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Ontology and Epistemology
Positivism and Interpretivism
Reflexive Paradigm in Social Research
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Positivism and Interpretivism
THE POSITIVIST AND INTERPRETIVE PARADIGMS IN SOCIAL RESEARCH
"Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge" Kahlil Gibran
Text based on Case narrative, Heyman, 2009, pp.29-30.
WHAT IS A PARADIGM?
Here some definitions:
"It comes from Greek
(paradeigma), 'pattern, example, sample' from the verb
(paradeiknumi), 'exhibit, represent, expose' and that from
(para), :beside, beyond' +
(deiknumi), 'to show, to point out' (Wikipedia, 2011, para.1).
"A philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated; broadly: a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind" (Merriam Webster online).
"It is a comprehensive belief system, world view, or framework that guides research and practice in a field" (Willis, 2007, p.8).
THE POSITIVIST PARADIGM
Image from website
developed as a response to the religious and magical understanding of the world during the middle age period" (Willis, 2007, p.32). Scientific rigor is in fact its landmark. The ideas and foundations of positivism were initially defined by the French philosopher Auguste Comte during the seventeenth-century (Willis, 2007), and according to this paradigm social phenomena can be studied, measured and understood like physical objects by using scientific methods. As Émile Durkheim stated, social facts have to be considered like "things", which exist independently from human beings and they are meaningless (Lazar, 1998).
All reality is meaningless, independent from human feelings, ideas, perceptions.
Social phenomena have to be treated like physical objects.
Knowledge is value-free, objective, measurable.
Knowledge can only be accessed through a scientific approach.
"The world can be objectively experienced and described" (Heyman, 2009, p.95).
AIM OF RESEARCH
Describing, predicting, explaining or controlling social phenomena.
Finding universals, laws of cause and effect, generalizing, replicating findings.
Scientific approach based mainly on quantitative methods, statistics, surveys, experiments, questions and hypothesis subject to empirical testing and verification (Guba and Lincoln, 1994, as cited in Ryba, 2009). Qualitative methods such as observation can also be used by positivist researchers, but their assumptions and views are based on a reality which can be objectively described and researched.
Generally detached, independent, with an objective eye on the social phenomena under study.
THE INTERPRETIVIST PARADIGM
East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany: Some paintings on the East side of the remaining Berlin Wall interpreting the end of the Cold War, the idea of freedom, peace.
"Test the best", Birgit Kinder, September 1998
"Curriculum Vitae", Susanne Kunjappu-Jellinek, September 1998
"Parlo d'Amor", Ignasi Blanch i Gispert, May 2000
"Interpretivism developed as a response to the objectivism and excessive rationalization of the positivist approach" (Willis, 2007, p.51). Broadly speaking they believe that social phenomena cannot be studied like physical objects; they cannot be measured or predicted. It is not possible to quantify the subjectivity and individuality of human beings, their thoughts, ideas, perceptions. Reality is interpreted through the eyes of each individual within a specific situation or context and it becomes meaningful.
Reality is meaningful, and "is socially constructed by the individuals who participate in it" (Gall et al., 1996, as cited in Willis, 2007, p.96).
"There is not one absolute truth, but different truths and realities" (Lazar, 1998, p.20).
Knowledge is subjective, dependent on human minds, values, perceptions and is related to a specific context.
"There is no particular right or correct path to knowledge, no special method that automatically leads to intellectual progress" (Smith, 1993, as cited in Willis, 2007, p.109).
AIM OF RESEARCH
"Understanding and making sense of social phenomena and their contexts much more than the discovery of universal laws or rules" (Willis, 2007, p.99).
Exploring the reality people experience.
"Identifying the social meanings of phenomena
and how those meanings are related to people's social actions" (Wotherspoon, 1998, p.20).
Mainly use of qualitative methods. However the dichotomy Positivism vs. Quantitative methods and Interpretivism vs. Qualitative methods is not always appropriate. Within the interpretivist paradigm any method would be considered acceptable, even quantitative procedures (Willis, 2007). The difference between them and the positivists is essentially in the way they analyze results from the research; whatever method has been used, they start from the assumption that the results are always subjective and cannot be used to describe a uniform and standard reality (Willis, 2007).
Immersed in the natural setting of the research, more interaction with the researched and participants.
The role of the researcher cannot be neutral, but research also depends on the subjective views and stances of the researcher.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Here some strengths and weaknesses we identified during our readings and course. However, this list simply represents our points of view in the sense that the way to consider, if some aspects are a strength or a weakness, can be in certain cases quite subjective and it depends also on how reality and knowledge are perceived.
Further information online:
Methods: Doing Social Research, 4th Edition, Winston Jackson and Norine Verberg
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