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Pragmatism, Paradigms, and Research as Reflective Practice

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Presentation on theme: "Pragmatism, Paradigms, and Research as Reflective Practice"— Presentation transcript:

1 Pragmatism, Paradigms, and Research as Reflective Practice
Martyn Hammersley The Open University Doctoral Weekend, University of Greenwich School of Education, May 2013

2 Three Conceptions of the Proper Nature of Social and Educational Research
Research as pragmatic Research as paradigm-specific Research as reflective practice

3 Research as Pragmatic Commonsense meaning of ‘pragmatic’ = ‘matter-of-fact, sensible, down-to-earth, commonsensical, businesslike, having one’s feet on the ground, hardheaded, no- nonsense’. Social and educational research as a pragmatic matter: researchers must select from the full range of available techniques those that are ‘fit for purpose’ – those most appropriate for the research problem being investigated (see, for instance, Gorard, 2002)

4 Methods not Methodological Identities
A pragmatic orientation rejects the development of distinct methodological identities, for example researchers’ self- identifications as qualitative or quantitative researchers, as discourse analysts, action researchers, etc. Researchers are simply researchers. The terms ‘qualitative’, ‘quantitative’, ‘discourse analysis’, ‘action research’, etc refer to different methods that are useful for particular purposes.

5 Research as Paradigm-Specific
It is argued that any piece of research operates within a particular paradigm: a set of assumptions about the nature of what is being studied, how it can be understood, and what the purpose of inquiry is. And there are competing paradigms whose validity is ‘incommensurable’. [This meaning of the term ‘paradigm’ was developed by the philosopher and historian of science Thomas Kuhn (see Kuhn 1970; Hammersley 2007; Bird 2000; Sharrock and Read 2002).]

6 Implications of a Paradigmatic Approach
One must be aware of the conflicting paradigms that are available. Commitment is necessary to one or other of these, and the research must be framed in terms of the guiding assumptions of this paradigm. Commitment to a paradigm is not an instrumental matter, but derives from political or moral beliefs, or perhaps from aesthetic sensibility (see, for example, Lincoln 1990).

7 Interlude Which of these two orientations best fits what most researchers actually do? There is a great deal of pragmatism in how researchers go about their work. Indeed, it is almost impossible not to adopt a pragmatic orientation to some degree, or in some respects. At the same time, to a large extent, educational research is structured in terms of different ‘paradigms’, theoretical as well as methodological (see Hammersley 2008).

8 Conflicting Methodological Paradigms
Positivism Interpretivism ‘Critical’ research Constructionism (see Hammersley 2007 and 2013) The case of action research: technical (positivist), practical (interpretivist), and emancipatory (‘critical’) versions (see Kemmis 1993:186-7).

9 The Curious Case of ‘Mixed Methods’
Mixing methods can be seen as one of the consequences of a pragmatic approach to educational research. Mixed methods as a ‘third paradigm’. Pragmatism as a paradigm underpinning mixed methods Conflicting paradigms for mixed methods (see Tashakkori and Teddlie 2010)

10 No Recipes! There are no recipes for doing research, even though there are some books that might give you the impression that there are. In particular, neither of the following recipes works: Identify your research questions and do what is required to investigate them OR Choose your paradigm and follow it

11 Research as a Practice It cannot be reduced to the implementation of some explicit, pre-defined conception or plan: It relies upon tacit knowledge and judgment, what Aristotle called phronesis (see Dunne 1997) It is a process, involving adaptation and change It requires taking account of the particular character of particular circumstances But it also demands reflexivity

12 Reflexivity While research is a practical matter, it cannot be reduced to ‘following one’s instincts’ or even to trial and error. It is a complex practice. Moreover, reflection is required not just about what are the best means to achieve one’s research goals but also about what those goals should be. Research questions may need to be reformulated, thereby affecting the intended product of the research. Researchers progressively gain an understanding of what they are, and should be, doing only in the course of doing it!

13 Conclusion I began by outlining two contrasting ways of thinking about educational research: as an entirely practical matter, and as involving paradigmatic commitment. There is an element of truth in both: research is necessarily pragmatic in character, but at the same time it does rely on assumptions, and there is scope for reasonable, as well as unreasonable, disagreement about these. Given this, I suggested that a useful way of thinking about it is as reflective practice. However, this doesn’t solve all the problems! How much knowledge do you need about different philosophical assumptions, and how much do you need to discuss these in your research report or thesis? The answer to this question is the same as to those other perennial questions: ‘how much of the literature do I need to read/’ and ‘how much data do I need?’ It’s a matter of judgment, and what is required will vary across research projects, and it is only over time that you will come to be able to make a sound judgment about these things

14 Bibliography Bird, A. (2000) Thomas Kuhn, Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press. Dunne, J. (1997) Back to the Rough Ground: Phronesis and Techne in Modern Philosophy and in Aristotle, Notre Dame IN, University of Notre Dame Press. Gorard, S. (2002) Overcoming the methodological schism, Occasional Paper 47, Cardiff: School of Social Sciences. Available at (accessed ): Hammersley, M. (1996) 'The relationship between quantitative and qualitative research', in J Richardson (ed.) Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods for Psychology and the Social Sciences, Leicester, British Psychological Society Books. Hammersley, M. (2003) Making educational research fit for purpose? A hermeneutic response, Building Research Capacity , 5, pp2-5. Available at (accessed ): Hammersley, M. (2007) Methodological Paradigms in Educational Research. British Educational Research Association on-line resource. Online at (accessed ): Hammersley, M. (2008) ‘Educational research’, in G. McCulloch (eds.) The Routledge International Encyclopedia of Education, London, Routledge.

15 Bibliography Contd. Hammersley, M. (2013) What is Qualitative Research?, London, Bloomsbury Kemmis, S. (1993) ‘Action research’, in Hammersley, M. (ed.) Educational Research: Current Issues, London, Paul Chapman. Kuhn, T. (1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago, University of Chicago Press. Lincoln, Y. S. (1990) ‘The making of a constructivist: a remembrance of transformations past’, in E. G. Guba (ed) The Paradigm Dialog, Newbury Park, Sage. Sharrock, W. and Read, R. (2002) Kuhn: Philosopher of Scientific Revolution Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Symonds, J. and Gorard, S. (2010) ‘The Death of Mixed Methods: Research Labels and their Casualties’, paper given at The British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Herriot Watt University, Edinburgh. Available at (accessed ): Tashakkori, A. and Teddlie, C. (eds.) (2010) Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social and Behavioral Research, Second edition, Thousand Oaks CA, Sage.

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