Methods, methodology and theory in English Studies
Last week I visited Bad Bederkesa, a small town in the coastal north of Germany where I attended a three-day round table discussion on methods and methodology in English Studies, organized by the German National Science Foundation (DFG). I thought it was an extremely interesting and very productive workshop, but it also highlighted how complex the issue of methods is in English Studies (the term subsuming Literary Studies, Cultural Studies and Linguistics under one institutional label at most German universities).
The drawing below represents an interpretation of the interdependence of theory and method by Roy Sommer. Roy’s model incorporated a metaphor introduced into our discussion by Jürgen Schläger who challenged us with the question of whether “we want to crawl or fly”. Though he used the metaphor in a slightly different context, the connection with methods (the ground) and theory (the sky) was made at some point and it stuck. Later Ansgar Nünning and Martin Kayman also added to the model.
The differentiation between standard and routine procedures that Roy made is in my understanding essentially the difference between prescription and description. Whereas standard procedures are highly codified (as is the case with most quantitative methods), standard procedures are followed by many researchers more or less intuitively. This gives them less visibility and prestige in a sense, since they are not documented as rigorously as prescriptive standard procedures. Obviously though they are not less valuable and in many Humanities disciplines without a dogmatic methodology they are clearly favored over standardization.
I don’t think I can fully capture the many other important points that were made in the course of the meeting, but it was a very productive event that has given me a number of new perspectives on the issue.
Thanks once more to the organizers for their engagement and for inviting me!