Sunday, October 9, 2011

Azibo (1992) - Critique of the comparative research framework

Azibo, D. (1992). Understanding the proper and improper usage of the comparative research framework. In A. Burlew, W. Banks, H. McAdoo, D. Azibo (Eds) African-American Psychology. London: Sage.

The comparative research framework, contrasting distinct groups by statistical significance tests, is examined for major epistemological and practical problems inherent in its usage with African-European (Black-White) groups.

The comparative research framework requires a statistical significance test between any two groups, like race, sex, or treatment groups. Its epistemological base as science rests on John Stuart Mills' method of difference canon. Fundamentally, this canon "requires that the two groups be equated, i.e., equal in all respects ... on relevant variables ... known or believed to [have] influence" (Plutchik, 1974, p. 179). If the comparison groups are not equated as specified in the canon, then the observed difference can only be described; any attempt to interpret or otherwise address the meaning of the difference, especially in terms of a presumed underlying construct, is epistemologically baseless. There can be no meaning or interpretation given to the difference, nor can causality be inferred.

Culture (Nobles, 1982) is defined as patterns for interpreting reality that give people a general design for living, and consists of surface (e.g., folkways, language, behavior, beliefs, values) and deep structures (ethos, worldview, ideology, cosmology, axiology, ontology). Culture is important because it determines the meaning attached to the observed facts. Surface structure differences between Africans and Europeans would appear self-evident.

Three axioms are given regarding the proper and improper usage of the comparative research framework:
1. It is proper to make racial comparisons using the comparative research framework when the racial groups are equated on all relevant variables, especially that of culture (there is a caveat here which will be introduced below);
2. It is improper if the racial groups are not equated on any relevant variable to do more than describe or report the difference; and
3. Whenever constructs are employed in the research, culture will be relevant.

For example, Ogletree (1976) has shown why locus of control may not be an appropriate construct for African-Americans. Her argument mainly deals with cultural surface structure differences that render the control ideology thesis void.5 The cultural deep structure level might pose problems for the achievement orientation construct which, in the Eurocentric way, may include aspects of individualism and Machiavellianism; as opposed to the collectivism and Maat (Carruthers, 1984; Hilliard, Williams, & Damali, 1987; Karenga, 1984) characteristic of the Africentric way.

Transubstantive error is defined as making a wrong and assumptive conclusion about the value of people and what they mean by looking at their surface behaviors. --
Byron Gafford and Wendy Mi-Shing Fong quoting Wade Nobles. Dr. Nobles is a tenured professor in Black Studies at San Francisco State University and the executive director of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family Life and Culture in Oakland. [Source]

It follows that all anti-essentialist arguments, especially those decrying soul or spirit, that arise out of Western-based discourse including modern-day social constructionism, are based in what Ryle (1949) called category mistakes and the African Psychology Institute (1982) called transubstantive error. These concepts refer to mistakes of meaning occurring when the phenomenon being studied is comprehended with a set of cognitions which do not parameterize it or to which it does not belong. [link]

1. (esp. in the Roman Catholic Church) The conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ
2. A change in the form or substance of something.

Epistemology (episteme), meaning knowledge, science, study of meaning, is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. It addresses the questions: What is knowledge? How is knowledge acquired? How do we know what we know?

Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist, and how such entities can be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.

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