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Research philosophy

Research philosophy is an important part of research methodology. Research philosophy is


classified as ontology, epistemology and axiology. These philosophical approaches enable to
decide which approach should be adopted by the researcher and why, which is derived from
research questions. The important assumptions are present in research philosophy which explains
about the researcher’s’ view regarding the world. These assumptions will determine research
strategy and the methods of that strategy.

Research philosophy deals with the source, nature and development of knowledge. In simple
terms, a research philosophy is belief about the ways in which data about a phenomenon should
be collected, analyzed and used.
Although the idea of knowledge creation may appear to be profound, you are engaged in
knowledge creation as part of completing your dissertation. You will collect secondary and
primary data and engage in data analysis to answer the research question and this answer marks
the creation of new knowledge.

Each stage of the research process is based on assumptions about the sources and the nature of
knowledge. The research philosophy will reflect the author’s important assumptions and these
assumptions serve as base for the research strategy. Generally, research philosophy has many
branches related to a wide range of disciplines. Within the scope of business studies, in particular
there are four main research philosophies:
1. Pragmatism
2. Positivism
3. Realism
4. Interpretivism
Positivism
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 in an objective way. In
these types of studies, research findings are usually observable and quantifiable.
Positivism depends on quantifiable observations that lead to statistical analyses. It has been
noted, “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”.
Moreover, in positivism studies, the researcher is independent form the study and there are no
provisions for human interests within the study. Crowther and Lancaster
Second, argue that as a rule, positivist studies usually adopt deductive approach,
whereas inductive research approach is usually associated with a phenomenology philosophy.
Moreover, positivism relates to the viewpoint that researcher needs to concentrate on facts,
whereas phenomenology concentrates on the meaning and has provision for human interest.
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
external and objective.
The five main principles of positivism research 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.
The following are a few examples for studies that adhere to positivism research philosophy:

 A study into the impact of the global economic crisis of 2007 – 2009 on the brand equity of US-
based listed companies
 An analysis of effects of foreign direct investment on GDP growth in Vietnam
 A study of relationship between diffusion of innovation of mobile applications and saturation of
applications in a country

 Positivists prefer quantitative methods such as social surveys, structured questionnaires and
official statistics because these have good reliability and representativeness.

 Positivists see society as shaping the individual and believe that ‘social facts’ shape
individual action.

 The positivist tradition stresses the importance of doing quantitative research such as large
scale surveys in order to get an overview of society as a whole and to uncover social trends,
such as the relationship between educational achievement and social class. This type of
sociology is more interested in trends and patterns rather than individuals.

 Positivists also believe that sociology can and should use the same methods and approaches
to study the social world that “natural” sciences such as biology and physics use to
investigate the physical world. By adopting “scientific” techniques sociologists should be
able, eventually, to uncover the laws that govern societies just as scientists have discovered
the laws that govern the physical world.

 In positivist research, sociologists tend to look for relationships, or ‘correlations’ between


two or more variables. This is known as the comparative method.
Advantages and disadvantages of Positivistic research methods

Advantages of Positivistic research methods

 Suitable for research projects that require a structured and qualitative approach

 Good for research projects, for example, that are descriptive in nature, i.e. identifies and
quantifies the element parts of any phenomena: the ‘what’ aspects of research

 Standardization makes collation and codifying of gathered data easier

 Research methods easier to reproduce and for other researchers to test your conclusions.

Disadvantages of Positivistic research methods

 Highly structured research design imposes pre-arranged limits and boundaries to research

 Not a particular good approach to take if you are trying to explain why things happen

 Assumes that researchers can be totally objective, but researchers may allow their own
values, interests to influence the approach, for example, in the questions posed

 It is very difficult to capture the complex interplay of phenomena in a single measure

 You need to use a large sample to be able to make generalisations from results
Interpretivism (interpretivist) Research Philosophy:

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 interpretivist philosophy is based on the critique
of positivism in social sciences. Accordingly, this philosophy emphasizes qualitative analysis
over quantitative analysis.
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. Moreover, interpretivism studies usually focus on
meaning and may employ multiple methods in order to reflect different aspects of the issue.

 An Interpretivist approach to social research would be much more qualitative, using methods
such as unstructured interviews or participant observation

 Interpretivists, or anti-positivists argue that individuals are not just puppets who react to
external social forces as Positivists believe.

 According to Interpretivists individuals are intricate and complex and different people
experience and understand the same ‘objective reality’ in very different ways and have their
own, often very different, reasons for acting in the world, thus scientific methods are not
appropriate.

 Intepretivist research methods derive from ‘social action theory‘

 Intereptivists actually criticise ‘scientific sociology’ (Positivism) because many of the


statistics it relies on are themselves socially constructed.
 Interpretivists argue that in order to understand human action we need to achieve
‘Verstehen‘, or empathetic understanding – we need to see the world through the eyes of the
actors doing the acting.

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.
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

In general, interpretivist approach is based on the following beliefs:

1. Relativist ontology. This approach perceives reality as intersubjective 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.
Interpretivist advantages and disadvantages

Advantages
 They examine micro approaches that see the individual as having agency, not simply a
recipient of external social forces
 Enables us to see how social reality is constructed through meanings and negotiations

Disadvantage
 Verstehen (meaningful understanding) sociology assumes that all individuals engage in
rational behavior
 This understanding leads them to believe that individuals understand the motivations
behind their own actions
 Symbolic Interpretivism ignores the impact of structural elements on individuals
 Labeling assumes that social actors passively accept being labelled and tends to ignore
resistance labels
Basic differences between positivism and interpretivism

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 What is specific, unique, and
representative deviant

Knowledge generated Laws Meanings


Absolute (time, context, and value Relative (time, context, culture,
free) value bound)

Subject/Researcher relationship Rigid separation Interactive, cooperative,


participative

Desired information How many people think and do a What some people think and do,
specific thing, or have a specific what kind of problems they are
problem confronted with, and how they deal
with them
I Support Positivists

The first reason is that Positivists are interested in looking at society as a whole,
in order to find out the general laws which shape human action, and numerical data is really the
only way we can easily study and compare large groups within society, or do cross national
comparisons – qualitative data by contrast is too in-depth and too difficult to compare.

Numerical data allow us to make comparisons easily as once we have social data reduced down
to numbers, it is easy to put into graphs and charts and to make comparisons and find
correlations, enabling us to see how one thing affects another.

For example, Durkheim famously claimed that the higher the divorce rate, the higher the suicide
raste, thus allowing him to theories that lower levels of social integration lead to higher rates of
suicide (because of increased anomie).

The second reason for preferring quantitative methods is that Positivists think it is important
to remain detached from the research process, in order to remain objective, or value free.

Quantitative methods allow for a greater level of detachment as the researcher does not have to
be directly involved with respondents, meaning that their own personal values are less likely to
distort the research process, as might be the case with more qualitative research.

This should be especially true for official statistics, which merely need to be interpreted by
researchers, but less true of structured questionnaires, which have to be written by researchers,
and may suffer from the imposition problem.

Third reason is the positivist researcher observes relationship between small numbers of
variables and study them thoroughly so that he may make general notions relevant to real life.
Fourth reason is Positivist researcher’s focus is the observable phenomena.

“Working with an observable social reality…the end product can be law-like generalizations
similar to those produced by the physical and natural scientist”

Fifth reason is Positivist Paradigm puts emphasis on the idea that the techniques or

methodologies used by natural sciences are suitable to the social sciences.

There are some other reasons:

 Positivists recommend that scientific knowledge can be achieved through verified facts.

 The Positivist researcher tries to explain general laws applicable to all.

 The positivist researcher explains relationships between variable.

 The aim of positivist research is to explain and predict.

 Two important approaches of positivist research are an exploratory approach and a

confirmatory approach

 This approach is based on deductive method.


Concluding Points

Both are showing reality through different lenses. Therefore, to me mixed method is an

appropriate choice. Positivist and interpretivist both study the same phenomena but with

different questions. One paradigm puts emphasis on measurement of objective facts, and answers

what and how? While the other one, interpretivist, tries to observe each and everything by direct

observation with the help of interviews and participant observation. Therefore, by mixing both

methods together we will get better understanding of research.


References

http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/30646_mukherji_chp_1.pdf

http://researchonline.nd.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?filename=2&article=1030&context=these

s&type=additional9/12/2014

Lee, Aleen S.(Nov 1991). Integrating Positivist and Interpretivist Approaches to Organizational

Research, vol.2,page 342-365Institute of Operations Research and the management sciences

Filstead, William J.(….) Qualitative Methods: A Needed Perspective in Evaluation Research

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