Anarchism The Greek root of Anarchism means ‘without a ruler’ and it appears in the work of the philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend describing his attitude to science. Politically, Anarchists believe in the abolition of government and the primacy of co-operation between individuals. Feyerabend uses it as a somewhat romantic metaphor for a relativist approach to science. This questions the primacy of modern science and asserts that there is no logic in ascribing to it greater explanatory power than any other form of knowledge – say religious or ‘superstitious’ knowledge. Feyerabend’s ideas derive from a turn within the philosophy of science in the last 40 years which has questioned the model of science which is called ‘positivist’, through the analysis of case studies from the history of science. A consequence has been to reveal science to be an enterprise which is locked into the social imperatives of its time and is not an autonomous, value free, activity.
Anthropology is the parent of the ‘participant’ approach to enquiry into human habits which is used in much qualitative research, which relies on the analysis of a written record developed by an observer. The history of anthropology shows that it was based on the assumption that the study of the native populations of the world – those people whose land formed part of the empire of an industrialised nation – would enable insights to be gained into basic human nature. This in turn assumed that these native populations were in some way pure and that their social organisations therefore nearer to nature. In more recent times these assumptions have appeared more and more strange and less and less supportable. The attention of anthropologists now tends to focus on the social structures of the developed world.
Creativity Literally, this is the quality a person requires to create. ‘Creative’ often refers to a particular and special type of person. In extreme cases this word seems to describe a person touched by the divine, who is not of the common mould It is assumed that mechanism of creativity is invisible – often to the person being creative as well as an outsider. Invisible it seems to be, and genuinely mysterious, though much of this mystery is due to the romantic genius myth. It is not beyond the scope of analysis however, as is shown by the existence of a branch of psychology that studies it.
Culture with a capital c is not to be confused with culture with a small c. The former refers to ‘High Culture’ which is held to produce the most important works of civilisation which represent the best that humanity can do and which are preserved in museums and art galleries. This Culture, is said to have an ‘improving’ effect on people as a whole and to represent timeless and unchanging qualities and standards. Culture, with a small c, refers to all the things which we make and do, which reflect and reproduce our ‘whole way of life’ by virtue of the systems of meaning which they represent. The latter sense of the word, culture, is at odds with the former, as from that perspective High Culture is simply the ‘culture’ (with a small c) of an elite group.
Dada An early twentieth century Art movement which developed a critique of the rational order of modernity and the place and character of art within it. Sometimes described as Nihilistic, the impact of Dada’s approach had repercussions in more recent art, for example Pop Art. The philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend referred to Dada in his critique of scientific method and preferred its light-hearted and self contradictory approach to what he refers to as ‘political anarchism’. He compares Dada to ‘epistemological anarchism’.[1]
Data In research processes, data are observations, or measurements – the term carries the sense that these are facts unproblematically provided by the world – the word derives from the latin verb ‘to give’, dare. Data is also used in Information Technology where it is interchangeable with ‘information’.
Deduction Deduction is a process of deriving views from laws and theories about the world throuch a chain of logic.
Empirical / Empiricism These terms relate to practical activities and to philosophy. Knowledge said to be empirical, is that deriving from observation, rather than from theory. In philosophy, the distinction relates to the difference between knowledge gained by experience and that derived by logic from first principles. Empiricists hold that all acceptable knowledge of the world derives from experience as opposed to being available through pure reasoning, that it exists independent of our understanding of it and that theories about the world derive straightforwardly from it.
Epistemology within philosophy has the tight meaning of ‘the study and definition of knowledge or as Anthony Quinton puts it: Epistemology is ‘The Philosophical theory of knowledge, which seeks to define it, distinguish its principal varieties, identify its sources, and establish its limits.’[2] There is also a weaker sense of ‘epistemological frameworks’. This use of the word has more in common with the idea of an analytical ‘world view’ than a study which attempts to draw universally applicable conclusions about knowledge. It suggests that knowledge is so firmly located within the structures by which it is transmitted – language for instance – that it is inseparable from them.
Experiment refers to a set of conditions established by a researcher with the object of manipulating elements of the world in order to compare the outcomes suggested by a given hypothesis against the results of the experiment. Experiments are used in both the ‘hard’ sciences (e.g. physics and chemistry) and the ‘soft’ sciences (e.g. sociology and psychology). Through experiments, the observations of the world on which science is based are structured and ordered, though the relationship of this ‘scientific method’ to ‘truth’ is far from straightforward. Through the study of historical examples, philosophers of science have suggested that the conditions in which experiments are done are always implicated in the results. Relevant conditions might be the ways that theories on which the experiment is based relate to other dimensions of society – politics or religion for instance – or the manner in which the research programme which the experiment is part of is funded.
Explanation in science, combines theory and facts to account for a particular event or set of events – to ascribe causes. The traditions of explanation developed in sociology and history are of more use to art and design.
Evidence is used as another word for fact, or data, particularly when it is to be used in an explanation, related to a prior hypothesis or assumption.
Fact In Science, Fact refers to matters which have been established by observation. The ‘truth’ of the resultant facts is however a subject for debate. This is due to the dependence of observations on pre-existing theories, and on the social context in which they are made. The philosopher John Dewey, 1859 – 1952, offered the definition of ‘warranted assertion’. This elegantly encapsulates the problem, as the ‘warrant’ can change – it is not unassailable and fixed for all time.
Falsification The philosopher of science Karl Popper used the concept of falsifiability to overcome the problems which exist for the inductive model of science. He used the idea as a criterion to distinguish between science and ‘pseudo science’, on the basis that a strongly scientific theory is highly falsifiable – it can be clearly be proved wrong given the appropriate evidence. On this basis, the natural sciences are the only disciplines which can be called science, all other disciplines, for Popper, are equivalent to systems of myth and belief, as their theories cannot be falsified. Poppers own position however is not unproblematic, as it depends on the validity of the observations which might, or might not, falsify a theory.
Form / Formal refers to the aspects of a work – image, artefact, work of literature – which can be argued to be distinguishable from its content – the meanings which are associated with it. It has been argued, that it is the formal aspects which the are most important in a work of art, as it is through these abstract qualities that access can be gained to an absolute level and quality of experience. On the other hand, ‘formalist’ is used as a term of abuse by those whose understanding of images or artefacts derives from a study of their place within culture, society and history, where meaning is all important.
Hard science is used to describe Physics, Chemistry and Biology. These are often considered to provide the most important forms of human knowledge. They are given higher status than the soft sciences according to falsificationists such as Karl Popper, because of the strength of their theoretical base – its susceptibility to falsification. The achievements of these disciplines is not to be denied, though some of them are negative. These negative outcomes, weaponry for instance, and the ecological effects of technology, have produced mixed feelings towards science in general since 1945.
Holism describes the idea that the whole of a system is more than the sum of its parts, and that to understand the parts is not to understand the whole. The contrasting approach is Reductionism whereby complex situations are explained by exploring simple elements within them and extending that understanding to the whole.
Human Age / Humanware are terms that emerged in design theory in the1990s to describe an emphasis on the human elements of design and research for design. Its effect has been to take the familiar drawing / object / manufacture process and add a significant portion of qualitative analysis. This is described as dealing with the intangible aspects of objects, and relates to the way in which human beings actually interact with them. Interaction has been the province of ergonomics and anthropometrics where a quantitative, biological and spatial approach has been taken to the user interface. Human age design takes this into the sphere of sensibility and culture: ‘The idea of humanware is an appeal to the aesthetic sense, emotions, the cultural values of human beings. By considering the human feeling and mentality we aim to promote the development of merchandise that can really satisfy people’s needs.’[3]
Hypothesis describes a question which has been phrased as a statement which can then be tested against evidence in order to construct an explanation of a state of affairs.
Incommensurable / Incommens-urability This notion is at the heart of Thomas Kuhn’s picture of knowledge ordered in separate paradigms. According to Kuhn, there is no realm of abstract truth which can be appealed to in a choice between two paradigms, as all facts are ‘theory bound’. The different structures which paradigms offer for the interpretation of facts mean that one paradigm cannot be assessed in terms of another, they are incommensurable. An example of two incommensurable paradigms is the physics of Newton and the physics of Einstein. Incommensurability is often related to relativism – which is condemned by some – as it not only complicates ideas of scientific progress, it also challenges the primacy of science as the most important and effective form of knowledge. This train of thought implies that any coherent body of knowledge is as worthwhile as any other and that theories that have been classed as myth have to be considered as valid as those of science.
Induction The process of induction takes the results of a number of identical observations and derives from them laws or theories about the world. The statement ‘the sun rises in the morning’ is such a law which, common sense suggests, validly derives from our experience of the sun rising. Laws arrived at by induction are vulnerable however. The statement ‘all swans are white’ is acceptable until the first black swan is observed, as happened on the discovery of Australia by Europeans. In response to this problem, inductivists introduce the principle of probability and suggest that knowledge derived by observation of the world is not straightforwardly true, but probably true.
Intangible Design describes an approach to design where the implications of the designers activities for the quality of experience associated with a design – its intangible aspects – is emphasised over the qualities of the object.
Knowledge has different senses depending on the framework of enquiry which is used. For a positivist, knowledge describes facts which exist independently of the observer. For those who challenge the positivist position, and adopt a relativist framework of enquiry, knowledge is the result of the particular process which has created it, which makes the value systems of the people who conduct the enquiry which generates knowledge an integral part of that knowledge. Knowledge is therefore contested.

It also exists in different forms. Gilbert Ryle, in the 1940s identified the important difference between ‘knowledge that’ and ‘knowledge how’. The former being abstract knowledge, the latter embodied in people and social relations[4]. Research in Art and Design brings these forms of knowledge into particular, and complex relationships.

Logic in its familiar sense refers to the use of reason rather than irrationality. In philosophy, it has a more specific sense which limits the ways in which a conclusion can validly be drawn from preceding statements, whatever the meaning of those statements.
Methodology is often used as a more impressive sounding stand in for method. More precisely, it means the methods and procedures used in a particular discipline. It also describes the special study of the aims and principles behind the research activities in an academic field.
Modernism is the collective term which describes the cultural forms which were a response to the rapid and radical change and development of the late nineteenth century. Modernist art, during the first thirty years of the 20th century, was characterised by a succession of splintered tendencies , and in architecture and design, by genuine attempts to cope with technological and social change. See Modernity.
Modernity has the sense of a state which is ‘of the moment’, looking forward, rather than back and responding to new and radical developments. The new and radical developments usually related to the idea of modernity are those which have accompanied industrialisation and mechanisation and which affect all spheres of life. Modernity as a state of culture, has certain particular features, among which are instability, constant change and dislocation affecting both time and space. These features have changed the relationship between humans and nature because of the extent of human intervention into nature. From being a separate autonomous sphere defined by modernity as the opposite of human activity, nature has become ‘a field of human action’,[5] through the effects of modernity itself.
Paradigm is a fashionable word. The sense with which it is used in relation to science derives from the work of the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn. He noted that science has not proceeded through history in a smooth linear progress towards a complete understanding of the world. Rather, science as it has been practised, is full of cases where scientists have clung to their system of knowledge, even though it had been superseded by newer theories. Kuhn likened the process of change in science to political change, where one system entirely replaces another with the disruption and conflict of a revolution. He called such systems of thought in science Paradigms, though one criticism of his ideas is that the term does not have a single definite meaning. One sense of the word is that a particular Paradigm orders the thought of those working within it comprehensively. Therefore terms, observations and theories from one Paradigm do not have the same meaning if considered from the point of view of another Paradigm. This incommensurability of paradigms challenges the empiricist picture of knowledge because it suggests that facts only exist by virtue of their place within a Paradigm, rather than independently of our observations of them – they are ‘theory bound’.
Positivism describes a set of ideas about the ‘correct’ way to enquire about the world. Positivists only value knowledge gained by the methods of science – experiment to test theoretical propositions. In this way, science is held to describe a reality which exists independently of any observer and which can be described in terms which are free of any human value judgements. Certain features of modern physics, which show that absolute truth does not exist at the level of quantum particles, have presented difficulties for this position. The positivistic model of enquiry has been challenged in the social sciences, where alternative ‘paradigms of enquiry’ have been developed which answer some of the criticisms made of positivistic methods.[6] These methods tend to be qualitative rather than quantitative and rely more on discovery than experiment.
Post modern is another fashionable term. It is also misleading as the ‘post’ can imply that the condition of modernity has been entirely superseded. It has been suggested that society has changed towards what has been called a ‘post industrial’ state,[7] characterised by a shift towards service based industry within a culture defined by technology and the power of information. Post modernity relates to this idea, in that it points towards a qualitative shift in culture which derives from this stage in the evolution of modernity. Postmodernism in cultural forms – art, literature, design etc., – are marked by a self referential and eclectic character and has been identified since 1945. The post modern to some extent defies definition: ‘To date it remains best seen as a complex map of late 20th century directions rather than a clear-cut aesthetic and philosophical ideology’[8] Despite this lack of clarity, it is possible to relate ideas within post modernism to the shift towards a more relativistic stance in philosophy – and the methodology which derives from it.
Quantitative describes research methods which emphasise that knowledge from enquiry which can be reduced to numerical form and place low value on subjective contributions by the researcher.
Qualitative describes research methods which attempt to address the unreality and logical fallibility of quantitative methods by embracing the implications of the relationship between the observer and the observed. The suggestion is that in any quantitative research approach the observer will inevitably be affect the results – however much effort is put into ruling this out. The root example of this usually given is the observation of quantum particles which appear only to be there if they are being looked at. In the social sciences, this problem is likely to be overwhelming. Qualitative research   generates observations from a researcher – or team of researchers – who sets out to assess the set of events being observed using the methods of the humanities, rather than the sciences. The techniques of anthropology have also been used in qualitative research, treating the material to be researched as an aspect of culture. Qualitative techniques go under such names as: ‘participant observation’, ‘non participant observation’, ‘focus groups’.
Questionnaire describes the set of prepared questions that are the ‘instrument’ by which data is generated in many quantitative and qualitative methods.
Rationalism refers to a position which can be opposed to ‘irrationalism’ or relativism. Rationalists hold that the only acceptable beliefs are those derived by logic from observation – beliefs which are therefore ‘scientifically true’.
Relativism is a position which can be set against rationalism. The relativist holds that because all knowledge is located in individuals and communities it is impossible to evaluate the validity of knowledge without considering the character of its setting. Common sense suggests that what is valued in one community is not necessarily valued in another. Relativism rules out the claim that there are universal truths which exist for all places and for all times.
Research is what all this is about. It is understood to be a systematic programme with the objective of gaining knowledge. This knowledge might include facts new to the subject, it might be generalisable principles deriving from previously known facts or it might be a collecting together and review of all the knowledge of a subject for a particular purpose. Research is expensive, and is often only funded if there is likely to be an obviously beneficial outcome. If the outcome of research is likely to be commercially applicable it is often more likely to be funded. There have been cases of researchers bending the results of their research in order to ensure that their funding continues – an example of the context of science affecting its practice. Results which have commercial application often come from basic research which of itself has no use. Because it is impossible to determine in advance whether basic research will have usable results, funding such research is a risky business. It is often therefore considered the responsibility of government.

Of the research which goes into new products it is that which explores the relationship between the consumer and the intended product which is often most relevant to the designer. This type of research might be to do with physical relationships – ergonomics, research into perception – or relationships based on the cultural, emotional and psychological make up of consumers.

Science In 2009 the UK’s Science Council proposed this definition for science: “Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.”[9] This definition goes beyond a restricted view of the sciences as restricted to the study of the physical world, and takes account of the application of scientific methods to social matters. It leaves out the requirement that science generate generalizable theory.
Survey is sometimes used instead of questionnaire to describe a research tool which seeks to quantify information about the human population by asking a statistically significant sample a standard set of questions. These questions can be descriptive – they simply count something – or analytic – they seek to discover relationships between factors. A survey is one of the classic quantitative social science techniques and form a large part of the popular perception of research in the ‘soft sciences’.
Social Science is the category which includes anthropology, economics, political science, social psychology and sociology. There are two tendencies within the social sciences. One would have their work adopt the approaches of natural or hard science in order to better predict and control the world. The other tendency sees the purpose of their work in developing a better understanding of the our human world by observation and reflection.
Soft Science describes those more or less rigorous enterprises which use the title science but which are not Physics, Chemistry or Biology. They include ‘social science’ disciplines such as sociology, political science, anthropology and Psychology. These subjects are often ordered in a hierarchy according to the degree to which they can approach the standards of the ‘hard sciences’. In the history of these disciplines, there have been attempts from within them to emulate the hard sciences by the use of experimental, quantitative methods to derive universal theories. There is a move away from this approach in some cases towards more qualitative methods.


[1]Paul Feyerabend, Against method London, New Left Books, 1975, p189ff

[2]Bullock, A. and Trombley S, (eds) The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, London, Fontana, 1990, p279.

[3]Kiyoshi Sakashita, director of Sharp corporation, quoted in Dick Powell, “The Human road Ahead,” Design 407 November 1982, p38.

[4] Ryle, G., (2009 [1949]) The Concept of Mind, Oxford: Routledge

[5]Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Cambridge, (Cambridge: Polity) Press, 1991, pp 1-9.

[6]See: Egon Guba, ‘The Alternative Paradigm Dialog’ in Egon Guba (ed) The Paradigm Dialog London, Sage, 1990, pp 17 – 27

[7]See: Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post Industrial Society, London, 1974

[8]Bullock, A. and Trombley S, (eds) The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, London, Fontana, 1990, p672.



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