Written by Dr. Hannes Nel, MBL; D. Com; D. Phil
gradually became popular from the 1950s onwards. Instead of relying on one
approach to knowing, post-modernists support a pluralistic epistemology which
utilises multiple ways of knowing. Post-modernism is more than just a
philosophical movement or school of thought based on a definite point of view,
value system or goal. It is applied mainly in the artistic and social sciences,
although it has also gained acceptance in other fields of learning, for example,
economics, architecture, etc. Different from modernism, which is technicist in
nature, post-modernism is critical but also interpretive.
Post-modernism regards knowledge as fundamentally fragmented and
unstable. It rejects the possibility that we can have objective knowledge. Any
research should question the validity and accuracy of current knowledge, and
the paradigms that are used with research methods should be articulated to the
manner in which this is achieved.
Post-modernism questions the existing knowledge upon which we base our
thinking and deconstructs this to convey a different way of interpretation and
reality. Narratives of truth and knowledge, text or written content, previous
authority sources of power, for example, the church and government are
deconstructed. Language is fluid and arbitrary and rooted in power or knowledge
relations. Meaning is, therefore, vague and the result of deconstruction
without scientific proof. Following on from this reasoning, post-modernists
caution that we should be careful with generalisations, seeing that events and
phenomena are mostly only true in a particular context or point in time or
values the subjective and multiple opinions of individuals and communities
rather than predetermined rules for action. It assigns value to multiple
meanings rather than the single, authoritative voice of the expert researcher.
This is because what we call knowledge has to be made with the linguistic and
other meaning-making resources of a particular culture, and different cultures
can see the world in different ways.
knowledge of reality bears the mark of human culture, personality and biology,
and these cannot be separated from what a specific group of people or culture
would call knowledge or truth. Post-modernism argues that what we call
knowledge is a special kind of story that puts together words and images in
ways that portray the perspective of a particular culture or some relatively
powerful members of that culture.
to post-modernists universal, objective truth does not exist. All judgements of
truth exist within a cultural context. This is sometimes also called “cultural
relativism”. Stated differently, our endeavour is not to find absolute truth or
facts, but the best approximation of truth as it applies to a specific group in
a specific situation and a specific time. This does not mean that just anything
can be accepted as truth.
reject the idea of a fixed, universal and eternal foundation to reality. They
argue that because reality is in part culturally dependent and culture changes
over time and varies from community to community, we can logically assume that
reality is not the same for everybody. In addition, it is asserted that we
construct reality in accordance with our needs, interests, prejudices and
power is distrusted, post-modernists try to set up a less hierarchical approach
in which authority sources are more diffuse. The knowledge that we construct
refers more to probability than to certainty. It is constantly changing as each
individual or group gives a particular interpretation to it, reflecting
distinctive needs and experiences. For this reason, we have to deconstruct
previous authority sources of power and text to uncover the hidden or intended
meanings and discourse.
are seen as temporary and volatile, with the result that they should not be
regarded as an only truth. Reality is in part socially constructed with the
result that reality is the product of subjective human interpretation with no
sharp fact-value distinction. All factual statements reflect the values they
serve, and all value beliefs are conditioned by factual assumptions. What we
call facts is only somewhat less value-determined, but they are not independent
idea of a socially constructed reality leads directly to a radical shift in the
idea of method. Some post-modernists hold that a research method not only
discovers a part of reality, it simultaneously constructs it. No longer do we
see ourselves as seeking to uncover a pre-existing reality, but rather as
involved in an interactive process of knowledge creation. As researchers, we
are part of developing an explanation and understanding of reality and life.
What we arrive at is in part autobiographical: it reflects our personal
life-story and our interpretation of the meaning of life.
terms of research, convention is challenged, research approaches are mixed,
ambiguity is tolerated, diversity is emphasised, innovation and change are
embraced, and multiple realities are focused on. It is a broad term that
encompasses many different research methods, most of them valuing uncertainty,
disorder, indeterminacy and regression rather than progress.
rejects the emphasis on rational discovery through the scientific method. It
replaces rational discovery through scientific research with respect for
difference and a celebration of the local at the expense of the universal.
is often associated with post-structuralism. It can include elements of
pre-modernism and modernism along with many other ways of knowing, for example,
intuition, relational and spiritual. Generally, post-modernism accepts the
basic ontological assumption of relativism and claims that there can be no
“objective” or final truth as all “truth” is a socially constructed entity.
Although post-modernism accepts some elements of modernism, the issue of
objective truth is not shared by them.
and science are seen by some as simply myths created by people. It, therefore,
rejects the notion that science can be viewed as objective. It consists of a
loose alliance of intellectual perspectives which collectively pose a
challenging critique of the fundamental premise on which modernism,
specifically the scientific research method, is based. Therefore the notion
that science, or scientism, is the paradigm of all true knowledge is rejected.
researchers, favouring paradigms such as scientism and positivism, claim that
post-modernism questions existing knowledge on account of opinions, perceptions
and presuppositions that are not corroborated by substantial and authoritative
evidence. This, they feel, renders research, making use of the post-modernist
paradigm, unscientific. Post-modernism, they feel, is based on an anti-realist,
subjective ontology, because the formulation of facts is based on human
proponents of post-modernism do not always agree on what scientific research
really means. There are progressive and conservative post-modernists. Some
post-modernists seek reaction while others seek resistance. Then there are
those who strive for reform and others who like to disrupt the status quo. All
post-modernists do not agree to the claim that reality is a human construct.
all researchers support the idea of post-modernism. According to the opponents
of post-modernism, the approach is too tentative, too inconclusive and too
frivolous. Some academics feel that post-modernism adds nothing to analytical
or empirical knowledge because it is not based on any principles and supports
no consistent and new theories. While some regard post-modernism as not
sufficiently objective, there are also those who feel that it is not
ability of post-modernism to generate truth is questioned because, like any
research, findings need to be reported. Post-modernists are of the opinion that
the use of language (to write research reports) damages the accuracy of what is
shared because language cannot relate reality accurately.
is the last article on research paradigms that I will post because for the remainder
of the year I will be occupied elsewhere. My book, entitled “Preparing Qualitative
Research Reports” has now been published. The chapter on research paradigms discusses
the nineteen articles that I posted to date as well as nine others. Together
they constitute one of eleven chapters. The book is structured in such a manner
that post-graduate students studying towards a master’s or doctoral degree can
save themselves lots of time and effort by following the sequence of the book
while writing their research reports. Additional information on how to order
copies can be found at www.mentornet.co.za