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Research philosophy

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Research Notes by Dr.Jasim Khan Tariq

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Research philosophy

  1. 1. Research Philosophy Dr. Jasim Khan Tariq
  2. 2. Research Philosophical Schools • Ontology • Epistemology • Axiology
  3. 3. 1. Ontology • Ontology and epistemology are two different ways of viewing the research philosophy. • Ontology can be defined as “the science or study of being” and it deals with the nature of reality. • Ontology is a system of belief that reflects an interpretation of an individual about what constitutes a fact. • In simple terms, ontology is associated with a central question of whether social entities need to be perceived as objective or subjective. • Objectivism (or Positivism) and Subjectivism (or Interpretivism or Constructivism) can be specified as two important aspects of ontology.
  4. 4. Objectivism • Objectivism (Positivism) “portrays the position that social entities exist in reality external to social actors concerned with their existence”. • “is an ontological position that asserts that social phenomena and their meanings have an existence that is independent of social actors”.
  5. 5. Subjectivism • Subjectivism (also known as constructionism or interpretivism) perceives that social phenomena is created from perceptions and consequent actions of those social actors concerned with their existence. • Formally, constructionism can be defined as “ontological position which asserts that social phenomena and their meanings are continually being accomplished by social actors”.
  6. 6. 2. Epistemology • Epistemology as a branch of philosophy deals with the sources of knowledge. • Specifically, epistemology is concerned with possibilities, nature, sources and limitations of knowledge in the field of study. • Epistemology can be branded as the study of the criteria by which the researcher classifies what does and does not constitute the knowledge.
  7. 7. • Sources of knowledge related to business research in particular can be divided into the following four categories: • 1.Intuitive knowledge is based on intuition, faith, beliefs etc. Human feelings plays greater role in intuitive knowledge compared to reliance on facts. • 2.Authoritarian knowledge relies on information that has been obtained from books, research papers, experts, supreme powers etc. • 3.Logical knowledge is a creation of new knowledge through the application of logical reasoning. • 4.Empirical knowledge relies on objective facts that have been established and can be demonstrated.
  8. 8. • Research process may integrate all of these sources of knowledge within a single study. For example, intuitive knowledge can be used in order to select a specific problem to be explored within a selected research area, whereas authoritative knowledge is gained during the process of literature review. Moreover, logical knowledge is generated as a result of analysing primary data findings, and conclusions of the research can be perceived as empirical knowledge
  9. 9. • Epistemology has many branches and include essentialism, historical perspective, perennialsm, progressivism, empiricism, idealism, rationalism, constructivism and others. • Empiricism and rationalism can be specified as the two major constructing debates within the field of epistemological study that relates to business studies.
  10. 10. Rationalism versus Empiricism • The dispute between rationalism and empiricism concerns the extent to which we are dependent upon sense experience in our effort to gain knowledge. • Rationalists claim that there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience. • Empiricists claim that sense experience & sensory perception (5 senses) is the ultimate source of all our concepts and knowledge.
  11. 11. • Rationalists generally develop their view in two ways: • First, they argue that there are cases where the content of our concepts or knowledge outstrips the information that sense experience can provide. • Second, they construct accounts of how reason in some form or other provides that additional information about the world. • Empiricists attack the rationalists' accounts of how reason is a source of concepts or knowledge
  12. 12. Empiricism • Empiricism, in philosophy, the view that all concepts originate in experience, that all concepts are about or applicable to things that can be experienced, or that all rationally acceptable beliefs or propositions are justifiable or knowable only through experience. • This broad definition accords with the derivation of the term empiricism from the ancient Greek word empeiria, “experience.”
  13. 13. A posteriori vs. A priori • Concepts are said to be “a posteriori” (Latin: “from the latter”) if they can be applied only on the basis of experience, • Concepts are called “a priori” (“from the former”) if they can be applied independently of experience. • Beliefs or propositions are said to be a posteriori if they are knowable only on the basis of experience and a priori if they are knowable independently of experience. • Empiricism: the view that all concepts, or all rationally acceptable beliefs or propositions, are ‘a posteriori’ • Rationalism: all concepts, or all rationally acceptable beliefs are ‘a priori’
  14. 14. Rationalism • In epistemology, rationalism is the view that "regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge" or "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification". • Rationalism is defined as a methodology or a theory in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive.
  15. 15. ‘I think therefore I exist’ (Descartes) • Rationalists believed that reality has an intrinsically logical structure. • Rationalists argue that certain truths exist and that the intellect can directly grasp these truths. • Rationalists asserted that certain rational principles exist in logic, mathematics, ethics, and metaphysics that are fundamentally true • The rationalists had such a high confidence in reason that empirical proof and physical evidence were regarded as unnecessary to ascertain certain truths • There are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience
  16. 16. Axiology • Axiology is a branch of philosophy that studies judgements about the value. • Specifically, axiology is engaged with assessment of the role of researcher’s own value on all stages of the research process. • Axiology primarily refers to the ‘aims’ of the research. • This branch of the research philosophy attempts to clarify if you are trying to explain or predict the world, or are you only seeking to understand it.
  17. 17. • Axiology of research philosophies and relevant data collection techniques. • When discussing axiology aspect of the research philosophy in your qualitative research, you need to make your values known in the study and reports your values and biases as well as the value-laden nature of information gathered from the field.
  18. 18. Four Research Philosophies • Positivism • Realism • Interpretivism • Pragmatism
  19. 19. Positivism • Positivistic approaches to research are based on research methodologies commonly used in science. • They are characterised by a detached approach to research that seeks out the facts or causes of any social phenomena in a systematic way. • Positivistic approaches are founded on a belief that the study of human behavior should be conducted in the same way as studies conducted in the natural sciences (Collis & Hussey, 2003, p.52). • Positivistic approaches seek to identify, measure and evaluate any phenomena and to provide rational explanation for it. • This explanation will attempt to establish causal links and relationships between the different elements (or variables) of the subject and relate them to a particular theory or practice. • There is a belief that people do respond to stimulus or forces, rules (norms) external to themselves and that these can be discovered, identified and described using rational, systematic and deductive processes
  20. 20. • As a philosophy, positivism adheres to the view that only “factual” knowledge gained through observation (the senses), including measurement, is trustworthy. • In positivism studies the role of the researcher is limited to data collection and interpretation through objective approach and the research findings are usually observable and quantifiable. • Positivism depends on quantifiable observations that lead themselves to statistical analysis. It has been noted that “as a philosophy, positivism is in accordance with the empiricist view that knowledge stems from human experience. It has an atomistic, ontological view of the world as comprising discrete, observable elements and events that interact in an observable, determined and regular manner”
  21. 21. • In positivism studies the researcher is independent from the study and there are no provisions for human interests within the study. • Positivist studies usually adopt deductive approach, whereas inductive research approach is usually associated with a phenomenology philosophy. • Positivism relates to the viewpoint that researcher needs to concentrate on facts, whereas phenomenology concentrates on the meaning and has provision for human interest.
  22. 22. • Researchers warn that “if you assume a positivist approach to your study, then it is your belief that you are independent of your research and your research can be purely objective. Independent means that you maintain minimal interaction with your research participants when carrying out your research.” • In other words, studies with positivist paradigm are based purely on facts and consider the world to be external and objective.
  23. 23. • The five main principles of positivism philosophy can be summarized as the following: 1. There are no differences in the logic of inquiry across sciences. 2. The research should aim to explain and predict. 3. Research should be empirically observable via human senses. Inductive reasoning should be used to develop statements (hypotheses) to be tested during the research process. 4. Science is not the same as the common sense. The common sense should not be allowed to bias the research findings. 5. Science must be value-free and it should be judged only by logic.
  24. 24. Positivism as an epistemology is associated with the following set of disadvantages: • Firstly, positivism relies on experience as a valid source of knowledge. However, a wide range of basic and important concepts such as cause, time and space are not based on experience. • Secondly, positivism assumes that all types of processes can be perceived as a certain variation of actions of individuals or relationships between individuals. • Thirdly, adoption of positivism in business studies and other studies can be criticized for reliance to status quo. In other words, research findings in positivism studies are only descriptive, thus they lack insight into in-depth issues.
  25. 25. Realism • Realism research philosophy relies on the idea of independence of reality from the human mind. • As a branch of epistemology, this philosophy is based on the assumption of a scientific approach to the development of knowledge • Direct and Critical Realism
  26. 26. • Direct realism can be described as “what you see is what you get”. In other words, direct realism portrays the world through personal human senses. • Critical realism, on the other hand, argues that humans do experience the sensations and images of the real world. According to critical realism, sensations and images of the real world can be deceptive and they usually do not portray the real world.
  27. 27. • Direct realists accept the world as relatively unchanging. They concentrate on only one level only be it individual, group or an organization. • Critical realists, on the other hand appreciate the importance of multi-level study. Specifically, as a researcher following critical realism research philosophy you have to appreciate the influence and interrelationship between the individual , the group and the organization. • There is a consensus among researchers that critical realist is more popular and appropriate than direct realist approach due to its ability to capture the fuller picture when studying a phenomenon. Accordingly, if you have chosen realism as your research philosophy you are advised to assume the role of critical realist, rather than direct realist.
  28. 28. Interpretivism • Interpretivism, also known as interpretivist involves researchers to interpret elements of the study, thus interpretivism integrates human interest into a study. • Accordingly, “interpretive researchers assume that access to reality (given or socially constructed) is only through social constructions such as language, consciousness, shared meanings, and instruments”. • Development of interpretivism philosophy is based on the critique of positivism in social sciences
  29. 29. • Interpretivism is “associated with the philosophical position of idealism, and is used to group together diverse approaches, including social constructivism, phenomenology and hermeneutics; approaches that reject the objectivist view that meaning resides within the world independently of consciousness”. • According to interpretivist approach, it is important for the researcher as a social actor to appreciate differences between people. • Interpretivism studies usually focus on meaning and may employ multiple methods in order to reflect different aspects of the issue
  30. 30. • Interpretivist approach is based on naturalistic approach of data collection such as interviews and observations. Secondary data research is also popular with interpretivism philosophy. In this type of studies, meanings emerge usually towards the end of the research process.
  31. 31. • The most noteworthy variations of interpretivism include the following: • Hermeneutics refers to the philosophy of interpretation and understanding. Hermeneutics mainly focuses on biblical texts and wisdom literature and as such, has a little relevance to business studies. • Phenomenology is “the philosophical tradition that seeks to understand the world through directly experiencing the phenomena”. • Symbolic interactionism accepts symbols as culturally derived social objects having shared meanings. According to symbolic interactionism symbols provide the means by which reality is constructed
  32. 32. • In general interpretivist approach is based on the following beliefs: 1. Relativist ontology. This approach perceives reality as inter subjectively that is based on meanings and understandings on social and experiential levels. 2. Transactional or subjectivist epistemology. According to this approach, people cannot be separated from their knowledge; therefore there is a clear link between the researcher and research subject
  33. 33. Pizam and Mansfeld (2009) Assumptions Positivism Interpretivism Nature of Reality Objective, tangible, single Socially constructed, multiple Goal of Research Explanation, Strong Prediction Understanding, Weak Prediction Focus of Interest What is general, average and representative What is specific, unique and deviant
  34. 34. Disadvantages & Advantages • Main disadvantages associated with interpretivism relate to subjective nature of this approach and great room for bias on behalf of researcher. • Primary data generated in interpretivist studies cannot be generalized since data is heavily impacted by personal viewpoint and values. Therefore, reliability and representativeness of data is undermined to a certain extent as well. • On the positive side, thanks to adoption of interpretivism, qualitative research areas such as cross-cultural differences in organizations, issues of ethics, leadership and analysis of factors impacting leadership etc. can be studied in a great level of depth. • Primary data generated via Interpretivism studies might be associated with a high level of validity because data in such studies tends to be trustworthy and honest.
  35. 35. • Generally, if you are following interpretivism research philosophy in your dissertation the depth of discussion of research philosophy depends on the level of your studies. For a dissertation at Bachelor’s level it suffices to specify that you are following Interpretivism approach and to describe the essence of this approach in a short paragraph. For a dissertation at Master’s level discussion needs to be expanded into 2-3 paragraphs to include justification of your choice for interpretivist approach. • At a PhD level, on the other hand, discussion of research philosophy can cover several pages and you are expected to discuss the essence of interpretivism by referring to several relevant secondary data sources. Your justification for the selection of interpretivism need to be offered in a succinct way in about two paragraphs…
  36. 36. Constructivism • Constructivism is the recognition that reality is a product of human intelligence interacting with experience in the real world. • As soon as you include human mental activity in the process of knowing reality, you have accepted constructivism” Davis Elkind • Constructivism accepts reality as a construct of human mind, therefore reality is perceived to be subjective. • This philosophical approach is closely associated with pragmatism and relativism.
  37. 37. • Positivism argues that knowledge is generated in a scientific method • Constructivism maintains that knowledge is constructed by scientists and it opposes the idea that there is a single methodology to generate knowledge
  38. 38. Social Constructivism • Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge according to which human development is socially situated and knowledge is constructed through interaction with others. • The phrase was coined by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann in The Social Construction of Reality. • Based on a combination of Alfred Schutz' Sociology of Knowledge and Durkheim's concept of institutions, their theory aims to answer the question of how subjective meaning becomes a social fact.
  39. 39. • Social constructivism focuses on an individual's learning that takes place because of his or her interactions in a group. • A person's cognitive development will also be influenced by the culture that he or she is involved in, such as the language, history and social context
  40. 40. • 'Strong' social constructivism as a philosophical approach tends to suggest that "the natural world has a small or non-existent role in the construction of scientific knowledge".
  41. 41. • Constructivist philosophy stressing the importance of interactions in the construction of knowledge. • Each of us is shaped by our experiences and interactions. Each new experience or interaction shapes our perspectives and behavior. • Social constructivism extends constructivism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings. • Social constructivism is a theory of knowledge and learning which contends that categories of knowledge and reality are actively created by social relationships and interactions.
  42. 42. Pragmatism • Pragmatism research philosophy accepts concepts to be relevant only if they support action. • Pragmatics “recognize that there are many different ways of interpreting the world and undertaking research, that no single point of view can ever give the entire picture and that there may be multiple realities”.
  43. 43. • According to pragmatism research philosophy, research question is the most important determinant of the research philosophy. • Pragmatics can combine both, positivist and interpretivism positions within the scope of a single research according to the nature of the research question
  44. 44. Research Approach Ontology Axiology Research Strategy Positivism Deductive Objective Value-free Quantitative Interpretivism Inductive Subjective Biased Qualitative Pragmatism Deductive/Indu ctive Objective/Subj ective Value- free/Biased Qualitative/or Quantitative
  45. 45. Deductive versus Inductive • Deductive reasoning starts with a general theory, statement, or hypothesis and then works its way down to a conclusion based on evidence. • Inductive reasoning starts with a small observation or question and works it’s way to a theory or understanding or exploration by examining the related issues
  46. 46. Phenomenology • Phenomenological approach is research from the perspective that human behavior is not as easily measured as phenomena in the natural sciences. • Human motivation is shaped by factors that are not always observable, e.g. inner thought processes, so that it can become hard to generalize on, for example, motivation from observation of behavior alone. • Furthermore, people place their own meanings on events; meanings that do not always coincide with the way others have interpreted them.
  47. 47. • Phenomenology in business research studies ideas are generated from rich amount of data by the means of induction and human interests, as well as stakeholder perspective may have their reflection on the study. • A study that attempts to assess the impact of leadership style on employee motivation in an organization via conducting in-depth interviews with employees is a relevant example for research with a phenomenology philosophy.
  48. 48. • Advantages associated with phenomenology include better understanding of meanings attached by people and its contribution to the development of new theories. • Its disadvantages include difficulties with analysis and interpretation, usually lower levels of validity and reliability compared to positivism, and more time and other resources required for data collection.
  49. 49. Phenomenology:Adv vs disadv 1. Can look at change processes over time 1.Data gathering can take up a great deal of time and resources 2. Help to understand people’s meanings 2.The analysis and interpretation of data may be difficult 3. Help to adjust to new issues and ideas as they emerge 3.May be harder than positivist approach to control pace, progress and end points 4. Contribute to the development of new theories 4.Policy-makers may give low credibility to a phenomenological study 5. Gather data which is seen as natural rather than artificial
  50. 50. Positivism: Adv vs disadv 1.Wide coverage of the range of situations 1.Methods tend to be flexible and artificial 2.Can be fast and economical 2.Not very effective in understanding processes or the significance people attach to actions 3.May be relevant to policy decisions when statistics are exaggerated in large samples 3.Not very helpful in generating theories 4.Because it focuses on what is or what has been recently, it makes it hard for policy makers to infer what actions should take place in the future
  51. 51. Hypothesis • A proposition made as a basis for reasoning, without any assumption of its truth (ex: the hypothesis that every event has a cause)
  52. 52. Variable • Variable is an element, feature or factor that is liable to vary or change • A characteristic, number, or quantity that increases or decreases over time, or take different values in different situations • Two basic types are: 1. Independent variable: that can take different values and can cause corresponding changes in other variables 2. Dependent variable: that can take different values only in response to an independent variable
  53. 53. Research philosophy Epistemology: the researcher’s view regarding what constitutes acceptable knowledge Pragmatism Either or both observable phenomena and subjective meanings can provide acceptable knowledge dependent upon the research question. Focus on practical applied research, integrating different perspectives to help interpret the data Positivism Only observable phenomena can provide credible data, facts. Focus on causality and law-like generalizations, reducing phenomena to simplest elements Realism Observable phenomena provide credible data, facts. Insufficient data means inaccuracies in sensations (direct realism). Alternatively, phenomena create sensations which are open to misinterpretation (critical realism). Focus on explaining within a context or contexts Interpretivism Subjective meanings and social phenomena. Focus upon the details of situation, a reality behind these details, subjective meanings motivating actions
  54. 54. ` Thank You 

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