UR – Reflections on definitions

COURSE: Understanding Research—UR

FORUM: Elaborating the logics of research approaches

TOPICS: Research, ontology, epistemology

Step 2 – Part 1

Keywords: definitions, positivism, interpretivism, post-interpretivism,

Link to blog

Link to forum


As I continue examining the readings, I realize that there is only so much that one can comment on the research papers under discussion without sounding redundant and repetitive.

Instead, I find myself engaged in a process of understanding of the philosophical questions that affect research. I previous posts the discussion branched out into the differences between qualitative and quantitative research, trying to better define the ontological and epistemological issues that lie at the roots of the different research designs.

I noticed that many of the terms used by Bryman are used differently by others. For example, William M.K. Trochim takes a more pragmatic approach, and his website provides a slightly different sequence of definitions. For Trochin the two main epistemological categories are in fact positivism vs. post-positivism (Bryman instead emphasizes positivism vs. interpretivism); furthermore Trochin places constructivism firmly under positivism, but he also allows for room for objectivity under the same epistemological family.

These readings are clearly both the result and the fuel of the academic disputes that have developed among social scientists. I find the debate interesting, but at the end of the day, I find it very time consuming and possibly even unproductive. In his website, Trochim also admits that

Clearly, all of this stuff is not for the faint-of-heart. I’ve seen many a graduate student get lost in the maze of philosophical assumptions that contemporary philosophers of science argue about. And don’t think that I believe this is not important stuff. But, in the end, I tend to turn pragmatist on these matters. Philosophers have been debating these issues for thousands of years and there is every reason to believe that they will continue to debate them for thousands of years more. Those of us who are practicing scientists should check in on this debate from time to time (perhaps every hundred years or so would be about right). We should think about the assumptions we make about the world when we conduct research. But in the meantime, we can’t wait for the philosophers to settle the matter. After all, we do have our own work to do!



William M.K. Trochim’s website: http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/qual.php


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