Research Paradigms

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The design of a research study begins with the selection of a topic and a paradigm. A paradigm is essentially a worldview, a whole framework of beliefs, values and methods within which research takes place. It provides a conceptual framework for seeing and making sense of the social world; to be located in a particular paradigm is to view the world in a particular way. A paradigm stands for the entire constellation of beliefs, values and techniques, shared by the members of a community.

The significance of paradigms is that they shape how we perceive the world and are reinforced by those around us, the community of practitioners. Within the research process the beliefs a researcher holds will reflect in the way they research is designed, how data is both collected and analysed and how research results are presented. For the researcher it is important to recognise their paradigm, it allows them to identify their role in the research process, determine the course of any research project and distinguish other perspectives. Therefore, paradigms are never right or wrong but merely different ways of looking at society.  In that respect, they are to be judged as useful or useless in specific situations only.

1 Macro theory and micro theory

Macro theory deals with large, aggregate entities of society or whole societies. e.g. struggle between economic classes, international relations

Micro theory deals with issues at the level of individuals and small groups. e.g.

dating behavior, jury deliberations, student faculty interactions

2 Early positivism

The early positivist paradigm of exploring social reality is based on the philosophical ideas of the French philosopher August Comte, who emphasized observation and reason as means of understanding human behavior. According to him, true knowledge is based on experience of senses and can be obtained by observation and experiment. Positivistic thinkers adopt his scientific method as a means of knowledge generation. Hence, it has to be understood within the framework of the principles and assumptions of science. These assumptions are determinism, empiricism, parsimony, and generality.

• ‘Determinism’ means that events are caused by other circumstances; and hence, understanding such casual links are necessary for prediction and control. • ‘Empiricism’ means collection of verifiable empirical evidences in support of theories or hypotheses. • ‘Parsimony’ refers to the explanation of the phenomena in the most economic way possible. • ‘Generality’ is the process of generalizing the observation of the particular phenomenon to the world at large. With these assumptions of science, the ultimate goal of science is to integrate and systematise findings into a meaningful pattern or theory which is regarded as tentative and not the ultimate truth. Positivistic paradigm thus systematizes the knowledge generation process with the help of quantification, which is essential to enhance precision in the description of parameters and the discernment of the relationship among them. This paradigm regards human behaviour as passive, controlled and determined by external environment. Hence human beings are dehumanized without their intention, individualism and freedom taken into account in viewing and interpreting social reality. According to the critics of this paradigm, objectivity needs to be replaced by subjectivity in the process of scientific inquiry.

3 Ethnomethodology

Ethnomethodology, founded in the 1960s by the American sociologist Harold Garfinkel, studies the way in which people make sense of their social world, and accomplish their daily lives. Ethnomethodologists start with the assumption that social order is an illusion. While social life appears ordered, it is, in fact chaotic. Social order is constructed in the minds of actors as a series of impressions...
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