Psychosocial research marked a break with the traditions that had dominated scientific thought in psychology and other especially social disciplines. Among other things, it has made it possible to generate orderly and systematic ways of making scientific knowledge and understanding reality (that is, research methods), avoiding the classic separation between individual and society.

Next, we will make a general review of the traditions that have marked psychology as a scientific discipline and we will describe the concepts of methodology and method, to finally present the main characteristics of psychosocial research close to the critical orientations of contemporary thought.

Main traditions of research in psychology

As a scientific discipline, psychology has been part of the traditions and transformations that have historically marked the field of science. The paradigm that has traditionally dominated this field has been the positivist one , which is based on the idea that there is a reality that can be revealed from a methodology and a specific method: the hypothetical-deductive one, which offers us to explain, predict and manipulate the functioning of this reality.

However (and given that such a paradigm is also established through the separation between nature and culture), when trying to explain social phenomena, which did not seem to follow the same patterns as natural phenomena, the hypothetical-deductive method faced some challenges. Many of them were solved through the calculation of probabilities, that is to say, from foreseeing future behaviors, taking care that external factors did not intervene in the process, or in other words, evaluating those probabilities in an objective, neutral and impartial way.

Some time later, this paradigm faced new challenges, when through the relativist theory, the chaos theory and the feminist epistemologies, among other theories of knowledge, it became evident that the position of the researcher is not neutral , but it is a position located in a body, an experience, a history and a concrete context; which, in addition, inevitably affects the reality that is being studied.

From there, very diverse research methods have emerged that allow us to take into account the terrain of experience as a key element, as well as valid and legitimate, in the construction of knowledge.

Methodology or Method? Examples and differences

The concepts of methodology and method are widely used in research and are also often confused or used as synonyms. Although there is no single or definitive way to explain them, and they do not necessarily have to be separated, below we offer a proposal for the definition of both methodology and method, as well as some differences in the models.

Methodology: place the tools somewhere

By the term “methodology” we generally refer to the theoretical perspective in which the procedure or system we will follow during an investigation is framed . For example, the traditions of contemporary and western science are usually divided into two main frameworks: qualitative methodology and quantitative methodology.

The quantitative methodology has been especially valued in the scientific field and is based on the hypothetical-deductive method that seeks to establish probabilities and predictions by appealing to the impartiality of the researcher.

On the other hand, qualitative methodology has gained ground in the area of social sciences and in critical orientations because it allows the elaboration of understandings about a reality by recovering the experience of those who are involved and implicated in that reality, including the researcher himself. From this, the concept of responsibility and ethics in research has taken on fundamental importance.

Moreover, from there, a methodological-inductive model was configured, which does not seek to explain a reality but to understand it; which implies that an action or a phenomenon is not only described, but when described, it is interpreted. Moreover, they are interpreted by a person or a group of people located in a concrete context, with which it is understood that this interpretation is not free of judgments ; it is an interpretation elaborated in correspondence with the characteristics of that context.

Both quantitative and qualitative methodology have criteria of scientific rigor that make their proposals valid in the field of science and can be shared among different people.

Method: the tool and instruction

On the other hand, a “method” is an ordered and systematic way we use to produce something; so in the field of research, the “method” usually makes a more specific reference to the research technique being used and the way it is used .

The method is then what we use to gather information that we will analyze and that will then allow us to offer a set of results, reflections, conclusions, proposals, etc. An example of method can be the interviews or the experiments that are used to collect and group a set of data, such as statistical figures, texts, public documents.

Both the methodology and the method of research are defined from the questions we want to answer with our research, that is, according to the problems we have set ourselves.

An approach to psychosocial research

As we have seen, traditionally scientific knowledge has been produced from an important dissociation between the psychic and the social, which has given rise to the now classic debates between nature-culture , individual-society, innate-learning, etc.

In fact, if we go a little further, we can see that it is also based on the Cartesian mind-body binomial, which has been translated into the divisions between subject-object and subjectivity-objectivity; where it is objectivity that is often overvalued in the scientific field: reason over experience, a reason that as we said before is presented as neutral, but which is established among a multiplicity of norms, practices and relationships.

So the term psychosocial refers to the connection between psychic elements and social factors that shape identities, subjectivities, relationships, norms of interaction, etc. It is a theoretical perspective and a methodological position that tries to undo the false divisions between the social and the psychic.

The critical perspective in psychosocial research

In some contexts the psychosocial perspective has come very close to critical theories of science (those that pay special attention to the effects of science on the reproduction of social inequalities).

That is, a psychosocial perspective that is also critical would not only seek to understand or interpret a reality, but locate the power and domination relationships that shape that reality in order to generate crises and transformations.

To incorporate a critical perspective that has to do with reflecting to promote emancipatory action; to make alliances based on detecting the power relations that subject and at the same time open certain possibilities for action; to make an explicit criticism of the relations of domination assuming that the act of investigating affects and impacts the concrete terrain being studied.

Examples of methods in psychosocial research

Methods in psychosocial research have been categorized under different names for ease of use, rigor and reliability. However, by taking into consideration how the researcher affects the reality being researched, and that the methods are also not neutral, they can share some of the parameters with each other. In other words, they are flexible methods.

In this sense, any orderly and systematic way of collecting information to understand a phenomenon under the purpose of blurring the boundaries between the psychic and the social, could be a method of psychosocial research.

Some examples of the methods that have been especially relevant because they have allowed to put into play what has been described above are discourse analysis , mobile drifts in research, biographical methods such as life stories , autoethnography, ethnography, and the now classic in-depth interviews.

There are also some methods that are more participatory, such as participatory action research and narrative techniques, where the main aim is for knowledge to be co-constructed between the researcher and those who participate, thus generating a horizontal relationship during the research process and thereby questioning the barrier between two practices that have been understood as separate: research and intervention.

Bibliographic references:

  • Biglia, B. & Bonet-Martí, J. (2009). The construction of narratives as a method of psychosocial research. Shared writing practices. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(1) [Online]. Retrieved April 11, 2018. Available at https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/6521202/2666.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1523443283&Signature=PdsP0jW0bLXvReFWLhqyIr3qREk%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DNarrative_Construction_as_a_Psychosocial.pdf
  • Pujal i Llombart, M. (2004). The identity. Pp: 83-138. In Ibáñez, T. (Ed.). Introduction to social psychology. Editorial UOC: Barcelona.
  • Íñiguez, R. (2003). La psicología social como crítica: continuismo, estabilidad y efervescencias tres décadas después de la crisis. Interamerican Journal of Psychology, 37(2): 221-238.