The essence of theoretical thought is based on the complex process of theorizing, aiming at explaining a particular scientific phenomenon through the correlation of epistemology and research. In terms of family studies, the process of theorizing reflects “three basic orientations toward theory” (Bengtson, Acock, Allen, Dilworth-Anderson, and Klein, 2004, p. 9). More specifically, a theory is regarded as an explanation of naturally occurring events and empowerment, which defines it as a multifaceted approach to interpreting specific knowledge or conception. Epistemology serves as the fundamental core of any scholarly research embodied in several ways of knowing implemented in family studies. With this said, epistemology and research methodology are complex intertwining aspects that manifest in ideas development and the theorizing process.
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Knowledge in Family Studies
Epistemology is a comprehensive field comprising the analysis of nature, origins, methods, and limits of knowledge. According to Klein and White’s research, there is a number of epistemological approaches currently used for family studies (Bengtson et al., 2004). They include the “scientific view of knowledge, the interpretive perspective, and the critical perspective” (Bengtson et al., 2004, p. 12). Therefore, the scientific approach to knowing aims to explain and predict through objective truths, processes, or realities concerning particular families in the study. The interpretive approach deals with understanding through subjective truth, wherein knowledge about families is seen as interpreted by actors engaged in conversation with one another. The goal of the critical approach implies emancipation or empowerment of oppressed members of social groups. In this case, the truth is identified by more powerful members who enforce their own definition. Each of the three perspectives provides a different groundwork for analyzing families and related concerns through multiple lenses.
Epistemology and Research Methodology in Family Theory
Epistemology is generally considered the claim on what kind of knowledge is right and proper to be applied in research and, thus, what establishes credible sources of evidence and satisfactory end results of knowledge. As such, it is important to examine the relationship between knowledge and research methodology in the theorizing process. It helps select the appropriate methods because of a better understanding of the framework upon which that choice is grounded. Moreover, the related issues between theory and epistemology in family studies are based on our definition of families, the questions asked, the obtained knowledge about families, and the methods used to gain such knowledge.
A research methodology is a broader concept consisting of narrow terms, including epistemology and theory. In family studies, the proper methodological orientation implies that the accepted theoretical framework both informs and limits the choice regarding research methods (Bengtson et al., 2004). Hence, a theoretical claim to any particular subject can only be carried out when the selected methodology can reveal it. A clear relationship between epistemology and research methods ensures a better-determined study and the results because epistemology (knowledge) is fundamental to articulating the rationale for research design and methodology. For this reason, the theoretical complexity is highly critical for the students and researchers who strive to be well-informed about research methodology.
In general terms, epistemology determines how people know and is a crucial tool linked to methodology. Three epistemological approaches that are currently used in family studies contrapose three epistemologies as the paradigms of knowing predominant in modern family research. Based on the analyzed relationships between the knowledge (epistemology) and research methodology in the theorizing process, there is a strong and intertwining correlation between each of the concepts. The established theoretical framework sets the boundaries regarding the proper research method and directly depends upon the needed valid, truthful, and consequential knowledge for the study.
Bengtson, V. L., Acock, A. C., Allen, K. R., Dilworth-Anderson, P., & Klein, D. M. (2004). Sourcebook of family theory and research. SAGE.