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Book Chapter

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This article seeks to propose a rationale for exploratory research in the social sciences. Inspired by the recent debates around qualitative methods (Gerring, 2001; George and Bennett, 2005; Brady and Collier, 2004; Mahoney and Rueschemeyer, 2003; Ragin, 2008; to name just a few), I seek to demonstrate that exploratory research also has a rightful place within the social sciences. In order to live up to its potential, exploratory research needs to be conducted in a transparent, honest, and selfreflexive way – and follow a set of guidelines that ensure its reliability. Exploratory research, if conducted in such a way, can achieve great validity and it can provide new and innovative ways to analyze reality.

In most cases, exploration demands more from the researcher than confirmatory research, both in terms of preparation, as well as in terms of willingness and ability to expose oneself to foreign cultures and languages as well as the courage to engage in a critical and honest selfreflection and critique. It also requires intellectual engagement with the topic at stake far beyond the needs of those running regressions from their office computers. However, exploratory research normally demands less money to conduct, as most projects can be done by one researcher alone, without the need to mobilize, train, and pay, large research apparatuses. Given the disciplinary power of elite scholars and academic institutions when it comes to selecting research through funding and hiring, exploratory research thus has great emancipatory potential, because it can escape the disciplinary power of senior “peers” and mainstream funding agencies.

To legitimize and provide a solid epistemological ground for exploratory research in the social sciences, it needs to be grounded in a philosophy of science; it has to be articulated within an epistemological framework; and it has to formulate a comprehensive methodological framework that justifies its methods. Thought also needs to be given to the ontology of the social sciences, as decisions about what counts as real and what we shall accept as a fact necessarily impact our strategy of inquiry.