UR – Epistemology and Ontology

COURSE: Understanding Research—UR

FORUM: Elaborating the logics of research approaches

TOPICS: Research, ontology, epistemology

Step 2 – Part 1

Keywords: ontology, epistemology, objectivism, constructivism, positivism, interpretivism

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Link to forum

ONTOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY

For me, understanding the nuances between ontology and epistemology has been a central point in my readings. It’s easy to find definitions on the two terms, but I still find it hard to actually see through the philosophical fog that surrounds them.

In a nutshell, I understand ontology as the philosophical position that one researcher has with regard to the world and the nature of social entities. The two extremities of this spectrum are objectivism and constructivism (or constructionism, as Bryman prefers to call it).

The latter view suggests that reality is socially constructed and that meanings result from such workings.  Objectivism, instead views life as being independent from actors, and therefore sees actions as independent, observable events.

I understand epistemology as the way we approach and define knowledge, which emphasises the relationship between the knower and the known. The two extremities in the epistemological spectrum are positivism and interpretivism.

Here is a table, extrapolated from readings, that summarizes the differences:

POSITIVIST PARADIGM

  • the world is external and objective (objectivism)
  • the observer is independent
  • science is value-free; focus on facts
  • Focus on facts
  • Look for causality and fundamental facts
  • deductive
  • Operationalise concepts to measure

INTERPRETIVIST PARADIGM

  • World is socially constructive and subjective (constructivism)
  • Observer is part of what is observed
  • Science is driven by human interest
  • Focus on meaning
  • Try to understand what is happening
  • inductive
  • Multiple methods to establish different views

From my understanding, epistemology comes to include ontological issues, in that the positivist paradigm would include objectivist ontology, whereas the interpretivist (phenomenological) paradigm would include constructivist ontology. This is what gets me confused, as the two realms (ontology and epistemology) seem to be used these thorny issues?

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