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

REFLECTIONS

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!

Cheers!

WEBLIOGRAPHY:

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

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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

Link to blog

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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