Choosing an appropriate research philosophy is an important part of research methodology. In fact as Guba & Lincoln, (1982) has propounded, philosophical paradigm within a research holds utmost importance, as it is the “basic belief system or world view that guides the investigation” (p. 105).The term philosophy in research refers to the development of knowledge and the nature of that knowledge.
Key nature of research philosophy
Research philosophy is a particular way of developing knowledge that defines philosophical paradigm. This development and understanding of knowledge depends on certain assumptions based on our perspective of the world, i.e. the practical considerations while selecting a topic of research (Holden & Lynch, 2004; Saunders, Lewis, & Thornhill, 2009).
For instance, the world perspective and practical consideration of a researcher are different. On one hand researcher may focus on product quality processes adopted by manufacturers of supply chain management. On other hand one may be concerned with psychological strategies applied by suppliers to lure consumers, in the same supply chain management sector.
While the former is concerned on facts, the other one is concerned with feelings. Hence, based on their different perspectives, their strategies and methods will also differ. This will depend on their (strategies) importance and usefulness in achieving the purpose of the study.
Philosophical approach enables the researcher to decide which approach should be adopted and why. Hence before selecting the appropriate research philosophy it is important to know about various types of philosophies in research (Saunders et al., 2009). The important assumptions in research philosophy explains about the researchers’ view regarding the world. These assumptions will determine research strategy and the methods of that strategy.
Intrinsic Elements of Epistemology
a) Positivism refers to working with an observable social reality and outcome is always law like generalisations, as is the case with physical or natural scientists. The researcher is said to adopt positivist research philosophy approach when s/he is more concerned with reality/facts associated with product manufacturing. This may include quality maintenance like machines, computers, raw materials and such others. Methodology which needs to be adopted here is highly structured involving hypotheses testing and statistical tools– a quantitative method.
b) Interpretivism based on understanding human nature and their varying role as social actors. It interprets the social roles of other individuals in accordance with our own set of meanings/perspectives. This particular position has been taken by the “feelings” researcher, who is keen in analysing human emotions and social role. For example, interpreting the psychological strategies undertaken by suppliers and demands of consumers. Naturalistic use the methods like, interview ,observation and analysis of existing texts. A qualitative approach is applied interacting with individuals in order to collaboratively construct a meaningful reality (Rowlands, 2005).
c) Realism refers to scientific inquiry emphasising on the reality projected by our sense as truth. It believes that objects have an independent existence from human mind. This element is more related to positivism. However, the view contrasts between direct realist and critical realist.
While direct realist believes what we see/perceive through our senses as real. On the other hand critical realist argues that what we see through our senses are only a picture of the real object and not the actual one itself. Precisely critical realists believe in virtual reality. In terms of direct realism, the quality standards used by the manufacturer through machines and raw materials seen by us are real and only fact behind the quality of the product. While in case of critical realism, what the research has perceived observing the manufacturing process is only a part of the greater quality. It varies from products to products and over time too.
Similarly direct realist emphasises on changing the social world within which participants live. Hence, use action research and participant observation. Critical realists use qualitative methods such as case studies and convergent interviews (Sobh & Perry, 2006).
Ontology and the nature of reality
a) Subjectivism emphasizes on–social phenomena are created from the perceptions and consequent actions of social actors. This social phenomenon is constantly getting revised through continuous social interaction. Interpretivist approach can be applied in developing psychological strategies to lure customers. Subjectivists believe that customers as social actors interpret a situation based on their perception of the world and through their interaction with the environment. Therefore, to make strategies influencing customers’ psychology, the suppliers need to understand the subjective reality of the customers and their motives in a meaningful way. Qualitative methodology, similar to interpretivism is applicable.
b) Objectivism believes that social entities exist in reality external to social actors. For example, the process of supply chain management (social entity) remains unchanged (reality) despite the change or replacement of all its actors including manufacturers, producers, logistics providers, suppliers and consumers (social actors). Similarly an organisation and its internal functioning (social entity) remain unchanged (reality) despite the change in its workforce (social actors). In this case Quantitative or mixed methodology is applicable.
Selecting either epistemology or ontology
Pragmatism emphasises in utilising both positivist and interpretivist philosophy and views both of them as continuum rather than contradictions. Precisely a pragmatist avoid going into argument on concepts of truth and reality. Rather they focus on studying the issues of interest and value and use different ways to bring out positive consequences. When a researcher wants to observe how quality of a product and various advertising strategies leads to increased satisfaction of the end use in a supply chain management process. Here all the role of manufacturers, logistics provider and supplier comes into purview and hence, a pragmatic approach will be appropriate than any one of the above two approaches. In this case mixed method is applied, including both quantitative and qualitative studies.
Making judgement using axiology
Axiology studies judgements about value or is the process of social inquiry. In other words, researchers demonstrate axiological skill by being able to articulate their values as a basis for making judgements about what research they are conducting and how they go about doing it.
For example, to conduct a study where you place great importance in data collected through interview. This suggests that you value personal interaction with your respondents more highly than their anonymous views expressed through survey data. Since methods essentially depend on the researcher’s axiological skills, it cannot be particularly defined.
Hence a statement of personal values held by the researcher in relation to the topic of interest is important to provide in the study. Similarly it is also related to parties like mentor, peers, university research ethics committee and such others. Such a process will clarify the researcher’s stand on the topic and his/her value of judgement on the choice of topic, data collected and ways of pursuing the research.
Appropriate philosophy for subjects other than natural sciences
Characteristic features of research philosophy and their underlying approaches explains appropriate applicability based on the research questions. However, researches related to:
- social science
Most of them use positivist and interpretivist approach, along with a realist reflection.
Heres another article by Susweta to help you understand better.
- Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1982). Epistemological and methodological bases of naturalistic inquiry. ECTJ, 30(4), 233–252.
- Holden, M. T., & Lynch, P. (2004). Choosing the Appropriate Methodology: Understanding Research Philosophy. The Marketing Review, 4(4), 347–409.
- Kothari, C. R. (2012). Research Methodology: An introduction. In Research Methodology: Methods and Techniques (p. 418).
- Rowlands, B. (2005). Grounded in Practice: Using Interpretive Research to Build Theory. The Electronic Journal of Business Research Methodology, 3(1), 81–92.
- Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2009). Research Methods for Business Students (5th ed.). Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited.
- Sobh, R., & Perry, C. (2006). Research design and data analysis in realism research. European Journal of Marketing, 40(11/12), 1194–1209.
Senior Analyst at Project Guru
Sudeshna likes to observe and pen down the goings-on in her surrounding, socially and politically. Having a Master's degree in International Relations, her interests lies in analyzing the occurrences of various countries. Previously worked as a teacher, she now holds the position of a Research Analyst in Project Guru and writes down her thoughts through various articles in the Knowledge Tank section.
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Research Philosophy and Research Paradigm
According to the definition given by Gliner and Morgan (2000) “paradigm is a way of thinking about and conducting a research. It is not strictly a methodology, but more of a philosophy that guides how the research is to be conducted (p.17)”. Research paradigm and philosophy comprises various factors such as individual’s mental model, his way of seeing thing, different perceptions, variety of beliefs towards reality, etc. This concept influences the beliefs and value of the researchers, so that he can provide valid arguments and terminology to give reliable results.
Easter-by-Smith et al, (2006) have discussed about three different components of research paradigm or three ways to think about research philosophy.
>> Three Components of Research Paradigm (Source: Easter-by-Smith et al 2006)
Epistemology » Common parameters and assumptions those are associated with the excellent way to investigate the nature of the real world.
Ontology » Common assumptions that are created to understand the real nature of the society
Methodology » Combination of different techniques that are used by the researcher to investigate different situations.
It is necessary for the researcher to understand the philosophical position of research issues to understand the different combination of research methods. There are mainly three type of paradigm to understand the reality, Positivism, Interpretivism and realism.
The concept of Positivism is directly associated with the idea of objectivism. In this kind of philosophical approach, scientists give their viewpoint to evaluate social world with the help of objectivity in place of subjectivity (Cooper and Schindler 2006). According to this paradigm, researchers are interested to collect general information and data from a large social sample instead of focusing details of research. According to this position, researcher’s own beliefs have no value to influence the research study. The positivism philosophical approach is mainly related with the observations and experiments to collect numeric data (Easter-by-Smith et al 2006).
Interpretivism can be referred as the Social Constructionism in the field of management research. According to this philosophical approach research give importance to their beliefs and value to give adequate justification for a research problem (Easterby- Smith et al. 2006). With the help of this philosophical, researchers focus to highlight the real facts and figures according to the research problem. This kind of philosophical approach understand specific business situation. In this approach, researchers use small sample and evaluate them in detail to understand the views of large people (Kasi 2009).
This research philosophy mainly concentrates in the reality and beliefs that are already exist in the environment. In this philosophical approach, two main approaches are direct and critical realism (McMurray, Pace and Scott 2004). Direct reality means, what an individual feels, see, hear, etc. On the other hand, in critical realism, individuals argue about their experiences for a particular situation (Sekaran and Bougie 2010). This is associated with the situation of social constructivism, because individual tries to prove his beliefs and values.
Cohen, L. Manion, L. and Morrison, K.R.B. (2007) Research methods in education, 6th Edition. Routledge.
Cooper, D.R. and Schindler, P.S. (2006) Business Research Method, 9th Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill Irwin.
Kasi, P. (2009) Research: What, Why and How? A Treatise from Researchers to Researchers, 1st Edition. Bloomington: AuthorHouse.
Saunders, M. et al. (2007) Research methods for business students, 4th Edition. London: Financial Times Prentice Hall.
Sekaran, U. and Bougie, R. (2010) Research Methods for Business: A Skill Building Approach, 5th Edition. Hoboken, N.J./Chichester: John Wiley and Sons.div>
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