August 04, 2015

Research Paradigm or Worldview

Follow-up to What is axiology and how does it relate to ontology and epistemology? from CES PHD Support Group

Special guest

As you may know, our last meeting (on the 25th June) we had a special guest; Dr Michael Hammod who graciously agreed to join us for a discussion about research in general and the topic of research paradigm in specific.

This is a quick account of the key themes that were raised during that discussion:

The terminology

By now, I think you know that:

Epistemology means the study of knowledge and it comes from the Greek ἐπιστήμη, epistēmē, meaning "knowledge, understanding", and λόγος, logos, meaning, "study of").

Ontology means the study of reality, existence and being. From the Greek ὄν, on (gen. ὄντος, ontos), i.e. "being; that which is", which is the present participle of the verb εἰμί, eimi, i.e. "to be, I am", and -λογία, -logia, i.e. "science, study, theory"

Methodology means the study of methods applied in a field of study. From the French méthodologie. Surface etymology is method + -ology

A matter of disconnect or consistency

Sometimes, there is a disconnect between the way people write about these concepts and what they actually do. Which means that introducing these terms (specifically epistemology and ontology) causes confusion as much as it helps. This is especially true when the researcher spends a lot of time worrying about his/her epistemological and ontological frameworks.

Having said that, this is not a problem per se. But it could snowball and cause a set back in. so for now I will call it a complication.

Dr Hammond advises that researchers can counter this complication by trying to be consistent and not worry too much about the labels. Coming up with the label is a hard job to do especially that there is no consensus on what the terms actually mean. Take Case study for example, a classic example of a term that stands for many meanings.

But how does being consistent actually come to be in reality? Well if you self identify as an Interpretivist your questions would focus a lot about people’s perceptions and feelings. You can’t really be an Interpretivist and then question your data for an answer in the form of an ultimate truth.

Do not overthink it

cuttyCrotty talks about not bothering talking about ontology! He advises researchers to talk about epistemology. The reasoning for this is that there’s not much to add to your ontology that you can’t say under your epistemology. (see Michael J Crotty: The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process Paperback – 26 Aug 1998)

So for example: your hierarchical paradigm might look something like this

Ontology: Objectivism

Epistemology: Positivism

Methodology: Experimental methods

This is all very fine and dandy if you believe in objective facts. But when it comes to Interpretivism it gets more complicated. Say for example that your epistemology is Social Constructivism. First of all you have to beware that Social Constructivism means a lot of things to different people. It stands as a sociological theory and a theory of knowledge with major contributors including the likes of Vygotsky, Foucault, Wittgenstein and Habermas. Secondly figuring out the ontology that goes with that is a complicated dilemma.

A great tip

Dr. Hammond advises us to think about how the research questions reflect overarching ideas about the world. This is specifically correct for the research questions. Then try to be consistent with the question you ask and with your view of the world.

Practically speaking, theses are rarely if not never are torn apart over ontology and epistemology, so no need to over worry about it.

Is it Paradigm or Worldview

Finally, so far I have used the term “paradigm” and “research paradigm” to refer to what is essentially a worldview. It might as well be called the Worldview or Stance. This might be especially appropriate in social sciences. So, if you prefer to say my Research Stance or Worldview is this and that instead of Research Paradigm that’s fine. Personally, I will continue using the term “Paradigm” just to be consistent.

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