Situated research, or interdisciplinary environmental research building on the notion of place, involves four interrelated components. From most specific/concrete to most general/abstract, these components include data, methods, theories, and frameworks.
- Data are the basic information we use when we do research. A wide range of empirical information spanning the sciences (e.g., field measurements) to humanities (e.g., archival texts) may count as relevant data for environmental research.
- Methods are how one makes sense of—analyzes or interprets—data. Sometimes the data you’ve collected dictate the methods you will choose; but sometimes the theories you’ve chosen lead you to choose particular data and methods.
- Theories are proposed accounts (often assumed as correct) for how the world works. One example is (neo-)Malthusianism, where human population growth is understood as the main cause of environmental problems. Another is incrementalism, which posits that big changes can be achieved step by step. Big-T Theories (relevant here) offer general accounts for a wide range of phenomena, while little-t theories are specific to a particular phenomenon.
- Frameworks are conceptual structures that prioritize and relate ideas—concepts or theories—about our world. Frameworks provide broad descriptive/prescriptive guidance, helping us understand what is and what ought to be. Frameworks generally support derivative theories, methods, and data. 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, and constraining derivative methods and data. Another example is the framework of idealism, whereby priority—say, in explaining environmental problems and prescribing solutions—is given to what we feel and think over what we do.
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.