Category Archives: Research Practices

From Land of Hope & Glory to Lasagne: ontology, epistemology and social research!

A student (Samantha Thomas) posted this response to my podcast about music, ontology and epistemology.

I think the way she takes the idea of the metaphor and applies a new one is great. Thanks Samantha! I have also put a reply from another student underneath!

This podcast was great and really got me thinking about the different ways that we can unpack an idea.  I’m not sure how helpful this will be as a metaphor, but given I listened to this podcast over dinner I thought I would try and relate it to my meal – beef lasagne.

So, if I were to think about beef lasagne in terms of ontology (a very strange thing to do) and ask ‘what is it?’ then I could describe it in a very scientific way in terms of the exact ingredients, measurements of those ingredients, cooking time, cooking temperature, method of cooking etc.  Basically talk about it in terms that a recipe would, 500g of mince, 1 onion, 2 cloves of garlic etc, baked in an oven at 180 degrees for 45 minutes.  This answer assumes that there is a single reality about what I ate and is therefore a positivist perspective.  And if the ontology of positivism says that there is a single reality that is undeniable, then it follows that the epistemology is about uncovering the truth/answer that already exists (finding the recipe in this case).
However, I could look at my lasagne as a collection of ingredients that were put together by a chef (or a very bad cook), interpreting and following a recipe and using the equipment and utensils at hand.  The meal is a result of not only the ingredients, but the way they were assembled, the quantities used, the skill of the chef in following the recipe (what is a dash anyway?) and the type of equipment used (electric vs gas oven etc).  Not only that, but each person’s taste buds are different, and so the answer to the question ‘what is it?’ is also influenced by the individual who ate it as well as the individual who made it.  And so, with all of these variables, the ontological question  ‘what is lasagne?’ could have a number of different explanations and therefore realities.  This is an interpretive perspective which accepts that there are multiple possible realities at any one time as the reality has essentially been constructed.  So, if the ontology allows for multiple answers to the question ‘what is it?’, then the epistemology has to be concerned with considering all of of these factors, weighing up their importance, and providing an answer to the question based on this interpretation.
If you add in further human meaning to this somewhat ridiculous question ‘what is lasagne?’ and look at it from a vegetarian’s perspective, then their answer to that question might be that it is an inhumane meal that should not be eaten.  And if I were Italian, my understanding of ‘what is lasagne?’ might be very different from my own Australian perspective.
Anyway, I’ve got way too carried away thinking about food, and I’m not sure if it is at all relevant to be discussing lasagne in terms of ontology and epistemology anyway…..
And then we got this reply, which I also like:

I really like the metaphor, however, your recipe for lasagne needs some ‘chilli’. Where are the radicals in your approach? There needs to be someone that disputes the name and origins of the meal. I am sure the Greeks were making food this like before the Italians.  Actually, there is possibly some “undiscovered’ tribal group in Central America cooking up a meal just like this and they would cook in on an open fire – none of this new age electricity!!!!

Great analogy in your comments