I can’t stop thinking about the concept of definitions, and the strategy presumed by Hill and Helmer in my previous post. Scholarly activity, as defined in their view would be an inductive approach. Data is collated, and examined for possible categories (definitions) which are based entirely on the data set. I find this assumption to be deeply flawed—the design of the experiment (or the choice of which texts to study) is deeply implicated in a presumption that these texts merit study. Their study begins with at least a minimally categorical assumption that these texts are related. For example, if we want to study the aspects of women’s writing in the 19th century, we have immediately defined the 19th century as a permissible category, “women” as a distinct category of authorship, etc. Definitions are usually a priori not post hoc. Pure induction is a mythic construct which promotes a notion of impartiality which does not exist.
On the other hand, the application of an existing theoretical framework to a set of predefined texts cannot be productive as a deductive enterprise either. Data is smoothed to point out congruencies or disparities with the framework. Usually, such an enterprise is selectively targeted at supporting the existing framework as an acceptable model. But this implies that the category definitions are neat, that the system is closed, and whatever knowledge obtained in this fashion tends to be rote.
A better way of looking at it, I think, is to think of these theories as guesses. We start from the available frameworks, stretching or modifying them based on experiences with the texts themselves. The guesses are honed and refined, but to presume that we have no initial point of departure for them seems ludicrous. Theories are viable if and only if they more adequately describe the texts in question, with flexible definitions that can be transported outside the experimental frame to be tested and refined within other frameworks. Peirce labeled this form of reasoning as abduction.
But then, I guess it’s tougher to sell the idea that scholarship consists of a highly refined form of guesswork. I suspect we all negotiate the world in this way, by “guessing” what the best thing to do is. Separating the world of scholarship from the real world by implying that it is somehow more “pure” doesn’t seem that productive to me at all. We all start out with notions. It’s best to just lay them on the table, and drop the whole charade that we merely invented them as we went along.