Towards a systemic research methodology in agriculture: Rethinking the role of values in science [Book Review]

Agriculture and Human Values 19 (1):3-23 (2002)
Abstract
The recent drastic developmentof agriculture, together with the growingsocietal interest in agricultural practices andtheir consequences, pose a challenge toagricultural science. There is a need forrethinking the general methodology ofagricultural research. This paper takes somesteps towards developing a systemic researchmethodology that can meet this challenge – ageneral self-reflexive methodology that forms abasis for doing holistic or (with a betterterm) wholeness-oriented research and providesappropriate criteria of scientific quality.From a philosophy of research perspective,science is seen as an interactive learningprocess with both a cognitive and a socialcommunicative aspect. This means, first of all,that science plays a role in the world that itstudies. A science that influences its ownsubject area, such as agricultural science, isnamed a systemic science. From thisperspective, there is a need to reconsider therole of values in science. Science is notobjective in the sense of being value-free.Values play, and ought to play, an importantrole in science – not only in form ofconstitutive values such as the norms of goodscience, but also in the form of contextualvalues that enter into the very process ofscience. This goes against the traditionalcriterion of objectivity. Therefore, reflexive objectivity is suggested as a newcriterion for doing good science, along withthe criterion of relevance. Reflexiveobjectivity implies that the communication ofscience must include the cognitivecontext, which comprises the societal,intentional, and observational context. Inaccordance with this, the learning process ofsystemic research is shown as a self-reflexivecycle that incorporates both an involved actorstance and a detached observer stance. Theobserver stance forms the basis for scientificcommunication.To this point, a unitary view of science asa learning process is employed. A secondimportant perspective for a systemic researchmethodology is the relation between the actual,different, and often quite separate kinds ofscience. Cross-disciplinary research ishampered by the idea that reductive science ismore objective, and hence more scientific, thanthe less reductive sciences of complex subjectareas – and by the opposite idea thatreductive science is necessarilyreductionistic. Taking reflexive objectivity asa demarcator of good science, an inclusiveframework of science can be established. Theframework does not take the establisheddivision between natural, social, and humanscience as a primary distinction of science.The major distinction is made between theempirical and normative aspects of science,corresponding to two key cognitive interests.Two general methodological dimensions, thedegree of reduction of the research world andthe degree of involvement in the researchworld, are shown to span this framework. Theframework can form a basis fortransdisciplinary work by way of showing therelation between more and less reductive kindsof science and between more detached and moreinvolved kinds of science and exposing theabilities and limitations attendant on thesemethodological differences
Keywords Agricultural systems research  Context  Holistic  Objectivity  Organic farming  Philosophy of science  Reflexive  Reductionistic  Research methodology  Values
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