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Research Paradigms and Masters Research Projects Why bother? Ivan Horrocks HEA workshop 7 November 2012.

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Presentation on theme: "Research Paradigms and Masters Research Projects Why bother? Ivan Horrocks HEA workshop 7 November 2012."— Presentation transcript:

1 Research Paradigms and Masters Research Projects Why bother? Ivan Horrocks HEA workshop 7 November 2012

2 Paradigm: a formal definition The term, derived from the Greek word meaning ‘pattern’, describes the theoretical or philosophical stance and accepted beliefs about the nature of reality and knowledge (ontology) and the ways in which reality is discovered and knowledge is derived and developed (epistemology) within a community of scholars...Today, three paradigms co-exist in the postmodern era – positivism, naturalism and critical theory. The terms ‘worldview’ or ‘research perspective’ are sometimes used instead of paradigm. Glossary to K800, K824, K825: OU Masters in Healthcare Research

3 Paradigm: a student friendly version? Put simply a paradigm is a perspective or point of view affecting what is recognised, known, valued and done. As such a paradigm advances both a set of assumptions about the world and a philosophical framework for the study of that world. Holding to a certain paradigm might therefore be described as subscribing to a particular “world view” T847: the MSc Professional Project

4 Why deal with paradigms? Students with certain educational and/or professional backgrounds appear unaware (or reluctant to acknowledge) them and therefore of how they unconsciously or consciously condition and shape their choice of research project and its design, implementation, analysis and conclusions. Consequences include: Tendency to try to cover up tensions between the beliefs and preconceptions of the student and the data and findings generated by their research. Mismatch between choice of methods for data collection and analysis and ontological standpoint. Lack of critical thinking (= bias) at all stages of the research process. Leading to fundamental weaknesses in the research project (result = fail grade) which are very difficult to address for resubmissions given the limitations on further research most students face.

5 But also...theories and concepts ‘...a good percentage of students are at best ambivalent about, and at worst anti theory. Or, to put it another way, the approach to explaining an event or phenomenon is simply to describe it....Analysis is restricted to drawing on personal experience and beliefs – what some people refer to as ‘common sense’ – however partial or biased this might be...’ ‘...the crucial point is that for a Masters module such as T847, it is essential that you engage with theories and concepts that are relevant to the ideas you have for your research project...Theories and concepts are therefore integral to your work from start to finish.’ T847 Block 1

6 And other related stuff Such as: “theories” of research Universalist (i.e. certain approaches and methods are superior to others no matter what the context – e.g. that quantitative methods are superior to qualitative) Versus Contingency (i.e. the choice of approaches and methods is contingent on the context) Research purpose (aim), questions or hypotheses – which is appropriate to your research? Causality – successtionist (input-output) versus other approaches (e.g. systems thinking, realist: C+M = O, etc) Mixed methods and triangulation

7 An example of confusion Research question: How should key technology management tasks and decision making at Organisation X be linked into logistics service portfolio management? Methodology: Modified experimental/Manipulative The preferred paradigms aiming at the prediction, and hopefully control of a phenomenon is positivism or post positivism (von Wright, 1971; Hesse, 1980). Both positivism and post positivism are also the preferred paradigms if one wishes to generalize cause-and-effect patterns, and achieve rigor in terms of validity, reliability and objectivity (Koehler, 2005). In addition the author acted as ‘passionate participant’ (Lincoln, 1991). This is important to stress, as ‘those people most likely to be affected by, or involved in implementing, these changes should as far as possible become involved in the research process itself’ (Easterby-Smith et al., 1991).

8 The three paradigms: 1 Positivist - key characteristic Presumption that knowledge is truth than can be extracted from the empirical world through systematic, objective observation and measurement Use of a priori theory or hypotheses (formulation of hypotheses is key) Purpose of the research is the systematic investigation of whether or not the data gathered support the hypothesis or theory (deductive research) Central claim for research in this paradigm is that the findings can be generalised to other situations/contexts. Researcher aims to remain separate from the phenomena under investigation – maintaining an ‘etic’ position.

9 Positivist research approaches Experimental: identifying correlations and causal relations Surveys: Structured questionnaires or structured interviews (closed questions, determined in advance and designed to obtain data that can be compared). Descriptive surveys to describe the relationship between variables. Explanatory surveys test hypotheses or establish patterns of cause and effect. Case study research (see Yin’s work) Case studies that emulate the scientific method.

10 The three paradigms: 2 Naturalistic Crucial significance for researchers is that we accept that the purpose of science cannot be to create a single, all-encompassing account of social reality: the world in which we live is socially constructed. In practice two distinct perspectives about the role of the researcher: Interpretivist: researchers are assumed to be exploring a social world that cannot be fully understood, but that is nevertheless open to authentic representation, even though this is relative. Constructivist: researchers cannot avoid making their own constructions of the social world while investigating it. Research is therefore concerned with generating new knowledge in partnership with participants, and creating clear and authentic accounts as jointly understood by the participants and researcher.

11 Naturalistic research approaches Interpretivist Classical phenomenology (sometimes described as ‘eidetic’ – descriptive) Some forms of ethnography (where the researcher is portrayed as an observer rather than a co-constructor of knowledge) Some forms of case study research (based on realist assumptions that the social world can be mapped and analysed) Grounded theory (after Glaser, 1978, 1992) Constructivist Grounded theory (after Strauss and Corbin, 1998) Hermeneutic phenomenology Some forms of mini-ethnography Some forms of case study research

12 The three paradigms: 3 Critical Theory Long history (Kant, Hegel, Marx) but in 1930s defined as a social theory orientated towards critiquing and changing society as a whole (contrasting with the traditional – positivist – approach where theory is orientated towards understanding and explaining). Postmodern form of critical theory emerged in 1980s through 1990s, particularly in fields such as gender and cultural studies. Embodies constructivist and interpretivist preferences of naturalism, while at the same time updating traditional concerns with power, authority and injustice. Research often aims to be emancipatory to some degree or another. That is, it is designed to try to improve the conditions of individuals and/or group who are disadvantaged or exploited within society.

13 Critical theory research approaches Similar to naturalistic (i.e. non-positivist). The emphasis is on using an array of current social science research approaches but directing the focus and adjusting the techniques accordingly. Historiographies Ethnography Case studies Phenomenology Grounded theory Action research Surveys

14 Issues and conclusions Some students can be uncomfortable dealing with research paradigms as it involves being open about (or confronting) their underlying beliefs and values. More time has to be allowed for students to think through and discuss this aspect of their research and factor it in to the selection of their research approach and methods. Result: Less students undertake research that is fundamentally flawed, and thus produce fail grade final reports that are then difficult to rectify – even at resubmission stage.


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