May 28, 2015

Ontology, Epistemology, Methodology, Whatonology? Part C: why should Ph.D. researchers care?

On the way back to my beautiful home county of Cornwall after presenting at Warwick’s CES Third Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference, I continued to read literature on Mixed Methods methodology, which is the type of research methodology that I’m currently planning and designing for my Ph.D. project. Mixed Methods methodology, of which there are various types and various debates for and against, is simply a methodology that combines multiple methods of research to gain a more complete understanding of the phenomena being investigated. Literature on Mixed Methods is quite extensive and the debates and discussions, including from Ontological and Epistemological perspectives, are immense and it shall be difficult for any Ph.D. researcher to be able to identify a general consensus from literature as to the correct approach and correct perspective to take with mixed methods methodology. The best that I personally can do as part of the development of the mixed methods methodology is to develop a full understanding of the different discussions and debates surrounding the methodology and use these discussions and debates as a basis to form my own arguments for using mixed methods methodology, a certain kind of such a methodology, within the context of my research, and why it’s most appropriate for the phenomena being investigated. That in itself shall probably take up eighty thousand words of the thesis nevermind anything else!

My supervisor commented that he doesn’t agree with literature being categorised or polarised within qualitative and quantitative paradigms of research, and also recently among the plethora of literature read on the way back from Warwick, I came across discussions that were divided as to the need and emphasis of articulating ontological and epistemological perspectives within research. This I found very interesting, because in a lot of research methodological textbooks there is a clear emphasis on the need for such discussions and considerations to take place, particularly within a Ph.D. thesis. It just goes to show that not everything is black or white.

So given all that, should the Ph.D. researcher be involved with and concerned with ontological and epistemological perspectives of reality and the way in which these have influenced the design and application of their methodology? I’m going to say yes, whilst acknowledging that this is not a black or white argument.

It is not a black or white argument because there really is no right or wrong answer. Just because a Ph.D. researcher has adopted a Positivist Ontology it doesn’t make that researcher anymore correct, or incorrect, than a Ph.D. researcher who adopts an Interpretivist Ontology. Similarly, a Ph.D. researcher who adopts a single methodology, either qualitative or quantitative, is no more right or wrong in their approach than a person who adopts a mixed methods methodology.

What’s most important is that whichever methodological, epistemological, and so on, perspectives are selected that they are able to contribute effectively towards answering the research questions and be compatible with the phenomena being investigated. What is also very important, I argue, is that a Ph.D. researcher is able to effectively and convincingly argue that their Epistemological, Ontological, and Methodological approaches are suitable; essentially, each Ph.D. researcher must be able to select a particular positioning, and develop and present convincing arguments as to why their perspectives are the most appropriate for the context of their research and phenomena being investigated. Why is this? Because, despite what some literature says, there is a connection between Ontology, Epistemology, and Methodology; that there is connection between these considerations, the context being explored, and the phenomena being investigated. When you, as an example, explore the differences between the Sciences and Social Sciences, it is plainly obvious that both context differ, and both contexts carry different Ontological and Epistemological assumptions and perspectives, and therefore influencing methodological concerns and considerations.

My own arguments that argue for the positions that I’m currently positioning myself in are in the developmental stage and they will be in development for quite some time as I explore all these debates and discussions among the other work as part of the Ph.D. that I am currently involved with. I find it all an exciting challenge, and it’s something that is extremely intellectually stimulating and satisfying; therefore the reasons of an intellectual challenge and intellectual stimulation should further encourage Ph.D. researchers to become fully engaged and involved with their own Philosophical and Epistemological perspectives and developing arguments for these perspectives through engaging with debate and discussions both within literature and through online discussions and conferences with other researchers.

Go explore: be stimulated, be inspired, be challenged, and have fun doing so!

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