Meaning and logic of Political Inquiry
Understanding the meaning and logic of inquiry provides a useful angle from which to begin investigation into the fundamentals of meaningful Political inquiry. Differently posed, we can commence by asking some questions. What is inquiry? What is Political inquiry all about? Is inquiry related to research and how?. To tackle these, attempt will be made to clarify and understand the meaning of “inquiry” and appreciate the relation and also difference between research and inquiry. All these will lead to the identification of the specificities of political inquiry.
What is inquiry
Ordinarily, inquiry is an act of asking question in order to garner or get information. For example, in everyday usage, an inquirer is generally perceived as someone who is often asking questions on some specific or varieties of issues. The ordinary or everyday meaning of inquiry is not really far-fetched from our circumspect understanding of the inquiry.
As you are perhaps already aware, the word inquiry is the noun derivation of the verb “inquire”. Etymological speaking, the words inquire and inquiry are rooted in the words ‘in’, ‘quarere‘ and ‘inquirere’ (Latin) meaning ‘into’, ‘seek’ and ‘inquire into’ respectively. In this sense, the act of inquiring easily investigation and search for knowledge. The implication is that in a more circumspect sense, inquiry is synonymous with asking, examination, interrogation and questioning with the purpose of gaining knowledge. It is important to note however, that although to ask, and to inquiry mean virtually the same thing, the former is more popular in the literally use and it is usually associated with reference to the presence of a second person. Conversely, inquiry underline the interface associated with the interchange between self as the inquirer and the second person as the object or inquiree.
To illustrate, when we undertake survey research, we often inquiry from our respondents such as lecturers, parents, opinion leaders, students, workers , traders, etc. The answers these respondents give constitute the data with which our hypothesis are argued or tested. It is possible to test, argue or prob the views of these or other respondents because they are composite and conscious human beings who have the capacity for articulate reasoning. The same cannot be said or say, chemist, who are merely interested in the treatment of the structure, composition and properties of substances and the transformations which they undergo. Much like other natural scientists, chemist investigates matter or objective reality which exist outside and are independent of consciousness.
Between Inquiry and Research
A major implication of the forgoing understanding of inquiry is that although in many instances, inquiry and research have been used interchangeably, they are not exactly synonymous. As can be inferred from what have been explained the major point of difference is that while the term “Inquiry” is largely social science specific, the term “Research” is often used in two sense.
The first is that research is often used in generic sense. When this is the case, research is seen as many attempt the discover facts especially by scientific method. Generic notion of research is evident in many attempts to define it. To illustrate while Tuckman (1972), sees research as a systematic attempt to provide answers to questions, on this part, Nwanna (1981) regards it as the process of finding out the solution to a problem. A closer view at these definitional views shows that the line of correction emphasis is that research is systematic, process oriented, scientific and purposeful. When the term ‘research’ is used in this sense, it means virtually the same as Inquiry, and it is on this basis that the two terms are very often used interchangeably.
At another level, the meaning of research is narrower and tilts towards a more circumspect notion. In this sense, research is seen as experimentation and laboratory test that dominate the activities of natural scientists such as chemist, geologist, etc. Unlike social scientists, natural scientists are interested and focus on the investigation of matter or objective reality which exist outside and are independent of consciousness. In particular, in the natural sciences investigation, the purpose is usually to gain knowledge in a manner that is experimentation specific. On account of this experimentation specificity, the process relies on experimentation and experimental method. Research as strictly experimentation is evident in some attempt to define and explain research. In Okeke (2001) for instance, research is seen as an intensive ans ordered study or a subject aimed at learning new facts and testing scientific propositions and ideas. This narrow notion of research does not fully or accurately fit into what we, as Political scientists do when we engage in Political inquiry.
For now however, we learn from the forgoing that inquiry connotes a wide range of distinguishable specifics. I particular it connotes:
- Dependent on conscious being: reliance on individual and group consciousness
- A process of investigation: it is process oriented
- Investigation of facts: it discovers facts
- A systematic or interrelated investigation: it relies on procedure
- Quest to provide solution: it is problem solving
- Generation of knowledge: it enhances understanding
- Deliberate study: it is a conscious activity
- A scientific effort: it relies on scientific method
- Enrichment of theory: it is theory-driven
Inline with the forgoing, particularly with the fact that it is a conscious activity, Frohock (1967) points out that the crucial issue about our subject matter is that “in any Inquiry, someone is inquiring and something is being inquired about”. On account of this, we note that not only in inquiry a conscious human activity, it is also purposeful, that is to say, that every inquiry or research has at least a purpose. As would be found out later.