proving vs. disproving

I was struck by an example in the Knight reading for this week.  On page 42, he illustrates the potential power of a case study that countered the prevailing generalizations of other researchers.  This was the Boyle and Woods study of the headteacher.  It got me to thinking — as small-scale researchers, can our projects generate more oomph & relevance by identifying exceptions to, or shortcomings of, existing theory?  Assuming that our findings were generalizable to some extent?  Whereas if we strike out on our own and try to prove something new, could we find ourselves on an uphill climb with limited time and resources?

But then on the other hand, if we’re being honest we have to allow the possibility that our research will show that the expectations we brought to the study are incorrect.  Would that render a research project pointless or meaningless — if it just ended up affirming an existing theory, and moreover did it on a smaller scale than other researchers have done in the past?

I hope that makes sense, I’m thinking out loud here.

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