The Improvement of Producing Knowledge in Oral History Depends on a Combination of Theory and Methodology

This discussion tries to show that one of the main problems in knowledge production in Iran is due to the reproduction of the incoherency between theory and methodology. Here I would discuss some ways to deal with this problematic.
First, I want to say that from 1976, when I first stepped into the field of social sciences, till today, this problem has been prevalent in Iran. I was writing my PhD thesis on the history of Iran, in 1991, when it first occurred to me that there is an inconsistent relation between theory and methodology in Iran. Before getting into any discussion about the reasons of the persistence of this problem, I want to point out that scientific inquiry is essentially an instrument to raise awareness. From the eighteenth century when it was first introduced in Iran, scientific inquiry has never been established as a practical apparatus in the tradition of scholarship. I believe that the academic institutions which introduced it to the society, did not introduce it comprehensively and consistently. Scientific inquiry is considered as a structure in Persian language because it is considered to be constituted of parts which have a permanent, organic, consistent and purposeful relation to one another in order to produce knowledge. But, the truth is that production of knowledge needs capital, expertise, human resources to be educated, educational plans, research programs, institutional resources and an actual space. Primary education institutions and higher education institutions are responsible for the production of knowledge. The former trains common force whereas the latter is responsible for training experts.
If we use this definition as a starting point, then I first have to say that the history of development of these two institutions shows that there has not been a consistent and coherent relation between them. In primary education, the students do not learn how to challenge their brains. In colleges and universities, the students, themselves, have to conceptualize and internalize the relation between higher education and the production of knowledge or else, they have to choose other parallel approaches which put a lot of pressure on the academicians. Since 2000, the higher education students have become more acquainted with structural changes in interactions between the knowledge production force and the knowledge production institution. Nowadays, we can find more students who have joined higher education system with the purpose of dealing with this problem and maybe even resolve it. However, this general inconsistency between theory and methodology is still troublesome. When I first raised this issue in 2001, I was not sure how tightly the problem in the production of knowledge is related to this inconstancy in Iran. So, I did not pay much attention to it then. However, now, after 9 years, with much more experience in the field of methodology, adding recent structural changes to my experience, I still come to the same conclusion. The recent oral records and documents of individual and collective experiences testify to this problem.

The question is that if there is a problem as such, then what are the ways to resolve it? I believe that changing the structure of scientific inquiry, can change a lot. The problem should be described in three different steps including identifying the problem, understanding the problem and presenting it. Instead, topics such as the necessity or the goals of the research project do not have to be dealt with. In this way, a close and logical relation would be established between the problem and the theoretical framework which would be commensurate with the requirements of the methodology. A research should give priority to the analysis of the findings and avoid redundant theoretical engagements and references. These changes not only would prevent the research to become too theoretical, but also, would provide the opportunity for experimental findings to be analyzed. In addition, the researcher would feel more responsible towards his findings. Instead of intellectual experiments which are nothing but the repetition of old statements, these changes would help to find an answer for the problem of research in the end of the research. Such researches providing the grounds for the scholars to show their capabilities and capacities, provides the opportunity for more knowledge production. In oral history, much data is collected everyday. These data usually does not have theoretical inclinations. Therefore, in conducting a research with these data, one should adapt an inductive approach. In other words, first, the oral data should be reviewed and then the required theoretical survey should be done in line with the collected data. Then a problem-centered theoretical proposal should be conducted.  In the final outline, first the description of the problem which is the result of data reviewing and theoretical survey should be included, then the theoretical part and finally, data analysis. In the conclusion, the research problem should be addressed and resolved. Hence, even in oral history, we should avoid descriptive analysis of the data, because, if we don’t, the inconsistency between theory and methodology would occur here as well which means that the audience would interpret the descriptive data which would lead to different readings and interpretations. This way of production can never produce authentic knowledge and will be wasted.

Dr. Hamid Abdollahyan
Associate Professor of Department of Communication at Faculty of Social Sciences, Tehran University
Translated by: Jairan Gahan

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