited ability to generate theoretical knowledge by the very nature of historicism it is pillared upon.
The strength of the generalizing strategy lies in that its ability to explain and predict events and phenomena even not only when they recur at another moment in space and time but also, as in the case of studies involving 'forecasting' or 'futuring' a sense of what is to come can be conjured based on the knowledge generated of prior events which have also been analyzed using the hypo-thetical model of developing knowledge claims.
And because, true to its nature of predicting and controlling and explaining cause and effects and to framework these within a paradigm of systems thinking, the use of generalizing strategy can be of great value in "keeping the tradition of scientific inquiry alive'. One then cannot involve values and/or as Habermas would say "human-constituted interest" in the design of one's study so that ideology, power, and other non-measurable dimensions of intervening forces in research --- all these can be kept at bay. Science, and strictly scientific mode of thinking I applied as means and end.
The weakness of this strategy however is its tendency to gloss-over events and phenomena, which would not fit into the scheme of things. Because the nature and tendency of this strategy is to universalize, the idea is to gather as much data as possible, as much little empirical 'truths' as possible so that there will been enough power for the theory to explain and predict events and phenomena.
Thus, the more the kind of research to help prove or disprove, to build or destroy theories the better, as one ought to live with the idea of tentativity of knowledge as closely as possible in a world of scientific rationality. At this juncture then, the slip into the extreme forms of predicting and controlling can set in and manifested in the notions of prophesizing, forecasting, and other forms of abuse of the scientific method when the strategy is over-employed.
Science is about generating conditional knowledge in which events and phenomena can be explained not as universal but as conditional truths. The notion of gathering more data and doing more research to validate a particular claim in order to lend legitimacy to a particular theoretical construct can have its consequences. It is that more facts and data do not necessarily contribute to the strength of the claim, but another way to spread thin knowledge needed to give the theory more explanatory power.
This can be exemplified by the idea that two researchers using the same design can have two different and contradictory findings if factors such as scope conditions are not taken into consideration.
What are the implications of the strategies in the design of studies?
As have been alluded in the discussions above, the strategies chosen will determine the kind of knowledge generated. If particularizing strategy is used by using methods that lean towards what is called qualitative approaches in research, then the knowledge produced will be those limited to historical knowledge.
On the other hand, if the generalizing strategy is used, in the tradition of logical-empirical method of hypothesis testing and theory building, then scientific knowledge will be produced. The accumulation of facts and data and the fine-tuning of instruments used for the purpose are means to achieve the end of research in this tradition.
But of course there is also a whole genre of writing which attempt to bridge this so-called controversies between the historical and scientific orientation to research which these exam notes will not attempt to go into. Suffice it is however, to say that there are scholars who do not see the distinction between the scientificness of the two orientation. Just like John Dewey's crusade against Either/Or philosophy in education, that there is neither Essentialism nor Progressivism but a synthesis of both in a child-centered philosophy, many are beginning to assert that the issue in this qualitative/quantitative problematique lies essentially at the theoretical construction level.