Goals and Methods of Research: The Challenge for Family Medicine

Johanna Shapiro, PhD

This article suggests that motivations to engage in research, as in any other human activity, are both explicit and implicit, Explicit motivations tend to be objective and rationalist, concerned with such goals as the advancement and organization of knowledge, But implicit motivations, the ‘hidden agendas’ of research, also exist and can influence the objectives, methods, and conclusions of the research process, In addition, a highly effectively charged activity such as research also develops its own set of symbolic meanings, which further complicate its various expressions. In this article, three such symbolic meanings are identified: purpose and seriousness; maturity and adulthood; and legitimacy and belonging. The article highlights qualitative research as a methodology compatible with much of family medicine’s philosophy and theoretical foundations; and discusses the role of behavioral scientists in participating in a research agenda for the field. The article concludes with a plea for the discipline of family medicine to opt for authenticity in research, rather than settling for a superficial legitimacy in the eyes of other medical specialties.

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