Slide 1: PART 1
EXPLAINING THE MEANING OF ONTOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY
IN QUALITATIVE RESEARCH WILLEM AND EVANTHE SCHURINK QUALITATIVE RESEARCH THE PHILOSOPHY OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH : THE PHILOSOPHY OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH While there are several issues that one needs to consider at the outset of a qualitative journey we believe that familiarity with the basic philosophical aspects underpinning qualitative research is a prerequisite. Too often researchers do not bother to ponder the philosophical underpinnings of their research. This often implies that they either find philosophical questions as non-relevant in their research settings, or take their own philosophical position as self-evident and known (Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2008, p. 11). THE PHILOSOPHY OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH (CONT.) : THE PHILOSOPHY OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH (CONT.) In the case of our everyday thinking, the question of existence is not dependent on our perceiving something directly. For example, we believe we have a brain although we will never see it, touch it, taste it, or hear it. We accept certain rules and follow certain conventions in the belief that it will allow us to organize and integrate our world into a shared community with others. For example, when we see a long piece of bark-covered wood with branches sprouting on one end and roots on the other, we know this means tree. We also have faith that other people in our culture share the same meaning for this object and will use the same word to express this meaning (Potter 1996, pp. 35-36) . THE PHILOSOPHY OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH (CONT : THE PHILOSOPHY OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH (CONT For most of us in everyday life, the words ontology and epistemology do not arise, nor do the questions they pose. Our lack of concern for them derives from axiomatic nature; they require us to take a position based on belief, not proof. Similar axiomatic questions include, Is there a supreme being? What is beauty?, and What is moral life? The answers to these questions are beyond fact and logic; they require an answer based on belief. Once we have recognized our belief, then we can use logic to fashion arguments and practices to follow from it. When these practices become established we need not think about them; we take them for granted.
However, when we enter the world of formal scholarship, it is essential that we examine the foundations of our thinking. When we do this, we discover that there exist alternative answers to each foundational question. Two scholars who hold different beliefs of ontology and epistemology may be interested in examining the same phenomenon, but their beliefs will lead them to set up their studies differently because of their differing views of evidence, analysis, and purpose of research. meaning (Potter 1996, pp. 35-36) . THE PHILOSOPHY OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH (CONT) : THE PHILOSOPHY OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH (CONT) It is important to understand yourself in terms of your ontology, which is the way you believe deep down how social reality should be viewed. “Ontology concerns the ideas about the existence of and relationship between people, society, and the world in general. Ontological assumptions embrace all theories and methodological positions” (Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2008, p. 13). As Bryman and Bell (2003, p. 19) correctly point out the central point here is “”…the question of whether social entities can and should be considered objective entities that have a reality external to social actors, or whether they can and should be considered social constructions built up from the perceptions and actions of social actors.”. Slide 6: Ontology:
Different viewpoints regarding ontology are logically competing, not complementary.
The key ontological questions for social researchers are: Should we view social reality as objective, external to people’s awareness, or should we view it as social constructs built up from the actions, experiences and perceptions of people?
Out of this arises the question: To what extent do people have a say in their social world?
There are two basic ontological beliefs:
there is an objective, external reality and the researcher maintains a detached, objective position;
reality can only be constructed and the subject should be actively involved.
“The conception of knowledge as a ‘mirror of reality’ is replaced by the conception of the ‘social construction of reality’ where the focus is on the interpretation and negotiation of the meaning of the social world.” (Kavale 1996:41) THE PHILOSOPHY OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH (CONT.) Slide 7: Epistemology
What do you regard as knowledge or evidence of things in the social world; what is your theory of knowledge; what are the principles and rules by which you decide whether and how social phenomena can be known, and how knowledge can be demonstrated?
Different epistemologies exist: positivism, interpretivism and constructionism
only phenomena or knowledge confirmed by people’s senses can be regarded as knowledge;
theory needs to generate testable hypotheses which will allow the explanation of laws;
knowledge is gained through gathering facts, which provides the basis for law;
science needs too be conducted value-free, i.e. objectively. THE PHILOSOPHY OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH (CONT.) Slide 8: Interpretivists believe:
The social sciences’ subject matter is fundamentally different from that of the natural sciences
A different methodology is required to enable the social researcher to appreciate the subjective meaning of social action (Brymam & Bell, 2003).
Traditions associated with interpretivism include: symbolic interactionism, postpositivism, phenomenology, ethnomethodology, postmodernism, feminism and critical approaches
The researcher can’t maintain a detached, objective position
Both researcher and subject should be actively involved in the meaning-making process and should be constructors of knowledge and not conveyers and receivers of it
Our epistemological and ontological perspectives should be consistent in order to guide us in generating knowledge and explanations about components of the social world. Some epistemologies have greater credibility within certain social science disciplines than in others THE PHILOSOPHY OF SOCIAL RESEARCH (CONT.) Slide 9: Here two basic assumptions are made:
human behaviour is explained from the outside by means of observation through the use of general scientific laws (“erklaren”);
humans are different from things. Human behaviour can only be understood from an insider's point of view (“emic”) by gaining insight into the meaning (“verstehen”) that the subject gives to his/her life-world.
QR aims to understand actors’ subjective meanings and interpretations to explain their behaviour (see Schwandt, 2007). Whether or not this is possible in a positivistic or post positivistic (interpretive or constructive) manner is the subject of much debate.
*Slides are based on the workshop reports of Sheffield Univ. (www.shef.ac.uk/bgpinqmr) THE PHILOSOPHY OF SOCIAL RESEARCH (CONT.) Slide 10: SECOND AREA OF PHILOSOPHICAL DISPUTE -- EPISTEMOLOGY
SECOND AREA OF PHILOSOPHICAL DISPUTE -- EPISTEMOLOGY
Epistemology is our everyday assumptions about what is true.
How do we determine the truth?
We deploy different epistemological assumptions, from various different psychological, social, cultural, theoretical contexts, to make sense of reality.
Epistemological objectivists assume that it is possible to observe the social world, and the behaviour of people objectively, that is, without contaminating what we see. Like positivists, they believe what we see is what there is. Provided that we have been suitably trained to observe rigorously, we can collect objective evidence to test the truthfulness of our theoretical concepts.
IS THIS POSSIBLE? Slide 11: THE THIRD PHILOSOPHICAL DISPUTE CONCERNS OUR ONTOLOGY
The key ontological question for social researchers is:
Should we see social reality as objective, external to people’s awareness, or should we view it as social constructs built up from the actions, experiences and perceptions of people?
There are three basic ontological beliefs in qualitative research:
there is an external reality or truth and the researcher should maintain a detached, objective position (objectivism);
reality should be interpreted through the meaning that research participants give to their life-world (interpretive);
there is no fixed reality or truth, reality can only be socially and personally constructed and the subject should be actively involved (constructivism). Slide 12: Your philosophical beliefs are more than just tools enabling you to collect particular types of data and answering your particular research question(s).
Taking a specific philosophical stance means that you are making certain assumptions about the nature of truth, human behaviour and representation of the “other”.
A philosophical approach can always be contested by those who have a different approach to the representation of the truth.
The following slides are based on the workshop reports published on the Internet (www.shef.ac.uk/bgpinqmr). THE PHILOSOPHY OF SOCIAL RESEARCH (CONT.) Slide 13: DESPITE THESE CONTESTING APPROACHES, QUALITATIVE RESEARCHERS ARE UNITED BY A DESIRE TO EXPLORE THE SUBJECTIVE INTERPRETATIONS AND MEANINGS PEOPLE GIVE TO THEIR EVERYDAY LIVES.
THUS QUALITATIVE RESEARCHERS SIMULTANEOUSLY HAVE THEIR OWN PHILOSOPHICAL DISPUTES WITH EACH OTHER CONCERNING EPISTEMOLOGY AND ONTOLOGY, AND THEREFORE THEY MAY BE CATEGORISED AS:
EPISTEMOLOGICAL SUBJECTIVISTS VS. EPISTEMOLOGICAL OBJECTIVISTS;
ONTOLOGICAL REALISTS VS. ONTOLOGICAL SUBJECTIVISTS. THE PHILOSOPHY OF SOCIAL RESEARCH (CONT.) Slide 14: THE CONSTRUCTION OF REALITY
Describe what you see. Slide 15: When you first saw this object did you automatically assume that it is a three dimensional object (a cube) - why?
Surely it is just as possible to see this as a flat mixture of oblongs and triangles..
What made you think that this is a three-dimensional object? You have learned through experience that such an object is a three dimensional cube.
This illustrates the role of socio-cultural, theoretical - physiological baggage we bring with us.
When I played around with it did you still see the object as a three dimensional cube? Why?
Does this experience prove or disprove the epistemological objectivist’s claim that we can observe what is “out there” in an objective, detached manner? (www.shef.ac.uk/bgpinqmr) Slide 16: Different interpretations of reality could be better understood and validated by the reader/ reviewer who is informed about our epistemological and ontological position in relation to our study, and by our explicit questioning of our involvement as researchers. Therefore we should continuously and critically interpret our interpretations.
Our epistemological and ontological perspectives should ideally be consistent in order to guide us in generating knowledge and explanations about components of the social world. CONCLUSION Slide 17: Reflexivity has become increasingly important in in qualitative research. In practice this means that you have to critically reflect on how you produce knowledge as a researcher, what kind of knowledge it is and how you can relate this new knowledge to other knowledge you may already have. This everyday reflection is a way to think through your research project throughout the entire process (Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2008, p. 12). Reflexivity Reflexivity (continued) : Reflexivity (continued) Reflexivity could thus be seen as the researcher’s attempts to make meaning of his/her research journey.
The construction of knowledge in research is therefore a reflexive process that could bring rigor to the study (Guillemin & Gillam, 2004). This ensures as Flick (2007: 64) states that qualitative research, including research with a post-modernistic paradigm should be developed and produced in the tensional field of (theoretical, conceptual, practical and methodological) creativity and (methodological) rigour in studying phenomena. Therefore quality should be located in the tensional field -- between being rigorous and being flexible. The goal of reflexivity in this sense has to do with improving the quality of the research (Guillemin & Gillam, 2004). READING MATERIAL : READING MATERIAL Bogdan, R. & Biklen, S.K. (2003). Qualitative research for education: An introduction to theory and methods. (4th ed.) Boston: Allyn & Bacon/Pearson Education Group. Inc.
Bryman, A. & Bell, E. (2003). Business research methods. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.
Eriksson, P. & Kovalainen, A. (2008). Qualitative methods in business research Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Flick, U. (2002). An introduction to qualitative research. (2nd ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Kvale, S. (1996). Interviews: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Lofland, J. (1976). Doing social life: The qualitative study of human interaction in natural settings. New York: Wiley.
Mason, J. (1996). Qualitative researching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Potter, W.J. (1996). An Analysis of Thinking and Research about Qualitative Methods. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Richards, L., & Morse, J.M. (2007). Readme first for a user’s guide to qualitative methods (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Schwandt, T.A. (2007). The Sage dictionary of qualitative inquiry. Thousand Oaks: Sage Slide 20: THE END