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Research Methods CIRCLE Research Training Programme 2008


... understanding reality William Trochim, (2002) Research Methods Knowledgebase Key Features ... as general social science/business research Use seminal texts ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Research Methods CIRCLE Research Training Programme 2008

Research MethodsCIRCLE Research Training
Programme 2008
  • Research philosophy

Session outline
  • Why philosophy ?
  • Overview of research philosophies
  • Some more common philosophical approaches
  • How to determine your own research philosophy
  • Lets philosophise

Why philosophy ?
  • All research is based on assumptions
  • about how the world is perceived
  • about how we can best come to understand it.
  • Nobody really knows how we can best understand
    the world
  • Philosophers have been arguing about it for 1000s
    of years,
  • For us, as researchers, need to consider how we
    know about the world around us. What is our
    philosophical approach to knowledge?


Epistemology vs Methodology
  • Epistemology is how we come to know
  • Methodology is how we come to know
  • Epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge
  • Methodology is the practical ways, the methods
    used to gain knowledge
  • Inextricably linked of course

One philosophical view - positivism
  • the goal of knowledge is simply to describe the
    phenomena that we experience
  • study what we can observe and measure
  • Impossible to know about anything else
  • deductive reasoning to postulate theories that we
    can test
  • empiricism -- the idea that observation and
    measurement is the core of the scientific
  • Main method is the experiment, the attempt to
    discern natural laws through direct manipulation
    and observation
  • What makes this view of the world attractive?
  • Why have many researchers moved away from this

The enlightenment?Post-positivism
  • Rejection of positivist ideas has lead to an
    array of alternative approaches
  • One end of post-positivism
  • critical realism - there is a reality independent
    of our thinking about it that science can study.
    Recognizes that all observation is fallible and
    has error and that all theory is revisable
  • The other post-positivist extreme
  • Subjectivism - there is no external reality .
    Its all in our heads!

Post-positivism generally
  • Multiple measures and observations, each of which
    may possess different types of error,
  • triangulation across these multiple errorful
    sources to try to understand better what's
    happening in reality.
  • all observations are theory-laden
  • All researchers are inherently biased by their
    cultural experiences, world views etc
  • Most post-positivists are constructivists who
    believe that we each construct our view of the
    world based on our perceptions of it
  • objectivity by triangulation across multiple
    fallible perspectives. Thus, objectivity is not
    the characteristic of an individual, it is
    inherently a social phenomenon

Objectivity without positivism?
  • The best way for us to improve the objectivity
    of what we do is to do it within the context of a
    broader contentious community of truth-seekers
    (including other scientists) who criticize each
    other's work. The theories that survive such
    intense scrutiny are a bit like the species that
    survive in the evolutionary struggle. (This is
    sometimes called the natural selection theory of
    knowledge and holds that ideas have 'survival
    value' and that knowledge evolves through a
    process of variation, selection and retention).
    They have adaptive value and are probably as
    close as our species can come to being objective
    and understanding reality
  • William Trochim, (2002) Research Methods

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  • Phenomenology is sometimes considered a
    philosophical perspective as well as an approach
    to qualitative methodology. It has a long history
    in several social research disciplines including
    psychology, sociology and social work.
    Phenomenology is a school of thought that
    emphasizes a focus on people's subjective
    experiences and interpretations of the world.
    That is, the phenomenologist wants to understand
    how the world appears to others.

Key Features of Positivist and Phenomenological
Phenomenological paradigm Positivist paradigm
Basic beliefs Basic beliefs
Science is driven by human interest Observer is independent
The world is socially constructed and subjective Science is value-free
Observer is part of what is observed The world is external and objective
Researchers should Researchers should
Try to understand what is happening Focus on facts
Develop ideas through induction from evidence Formulate and test hypotheses
Focus on meanings Look for causality and fundamental laws
Look at totality of each situation Reduce phenomena to simplest elements
Preferred methods Preferred methods
Small samples investigated in depth or over time Take large samples
Use multiple methods to establish different views of phenomena Operationalise concept so they can be measured
Easterby-Smith, Thorpe Lowe 1994 pp. 27
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Considerations for successful research
Deductive vs Inductive reasoning
Circular model of research process
  • Inductive begin at A (observation/description),
    proceed to B (analysis), arrive at C
  • Deductive begin at C (hypothesis), proceed to A
    (gathering data to test hyp), proceed to B to
    test hyp against data

A observation/ description
B Analysis
C Explanation/ Hypotheses/ Theory
How to determine your own research philosophy
  • Consider your own research background/experience
  • Consider your topic (theoretical basis, research
    subjects, desired knowledge etc)
  • Read widely on research philosophy there are
    many often contrasting and contradictory views
  • Many more specific views eg relativism,
    subjectivism, hermeneutics, deconstructivism,
    constructivism, feminism etc.
  • Engage in philosophical debate with peers,
    supervisors, yourself
  • Show this in your thesis, building a case for
    your own philosophical stance
  • Let this then lead your methodology

  • There is no right or wrong research philosophy,
    but a well argued case for the one you prefer
    showing understanding of alternatives
  • Your research philosophy will guide your
    methodology and your overall approach to your PhD
  • Its hard but vital! An understanding of
    alternative philosophies will make you a
    much better

Further reading
  • Many books and articles on this
  • Look for ones in your area of research as well as
    general social science/business research
  • Use seminal texts as well as up to date
    books/articles the debate continues.
  • Look at the approaches of other researchers in
    your field of study

Review exercises
  • Read the short article Toward a research
    philosophy and critique the authors approach to
    research methodology
  • You are interested in examining management stress
    in particular kinds of organisations. You want
    to find out as much as you can about how it
    manifests itself in particular workplaces.
    In pairs
    debate whether this should be approached from a
    positivist or post-positivist/phenomenological
    perspective (one to play role of positivist other
    critical realist or phenomenologist)
  • Repeat the above for your own PhD topics.
  • Read All research is interpretive and consider
    the implications of this philosophical view