Sunday, October 18, 2009
Conflicting Paradigms - Research Methods in the Social Sciences
Positivism vs. Post-Positivism
In class, we learned that Positivism is “a system of philosophy that excludes everything from consideration except natural phenomenon and their interrelationships.” There is also a verifiability principle which means that all results obtained can potentially be tested for their validity. Positivists use statistical methods to analyze data and conduct research using a large sample population from which results can be generalized. Studies are objective and quantitative, and rely on scientific methods. Functionalists usually rely on positivism. Just as functionalism has been recently rejected, so has positivism.
Within the field of Social Science, there are many limitations to this type of research. One of the most obvious limitations is the fact that humans and society are very complex and it is hard to reduce the human experience to variables. There would be too many. Also, it is very hard to generalize data because there are so many individual differences between different members of society. It is also difficult to control the research and nearly impossible to replicate some events to attempt to generalize and verify certain phenomena.
Instead, we might look to Post-Positivism which includes more qualitative research such as Naturalistic Inquiry and Ethnographic Research. Naturalistic inquiry basically rejects positivism by rejecting causality, statistical analysis, prediction, deduction, absolutes, and the forcing of social phenomena into variables. Naturalistic inquiry is qualitative, carried out in a natural setting, purposive as opposed to random sampling, and involves the subjects being observed. When conducting ethnographic research, the observer uses continuous observation to record everything that occurs in the setting under study. Research is also contextualized.
At first, I thought this qualitative method of research made the most sense and didn’t see a problem with it. After all, one of my main peeves about sociology is that is seems like everyone is trying to generalize everything and determine how all of society functions when in actuality you can’t put society in a box and research and findings should be based on context (in my opinion, there are always exceptions). Apart from being contextualized, this type of research offers data that is based on observation, hopefully providing a complete picture. That is why I liked this method. However, some disadvantages were presented. These included observer biases, difficulty in recording absolutely everything that is observed, long hours, costly studies, requirement of highly polished language skills, difficulty in quantifying and interpreting field notes, and potential role conflicts on the part of the observer.
After considering all of the advantages and limitations of both paradigms, I would agree that both can be valuable and one may not necessarily be better than the other. Specific studies may require one or the other, or both methods. Also, it is definitely an asset to understand these advantages and limitations when reviewing research. All types of research can be put together to provide us with an accurate conclusion.