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March 18, 2016

Mixed Methods: Pragmatism Is No Longer Considered

Pragmatism is inappropriate for my research and therefore various arguments are being developed against pragmatism as a philosophy of mixed methods within a particular context and also in general, and shall be mentioned in the Upgrade Paper and fully elaborated in the thesis. This blog post shall briefly mention each of the main arguments against pragmatism as a philosophy of mixed methods in the context of my own work.


First Reason: Divorced From Philosophical And Methodological Considerations

Pragmatism is divorced from philosophical and methodological considerations therefore places the research questions central to a research project, enabling a whatever works attitude to be employed and therefore whatever methods that best answer the question should be used and not be restricted by philosophical and methodological considerations. This is not to say however that pragmatists lack philosophical or methodological considerations, but that there is no need to express or to discuss such considerations in research papers. Obviously, this has led to a lot of criticisms from the academic community suggesting that it is a vague approach to research. However, despite the criticisms it the most popularly used philosophical approach to mixed methods but there is suggestion that this is because a lot of researchers do not particularly care for or are willing to explore philosophical considerations and just want to get on with the job that needs to be completed.


In my view, there is more to research than simply getting on with the job because in order to have an effective and useful project there must be a level of philosophical and methodological consideration. We as researchers and Ph.D. candidates come with certain perspectives of reality that influence the choices that are made within research designs. Our framework of preferences born from previous experiences and current knowledge and skills shape the way that we approach a research project and therefore researcher bias is likely to be introduced through the selection of methodology and methods. For example, those with lots of experience using quantitative methods and approaches are not likely to use qualitative methods, and therefore will try to view research problems from a quantitative perspective and develop quantitatively driven questions. Whether or not the selection of methods and methodology would be correct to address the research problem would not be considered as important as those which meets the preference framework of the researcher. Pragmatism does not appear to consider this as important.


Second Reason: Emphasis On The Research Question

Because pragmatism does not place emphasis on the philosophical and methodological considerations of a research project, research questions are elevated to central position of all considerations and there appears to be a suggestion that research questions are the basis of Philosophy. I do not agree with this because I have the belief that research questions drive the methodological selections, not philosophical perspectives, and also because the development of research questions are likely to be situated within our own philosophical perspective of reality.


If you study a research question and sub questions including the language used to construct a research question, it can be clearly observed that a particular question shall determine the particular methodology and not a particular philosophy. What should happen at the research question development level is that a research problem has already been identified and from that problem comes a certain assumed philosophical perspective. The research questions come from the research problem therefore it appears that within pragmatism, the research problem is largely ignored. But I believe that it is the research problem that should be the initial focus of any research project, not the research question, and this is where pragmatism crumbles from what I can currently understand.


Third Reason: Outcome Focused

Pragmatism is product, outcome focussed; it seeks not to increase understanding about a problem area or explore factors within that problem area, but to cause some sort of change at practice level for example in Education this would be some sort of change to teaching practice.

My Ph.D. project does not concern itself with changing something at the practical level, although the findings could be interpreted in the future as being able to create a change but this is not a direct aim of the Ph.D. My Ph.D. project is to explore certain learning processes in ways that have not been explored before in order to increase understanding of the identified research problem and present a solution to that problem, and through its application develop more substantial understanding of research phenomena. The research is due to contribute new discussions towards philosophical considerations and also present new discussions for the methodological level within Educational research. It also aims to develop understanding of the phenomena through deductive and inductive processes along with analysing and exploring the structures and mechanisms that influence or causes an effect to happen on changes to variables and experiences within natural settings and not experimental settings. Pragmatism therefore would not be appropriate.


Summary

Pragmatism is not a suitable philosophical perspective for my research due to the main reason that it is not used to explore research problems and increase our understanding of interested phenomena, but is used to cause a change at practice level. Additionally, I do not agree with discounting philosophical and methodological considerations and also I do not agree with the apparent assumption that research questions drive the selection of philosophy.


March 14, 2016

Mixed Methods: Post Positivism Is No Longer Considered Appropriate


Description of and arguments against Post Positivism


Post positivism is now no longer among the set of philosophies considered appropriate for my Mixed Methods research due to my stance against philosophies that advocate pure quantitative or qualitative approaches to exploring social reality within educational contexts.


Simply put, post positivism is an extension of positivism; that it still adheres to the main concepts and principles of Positivism but modifies them at the ontological and epistemological levels but mirrors positivism at the methodological level. This modification of the concepts of positivism enables post postivism to accommodate a level of uncertainly, subjectivity, complexity and human experiences therefore recognising that absolute and certain truth about reality is not achievable. Giddings and Grant (2007) called Post Postivism a “lite” version of positivism, stating that the “post” prefix indicates a development or extension of positivism, and offer various examples of the way in which Post Positivism extends the concepts of positivism.


Positivism perceives reality as objective and independent of the mind but post positivism (along with other middle ground Philosophies) suggest that reality is embedded in its own social and cultural contexts and therefore researcher objectivity is impossible to attain. Another key area of divergence is theory verification: positivism emphasises hypothesis testing and theory experimentation in order to prove or disprove them whereas PostPositivists emphasises supporting evidence as a probability rather than being used as an absolute proof. These are just a couple of examples of where positivism and post positivism diverge at the ontological and epistemological levels. However, where they both converge and therefore enables the view of post positivism as being an extension of positivism is that it shares the same methodological assumptions.


Onwuegbuzie et al (2009) (along with many other researchers) confirms this methodological mirroring. Extent of fallibility and defeasibility of absolute knowledge accommodated by post positivism makes inferential statistics usable and applicable through inferential statistics, which utalises probabilistic approaches such as P Vales and Confidence Levels to understand reality. Post positivism also utalises qualitative data, hence post positivists can use Mixed Methods, but they use quantitative approaches to analyse qualitative data. As an example, content analysis is utilised to quantify thematic occurrences through frequency rates, and qualitative data is used in a way that enables the development of more effective quantitative approaches.


In all, post positivism is not a suitable Philosophical perspective for my Mixed Methods research because I am taking the stance that post positivism is not suited to exploring social phenomena and social reality, because everything to do with the social is too chaotic and dynamic to be represented and explained statistically. Post positivism also does not allow for much room in terms of theory building, and theory building or theorising is an aim of my Mixed Methods research as I attempt to theorise the social structures and aspects of reality that influences the phenomenon of interest. I like much of post positivism at the ontological and epistemological levels, but its mirroring of positivism at the methodological level makes it inappropriate for my Mixed Methods research. More discussions shall be found in later blog posts and more especially in my thesis.


So then: the Big Three!


With post positivism no longer being considered appropriate, this now leaves three middle ground philosophies that might be appropriate for my Mixed Methods research: complexity theory, pragmatism and critical realism. From what I have read of these so far, I have issues with pragmatism in that it appears to detach itself from philosophical and methodological concerns and places itself upon the research question. That is, the research question is the most important consideration within pragmatism and therefore all that must be done and used to answer that research question must be carried out. This has left pragmatism open to arguments that suggests it basically allows a free for all design approach with a “what works” attitude that has been questioned by a lot of writers, and I am inclined to agree with the concerns. More on this in future blog posts.

Critical realism and complexity theory appear to be the most attractive middle ground philosophies at the moment as I as yet cannot find any fault with them when it comes to exploring social reality, social phenomena, and assumptions made at the philosophical and methodological levels. Essentially, from what I can currently understand, critical realism does not concern itself with reality as a single, accessible, measurable layer (positivism / post positivism) nor does it concern itself exclusively with human experiences (interpretivism / constructivism) but it concerns itself with the underlying structures and mechanisms that produces what is found at the measurable layer and with human experiences. Now if I have interpreted this correctly, and I appreciate that what I have defined is probably a little lacking in substance but remember I am still learning and exploring this, then this makes critical realism highly applicable for substantial exploration of the social reality. Structures and mechanisms of social reality and their influence on what occurs within this social reality are highly complex and interrelated therefore complexity theory could also play a part in this structural mess.


I do perceive social reality and explorations of social reality to be highly complex and extremely uncertain, and the key to understanding the phenomenon of interest is to consider those underlying structures and mechanisms instead of constantly exploring just what is observable.


Fun stuff isn’t it? It was all a bit scary when I first started exploring Mixed Methods at this level but the more I explore the Philosophy of Mixed Methods the more interesting I find it! Lots to read and think about!


References


Giddings, L.S., Grant, B.M (2007): A Trojan Horse For Positism? A Critique Of Mixed Methods Research, Advances in Nurse Science, 30 (1), 52 – 60


Onwuegbuzie, A.J., Johnson, R.B., Collins, K.M.T. (2009): Call For Mixed Analysis: A Philosophical Framework For Combining Qualitative And Quantitative Approaches, International Journal Of Multiple Research Approaches, 3, 114 – 139


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