- Data are the most elemental component—though arguably meaningless without the other components! Given our broad approach in environmental scholarship, a wide range of empirical information spanning the sciences (e.g., field measurements) to humanities (e.g., archival texts) may count as relevant data.
- Methods are how one makes sense of—analyzes or interprets—data. One could imagine that methods always follow data, i.e., the data you’ve collected dictate the method you will choose. And this is certainly true, in part. But the story could also be told differently; see below.
- Theories are broad explanatory hypotheses (often assumed as true!) for how the world works: one notorious example is (neo-)Malthusianism, where human population growth is understood as the main cause of environmental problems. When a theory achieves paradigmatic status—i.e., becomes a taken-for-granted point of departure—it dictates appropriate methods and data to be invoked, such as Malthusian-inspired correlations of population growth and environmental impact over time.
- Frameworks are basic assumptions about reality and derived knowledge: they do not so much explain reality (which a theory does) as effectively constitute reality. The framework of positivism in the social sciences, for instance, assumes that what is real is empirical, effectively limiting reality to what one can empirically measure. Theories and frameworks are often interrelated: a particular theory about reality assumes a particular framework for reality.
Whew! That was abstract. How does this apply to situated research? The bottom line is that situated research is mindful of both empirical (data/methods) and conceptual (theories/frameworks) components. Practically speaking, good situated research builds on good situated theories/frameworks (e.g., political ecology and its primarily materialist assumptions about reality), and draws upon a wide range of relevant data and methods spanning the physical and life sciences, social and behavioral sciences, and humanities.
It is common for other forms of research to be far more restricted than situated research, often because they build on settled theories/frameworks or preferred methods. In contrast, situated research is inherently more open due to its interdisciplinary nature, but this mandates that it be more empirically and conceptually sophisticated as well. Situated research is fun, but it is not easy! You will need to keep this full spectrum, from data to frameworks, in mind as you proceed.