Checklist of 'Nasty Methodological Questions'

regarding development analyses and initiatives

- / -

Prepared for Group B of the Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development (GPID) project of the United Nations University following discussion (Tokyo, 1981). Also distributed as Checklist of Nasty Questions: regarding development analyses and initiatives.

Tentative definition:

A 'nasty question' is one which one would tend to avoid asking oneself about one's own paper/position but which would find reason to use as the basis of (informed) criticism of a viewpoint with which one disagrees. Such questions, when based on a real understanding of the viewpoint expressed, can most contribute to its evolution.

1. Missing elements

  • 1.1. data
  • 1.2. constraints
  • 1.3. unstated assumptions
  • 1.4. are you alerted to ...? do you take into account...?
  • 1.5. ignored 1.6. to what extent do you react to ...?
  • 1.7. discipline perspectives not included

2. Distorted elements

  • 2.1. facts distorted to validate evasiveness or defensiveness
  • 2.2. how does your perspective distinguish between useful critiques of opposing positions and deliberately distorted representation of those positions ?

3. Self-serving

  • 3.1. whose interests are served
  • 3.2. hidden agendas
  • 3.3. to whom is this being polite, and why
  • 3.4. who does this fail to criticize, and why
  • 3.5. who funded this study, and why
  • 3.6. how does your perspective ensure the generation of internal self-criticism ?

4. So what

  • 4.1. if it is true
  • 4.2. if it is accepted/implemented
  • 4.3. how does this handle the viewpoints which it condemns.

5. Opposition

  • 5.1. how does the perspective envisage dealing with those holding opposing views
  • 5.2. how does the view relate to other views incompatible with it
  • 5.3. with what view does this stand in dialectical relationship
  • 5.4. what is the negative characterization of this viewpoint.
  • 5.5. to what extent does the thesis you oppose contain valid points
  • 5.6. if your opponent's evaluation of the weak points in your position is proved correct, how would this affect your position
  • 5.7. how would your position be affected if the weak points in the position of opposing scholl's of thought proved to be essential to the design of the most appropriate learning experience whereby their adherents could transcend that position 5.8. how would your position continue to evolve or be renewed if opposing positions ceased to exist
  • 5.9. what provision does your position make for the continued existence of opposing positions competing with yours for adherents
  • 5.10. to what characteristic abuses, errors and excesses is your position prone
  • how are you sure that you are able to detect them
  • what safeguards are required to avoid them
  • how have these safeguards been incorporated into your position
  • 5.11. do any special safeguards built into your position (to guard against particular excesses and abuses of opposing systems) run the risk of dangerous hyperactivity if they are not matched by adequate opposition - how is such possibly hyperactivity detected within your perspective
  • 5.12. what provision is made within your perspective to permit the imposition of constraints which are only adequately detected by other perspectives ?
  • 5.13. is it possible that your interaction with opposing positions (by which you could best be stimulated to improve your own) is such that no effective communication is possible
  • 5.14. given that opposing positions are both logically and operationally incompatible with your own, has your perspective evolved any explicit dynamic with respect to such opposition - other than its progressive elimination or mutual isolation
  • 5.15. in any dialectical relationship with opposing positions, how does your 'position' retain a sense of identity if it is obliged to evolve a dynamic pattern of 'movement' in response to the movement of opposing perspectives ?
  • 5.16. how would you interpret any accusation that adherents of your position act 'aggressively' against those of opposing positions - are you sure that they are not exibiting 'defensiveness'
  • 5.17. are adherents of your position engaged in 'dialogue' with those of others as an exercise in proselytization rather than as an effort to acknowledge their collective identity

6. Openness

  • 6.1. how is this view likely to be viewed/judged by the future
  • 6.2. what will be the nature of the future thesis to which this view will be the anti-thesis.

7. Contradictions

  • 7.1. what are the contradictions inherent in this perspective
  • 7.2. to what extent are changes envisaged in fact real changes (in terms of intimating new paradoxes) or to what extent do they indicate change in the sense of exchanging two sets of contradictions
  • 7.3. do you understand the extent to which your perspective is itself part of the problem with which society is faced, and does this help you to understand the nature of its solution
  • 7.4. how are you sure that the actions engendered by your position will not merely transform the problems you presently confront into others to which your position is inherently insensitive.

8. Unanswered questions

9. Implications

  • 9.1. even if it is true, is anyone empowered to do anything about it as a result of this analysis
  • 9.2. are there constraints on the implementation of this perspective within the time horizon
  • 9.3. has this perspective already been overtaken by events, if not is it likely to be overtaken in the near future
  • 9.4. have you considered implications of your study for concrete, dissemination, training and action, education
    • In case of action : Have you discussed a strategy ?
    • Who shall do what how, when and where (not only why ?)
    • In case of dissemination : any proposals for a form of
    • presentation beyond articles/books ; talks/discussions ?
    • In case of training/education : any concrete proposals ?

10. Space and time limitations

  • 10.1. Would your conclusions be different in other regions Could there be an ethnocentric bias
  • 10.2. Would there be a process in what you have explored Could there be 'tempocentric' bias
  • 10.3. What features of your position can be generalized spatially, and which features are tied to the setting within which they evolved
  • 10.4. What fe,tures of your position will tend to remain unchanged overtime, and which features will probably have to evolve

11. Social space and level limitations

  • 11.1. Would your conclusions be different for other groups Could there be a MAMU (middle-aged male university) bias
  • 11.2. Could there be a level bias in your approach? What would be the conditions, implications at the levels?

12. Limitations of intellectual style

  • 12.1. Would you say your paper is primarily directed towards: Paradigm- Data- Theory Commentary, Pragmatics discussion, analysis, formation? If one or more of these are missing, how would you justify that, or make up the deficit ?
  • 12.2. Would you say your paper primarily sees reality in terms of actors and structures processes processes also interaction in the past in the future? If one or more of these are missing, how would you justify that, or make up the deficit ? What about culture and nature, production and distribution ?
  • 12.3. Would you say your paper primarily discusses goals, processes, indicators, tools, concrete fields? If one or more of these are missing, how would you justify that, or make up for the deficit ?

13. Pre-logical biases

Does your paper reflect a preference for:

  • 13.1. Order vs disorder, namely for fluiditity, muddle, chaos, etc. or for system, structure, conceptual clarity, etc. 13.2. Static vs dynamic, namely for the changeless, eternal, etc. or for movement, for explanation in genetic and process terms, etc.
  • 13.3. Continuity vs discrete, namely for wholeness, unity, etc. and or for discreteness, plurality, diversity, etc.
  • 13.4. Inner vs outer, namely for being able to project oneself into the objects of one's experience (to experience them as one experiences oneself), or for a relatively external, objective relation to them.
  • 13.5. Sharp focus vs soft focus, namely for clear, direct experience and _or for threshold experiences which are felt to be saturated with more meaning than is immediately present
  • 13.6. This wold vs other wold, namely for belief in the spatiotemporal world as self-explanatory or belief that it is not self-explanatory (but can only be comprehended in the light of other factors and frames of references)
  • 13.7. Spontaneity vs process, namely for chance, freedom, accident, etc. of for explanations subject to laws and definable processes.

In view of any such preferences, to what extent do you consider that your dialogues with those of different preferences are predictable in content or form ?


10-12. Derived from : Johan Galtung. Intellectual cross-fertilization in the GPID Project ; a tentative list of GPID dimensions. 1980 ?

13. Derived from : WT Jones. The Romantic Syndrome ; toward a new method in cultural anthropology and history of ideas. The Hague, Nijhof, 1961.

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