Heuristic Inquiry: Police Brutality

Research, as with many aspects of life and academia is multi-dimensional and multifaceted. Through questions, analysis, interpretation and many other inquisitive processes, research can apply an innumerable amount of strategic methodologies towards an infinite amount of phenomena. Ultimately, this science feeds our curiosity, an innate urge entrenched in our very DNA. Since time immemorial whether it was gazing at the stars or attempting to find the God Particle, mankind’s curiosity has lead us towards a better understanding of ourselves and the local, national, international and universal societies we inhabit. 

This text will uncover the scientific underpinnings of research with an emphasis on discovery, understanding and knowledge of ourselves and society. Specifically this text will unpack the heuristic inquiry division of the interpretive paradigm and juggle the ethical dilemmas that may surface within this methodology, ultimately challenging its appropriateness as an objective and ethical research method. Furthermore, the benefits and effectiveness of this inquisitive approach will be highlighted in an attempt to build a scientific understanding of its nature. The aforementioned outline will be analyzed through the research question “how do minorities experience (direct or indirect) police brutality and its social, political, racial, judicial dynamics?

The heuristic approach is special in that it provides an opportunity for the researcher to quench the thirst of curiosity in a unique way: via an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon in question and through a process axed on experiential discovery that seeks to understand the experiences of the subjects in order the better understand their realities (Cranton & Merriam, 2015 p. 49). Beyond the researcher expanding his/her understanding of the realities and experiences of the subjects, the information and knowledge acquired will expand, inform and change the researcher’s conceptual understanding of him/herself, society and ultimately alter the understanding of the phenomena. In other words, as the researcher interacts with the realities and social worlds of the subjects, he/she will be interlinked into the subjects matrix that will in-turn influence his/her interpretations of the environment/experience/data etc.  In a heuristic inquiry whereby both the subjects and research share a particular environment, the incubation, self reflection and illumination is infused with the researchers cognition, culture and identity. Considering the question: how do minorities experience (direct or indirect) police brutality and its social, political, racial, judicial dynamics, I prudently chose the ethnographic methodology due to the potential ethical challenges of brining in my cognitive framework, culture and identity. I was concerned that I would not have an objective analysis if I embedded myself in the lives and experiences of the subjects. I was reminded of a study conducted by Piff, Martinez & Keltner (2012) that suggested individuals such as myself –  a minority – would feel emotions on behalf of individuals/groups whom I identify with, in this case minorities experiencing police brutality.

From an initial view, research with emotional connections and passion towards the phenomena could spawn unethical practice. The input from the researcher may influence the subjects to give data that supports the researcher’s views and assumptions. Moreover, building relationships as per the heuristic inquiry unloads a plethora of additional ethical and professional dilemmas. As the researcher navigates through the subjects and builds bonds with the community, he/she may become sympathetic towards their situational positioning and construct results accordingly thereby influencing subject behavior, ignoring data and becoming an advocate to change their experiences etc (Cranton & Merriam, 2015). Overall, I views these ethical dilemmas rooted in the fact that I would not be an objective research but rather a passionate subjective participant.

Assuming that all research is meant strictly objective was erroneous on my part.  Heuristic inquiry does not portray itself as an objective process, but rather an intuitive inquiry whereby the research can immerse him/her and connect with the subjects on a personal level. Rather than view my connection with minorities as weakness or ethical dilemma — through the heuristic inquiry it becomes strength. I hypothesis that many researchers including Djuraskaovic in the case of Yugoslavian refugees – have deeply entrenched connections with the culture, heritage and situational positioning of the people under research. It would be very difficult for an academic who is not intimately involved with the cultural of a given population to conduct a heuristic inquiry of the same quality as one who would.

The heuristic inquiry is a branch of research that is very much so a personal journey. Research is often viewed as a service for academia and/or society, however, what is largely ignored is that researchers thirst for knowledge as it empowers their views, feeds their curiosity and ultimately feeds their identities. In the case Djuraskaovic, it seems as though her research is not axed on therapy for her subjects but self-therapy for her own life as she juggles acculturation and identity in a foreign land. Her research becomes a heuristic catharsis inquiry.

In my particular case, researching minorities whom are subjected to police brutality is a reflection of my angst towards marginalization that I experience in society. The more I traversed through this masters program the more the realities of the world around me became clear. Political power structures, wealth gap, socio-economic statuses of minorities, lack minorities in positions of power, taxes systems, educational institutions and white privileges paint a welcoming  picture I wish I understood when I was 14 years told. Welcoming because once the maze is understood it can be hacked. Beyond police brutality, I would hope to influence African-Americans to educated themselves, vote, form collective unions and fight for their rights in unprecedented ways. I advocate for all African American to protest and boycott their NCAA teams for compensation, protest for increase in minimum wage, protest to end the war on drugs, stand up against discrimination in the work place etc. With such revolutionary views, I suppose heuristic inquiry may not serve me so well – as their needs to be boundaries as per how this methodology is used. Individuals whom truly experience the heuristic inquiry cannot simply step out of the process when the research is over. Their connections are so deep that they continue to live with the phenomena throughout their lives and those experiences will further inform their world views as they progress through their journeys.


Cranton, P. and Merriam, S. B. (2015) A Guide to Research for Educators and Trainers of Adults (3d edition). Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishers

Piff, P., Martinez, A., & Keltner, D. (2012). Me against we: In-group transgression, collective shame, and in-group-directed hostility. Cognition & Emotion26(4), 634-649. doi:10.1080/02699931.2011.595394