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Ontology refers to the philosophy of the existence and
nature of phenomena.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with
how knowledge of such phenomena is acquired, and what
counts as knowledge.

Positivism refers to the school of thought that the only true
or valid form of knowledge is that which is scientific.
The principles and methods of the natural sciences (such as
chemistry or physics) are used to study human behaviour,
which in itself is objective and tangible in nature.
The researcher can observe human behaviour and measure
facts, and laws or theories of behaviour can be developed.
Concepts such as feelings, emotions, beliefs and so on have
no place in research as they cannot be directly observed or
measured, they are unreliable and they are not constant over

Measurements should be objective.
This approach involves precise measurements, which can
be controlled or manipulated by the researcher.
Others could see the same evidence for themselves and
reach the same conclusions.
Such exact measurement allows statistical analysis which
provides an impartial and precise answer.
Careful research designs can show causal relationships,
for example X causes Y.
The researcher has no influence on the findings, and has
no personal influence on the results.

Natural scientists, together with the type of philosophers of
science who are deeply committed to the belief in the
primacy of law-like natural sciences, have used all their
intellectual strength and their social power in order to
convince others that the method of the natural sciences. . .
is the only legitimate method of scientific discovery. The
defenders of this view, as a rule, have very little experience
in social science research. . . It needs to be said, therefore,
clearly and unequivocally, that it is possible to advance
knowledge and to make discoveries in the field of sociology
with methods which can be very different from those of the
natural sciences. The discovery, not the method, legitimises
research as scientific. (Elias 1986, p.20)
Sport is a social phenomenon, that is those involved in
sports are acted upon by a number of external social forces,
but also have free will to respond to such forces in an active
way, and are not inanimate objects.
We all have, to differing extents, freedom to act in a number
of different ways, and positivism does not take into account
intangible concepts related to this freedom.
Thus behaviour cannot can be understood in terms of direct
causal relationships.

Concepts such as feelings, and emotions form the basis of
the interpretative approach. They are not measured
numerically such an approach would argue that these
concepts are too complex to be reduced to numbers.
Rather, they are measured using words, statements and
other non-numerical measures, collecting data from the
viewpoint of the participant.
The data is then interpreted by the researcher, who
attempts to uncover meanings, values, explanations and so
This approach also avoids any search for truth, instead
seeking understanding.


Closely associated with positivist approach.
Data in numerical form.
Involves measurable quantities.
Often collected on a single occasion.

Qualitative research uses non-numerical data.
Data in the form of words that have to be interpreted by
the researcher that is relevant.
Aims to capture meanings or qualities that are not
quantifiable, such as feelings, thoughts, experiences
and so on.
Often collected over an extended time period.

Placing a frequency count after a category of
experiences is tantamount to saying how important it
is; thus value is derived by number. In many cases,
rare experiences are no less meaningful, useful, or
important than common ones. In some cases, the
rare experience may be the most enlightening one.
(Krane et al. 1997, p.214)

Blending qualitative and quantitative methods of research
can produce a final product which can highlight the
significant contributions of both. (Nau 1995, p.1)

Qualitative data can be used to support and explicate the
meaning of quantitative research. (Jayaratne 1993, p.117)


Linking types of data provides a way to use statistics, the
traditional language of research, along with anecdotes
and narratives for further clarity in understanding
physical activity involvement. Descriptive statistics do not
tell the meanings of physical activity. In-depth interviews
alone are not necessarily representative of the sample.
Together, however, linking the data gives a bigger picture
of some of the issues.
(Henderson et al. 1999, p.253)

1. One may facilitate the other thus a piece of
quantitative research may identify the existence of a
particular occurrence that could then be explained through
the collection of qualitative data.

2. Both approaches investigate the same phenomenon.
Quantitative methods may be used to collect relatively
simple, or shallow numerical data from a large sample,
whereas qualitative methods may collect rich data from a
smaller sample.

1. A statement regarding the theory used to underpin the
2. A statement deduced from that theory that would suggest,
if the theory is true, the relationship between two or more
variables a hypothesis.
3. Collecting data to test this hypothesis.
4. Using the results to confirm, modify or refute the theory
used to develop the hypothesis.

1. Collection of data with no prior theory or hypothesis.
2. Analysis of data.
3. Development of theory or explanation from the data.

1. Can I measure the phenomenon I am interested in
numerically? Or is this inappropriate?
2. Am I concerned only with measurable facts?
3. Am I concerned with the individuals views or
explanations of what is happening?
4. Do I think that the truth is different for each individual,
and that I cannot develop scientific laws of behaviour?
5. What would I be happier doing in terms of positivist or
interpretative research?

If you answer yes to the first two and no to the next two
questions, then you are likely to follow a positivist,
quantitative approach. If you responded no to the first two
and yes to the next two, then you are likely to follow an
inductive, qualitative approach.


1. Two broad approaches to the nature of knowledge exist
positivism and interpretivism.
2. Positivists adhere to the tenets of the natural sciences and
view behaviour as directly measurable and explainable.
3. Interpretivists suggest that individuals have freedom to act
in particular ways, and that they experience things differently.
Thus, the researcher has to interpret reality from each
individuals experiences.

4. Distinctions can also be made between quantitative and
qualitative research. Quantitative research is based upon
numerical measurement and analysis. Qualitative research is
based upon non-numerical analysis of words, feelings,
emotions and so on.
5. Research may follow a deductive or an inductive process.
Deductive research involves the testing of a predetermined
theory, explanation or hypothesis. Inductive research
generates the explanation from the data collected.