Collecting and examining datasets on ethnicity and religion involves translating and codifying real-world phenomena such as actions taken by governments and other groups into data which can be analyzed by social science statistical techniques. This methodology is intended to be applied to phenomena which in their original form are in a format not readily accessible to statistical analyses, i.e. “softer” phenomena and events such as government policies and conflict behavior. Thus, this methodology is not necessary for phenomena like GDP or government military spending, but is based on behavior by organizations or groups of individuals which are assessed by a coder who translates this behavior into data. Aggregate data collected by this methodology should have three qualities. First, they must be reproducible. Second, the data must be transparent in that all aspects of the data collection process and its products be clear and understandable to other researchers, to the extent that they could, in theory, be replicated. Third, it must measure what it intends to measure in a clear, accurate, and precise manner. A project which accomplishes all of this must be conceptualized properly from the beginning, including the decision on which unit of analysis to use and which cases to include and exclude. It must have appropriate sources and a tight variable design. Finally, the data must be collected in a systematic, transparent, and reproducible manner based upon appropriate sources.
Marcos S. Scauso
Since the 1980s, scholars disputing the hegemony of positivist methodologies in the social sciences began to promote interpretive approaches, creating discussions about methodological pluralism and enabling a slow, and often resisted, proliferation of theoretical diversity. Within this context, “interpretivism” acquired a specific definition, which encompassed meaning-centered research and problematized positivist ideas of truth correspondence, objectivity, generalization, and linear processes of research. By critiquing the methodological assumptions that were often used to make positivism appear as a superior form of social science, interpretive scholars were confronted with questions about their own knowledge production and its validity. If meanings could be separated from objects, phenomena and identities could be constructed, and observers could not step out of their situated participation within these constructions, how could scholars validate their knowledge?
Despite important agreements about the centrality, characteristics, and intelligibility of meaning, interpretivists still disagree about the different ways in which this question can be answered. Scholars often use diverse strategies of validation and they objectivize their interpretations in different degrees. On one side of the spectrum, some post-structuralist, feminist, and postcolonial scholars renounce methodological foundations of objectification and validation as much as possible. This opens the possibility of empirically researching epistemic assumptions, which scholars interpret either as components of dominant discourses or as alternatives that create possibilities of thinking about more multiplicity, difference, and diversity. On the other side, a number of constructivist, feminist, and critical scholars attach meanings to social structures and view their interpretations as reflecting parts of intersubjectivities, lifeworlds, cultures, etc. Since they use their own strategy to objectify interpretations and they solve the methodological question of validity, the scholars on this side of the spectrum either tend to pursue empirical research that does not analyze epistemic dimensions or they generalize particular experiences of domination. This disagreement influences not only the kind of empirical research that scholars pursue, but also creates some differences in the definitions of key interpretive notions such as power relations, reflexivity, and the role of empirical evidence.
Within these agreements and disagreements, interpretivism created an overarching methodological space that allowed for the proliferation of theoretical approaches. Since the 1980s, post-structuralist, feminist, constructivist, neo-Marxist, postcolonial, green, critical, and queer theories have sought to expand the study of meanings, uncover aspects of domination, listen to previously marginalized voices, unveil hidden variations, and highlight alternatives. Some of the branches of these theories tend toward the different sides of the methodological spectrum and they disagree about the epistemic strategies that they can use to validate their knowledge production, but the opening of this interpretive space has allowed for scholars to deconstruct, reconstruct, and juxtapose meanings, contributing to the field from different perspectives and within particular empirical areas of research. Moreover, this diversifying process continues to unfold. Approaches such as the decolonial perspective that emerged in Latin American Studies continue to enter International Studies, creating new transdisciplinary debates and promoting other possibilities for thinking about international and global politics.
Victor Asal, Stephen Shellman, and Tiffiany Howard
In terms of methods, researchers working in nationalism, ethnicity, and migration have used everything from broad historical narratives to automated coding and event data analysis. Traditionally, narratives were the dominant methodological approach implemented to study these areas. The narrative approach allowed for explication of groundbreaking theoretical arguments generating testable hypotheses, the deep inspection of particular areas of the world or particular issues with richness of detail and process, and the investigation of a small number of cases. In addition, the use of formal theory to explore issues related to nationalism, ethnicity, and migration also has a long tradition. Formal theory allows for the construction of concise decision making models that force the researcher to be explicit about key assumptions made regarding preferences and the political structure involved. The formal theory approach has encouraged greater specificity from the arguments formed by scholars of nationalism, ethnicity, and immigration and has generated important theoretical insights. Finally, the most rapidly expanding approach to the study of nationalism, ethnicity, and immigration over the past two decades has been statistics. Statistical analyses offer the advantage of being able to bracket confidence intervals around the causal inferences one makes and to more formally control for a variety of competing factors. As statistical technology and training have become more common, the use of statistics has grown substantially.