The Nature and Elements of Research Paradigms: Critical Race Theory

Written by Hannes Nel, B. Mil; BA Hons; MBL; D. Com (HRM); D. Phil (LPC)


Introduction. I will share 28 different paradigms that I regard as of importance to academic research, starting with behaviourism. Your comments, criticism, additions or endorsements of the articles will be appreciated. This is the third paradigm that I am discussing.

The purpose of sharing the articles with you is to also learn. After having done research and written for seven years, my book on qualitative research methodology is more or less ready for publication. However, the field of study is immensely vast and I need to do my utmost not to spread false information. So far I received no comments, feedback or suggestions on my articles. Please let me know if you find any mistakes or room for improvement.


Critical race theory. Critical race theory focuses on the application of critical theory in terms of race. It objects to the perception of racial power, especially where it is overtly or covertly supported by legislation, which renders it institutionalised.

Institutionalised racism is the structures, legislation, policies, practices and norms resulting in differential access and opportunities between racial groups. It manifests itself in any situation where needs exist, be it material, psychological, political, technological, social, economic or power needs. Intentional discrimination is opposed on all terrains where people are involved, for example universities, schools, employment in the private and public sectors, sport, etc.

Critical race theory favours an aggressive, race-conscious, approach to social transformation. Although the starting point is often simple racial equality, political and legislative transformation can be even more important objectives. Hidden motives can also be present, for example to gain the support of African countries for an international political agenda, opposition to the involvement of superpowers in the Middle East, South American countries, etc.

Not all critical race theory agendas are negative – it is also used to combat racial discrimination, facilitate the upliftment and growth of disadvantaged communities, redress of racial discrimination in the past, etc.

Although critical race theory originally applied to black people being discriminated against by whites, the opposite is also possible. Critical race theory also covers research where perceived discrimination of black people against white might call for investigation. In fact, it can be any group discriminating against the other who is often the minority in a country, region or community.

Critical race theory mostly investigates the achievement of racial emancipation and equality and can be addressed in any field of study, although social studies arguably embrace the paradigm the most. Historical and current incidents of racial discrimination are often used as evidence in support of a research problem or question or a research hypothesis.

Critical race theory is supported by structuralism, for example by investigating how legislation and cultural influences impact on the demography of a community. In this respect micro-aggression is often an element of research making use of a critical race theory perception. Micro-aggression can be found in any community where a certain group might feel anger and frustration because of the way the perceived or real privileged elite threaten them or because of one or more privileges that they have at the expense of the discriminated or that the discriminated are denied. This can erupt into riots, crime, or violence, which might well call for research.

Critical race theory can also be linked to critical theory, neoliberalism, feminism, radicalism, romanticism and post-structuralism.

Critical race theory is not always structured. Although it investigates legislation and cultural influences, the process can be aggressive and unstructured, sometimes including riotous advocacy campaigns.

Critical race theory is, unfortunately, sometimes used to achieve political agendas and to oppress minority or even majority groups that are vulnerable.

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The Nature and Elements of Research Paradigms: Constructivism

Written by Hannes Nel, B. Mil; BA Hons; MBL; D. Com (HRM); D. Phil (LPC)

 Introduction. There are a multitude of paradigms. Some of them are modifications of classical paradigms that have been slightly changed by academics. Then there are those paradigms that are not research paradigms. They may be educational, philosophical, or theoretical, but not of such a nature that they can logically serve as the foundation for academic research.

I will discuss 28 different paradigms that I regard as of importance to academic research, starting with behaviourism. Your comments, criticism, additions or endorsements of the articles will be appreciated. This is the second paradigm that I am discussing.

 Constructivism. Constructivism claims that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. We reconcile new observations and experiences with our previous ideas and experiences. This might change our perceptions or the new information and experiences might be discarded, depending on how we process it in our minds. This means that we actually create our own knowledge by asking questions and exploring things, which would inevitably be subjective.[1] Elkind[2] defined constructivism as follows:

“Constructivism is the recognition that reality is a product of human intelligence interacting with experience in the real world.”

Ethics is an important value in constructivism. Constructivists recognise the importance of the construction and the way in which data is collected as prerequisites for validity and accuracy of analysis. The quality of data and the way in which it is analysed determine the nature of reality and how it is interpreted.

Constructivism is mostly used with grounded theory methodology.[3] Human interests are important for research purposes, with the result that the paradigm can also be used with a number of other research methods, for example action research, case study research, ethnography, etc. A multitude of data collecting methods can be used, for example interviews, participant observation, artefacts, and almost any documents that are relevant to the field of study.[4]

The aim of such research is to understand particular situations or phenomena. Rich data is gathered from which ideas can be formed. It involves a researcher collaborating with participants. The interaction of a number of people is researched in their context or setting, mostly to solve social problems of the target group. The accuracy of research findings is validated and creates an agenda for change or reform. This is a rather well-known sequence of events that is followed in most qualitative research methodology.

Constructivism is also closely associated with pragmatism, relativism, liberalism, interpretivism, symbolic interactionism and positivism. For example, like positivism, constructivism also uses observation to gather information. Different from positivism, which argues that knowledge is generated in a scientific method, i.e. externally, you, as the researcher, are part of what is being observed, i.e. internally. This is called an ‘emic’ approach, which means observing the community, also called the target group, from the inside. An ‘etic’ approach would mean to observe the target group from the outside, as in the case of positivism.

Although some academics claim that constructivism can be positively associated with behaviourism, this is a rather weak and unconvincing link because of the absence of reflection in the case of behaviourism. This, however, is also questionable because “learned history” without reflection does not make sense. Constructivism also rejects scientism and empiricism for much the same reason, i.e. lack of reflection.

Constructivism is rather widely criticised in terms of its value, or lack of value in education as well as its lack of balance when used as a philosophy in research. In education it can lead to group thinking when the interpretation of one or a few prominent educators or scientists is regarded as “the only truth”.

Constructivists sometimes place too much emphasis on sensory experience at the expense of reflection. This means that constructivists sometimes focus strongly on the ontology, i.e. “what is” and neglect the epistemology, i.e. the “explanation” and “justification” of the phenomenon, with the result that knowledge is not sufficiently proven to be valid or accurate.

Different academics link constructivism to a multitude of different other paradigms, research methods and realities, thereby robbing it of its identity as a valid research paradigm.


[1] Accessed on 22/11/2017.

[2] In Accessed on 22/11/2017.

[3] Denzin, N.K. and Lincoln, Y.S. 2018: 416. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. Fifth edition. Sage Publications, Inc. Los Angeles.

[4]… Accessed on 01/05/2018.

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What would President Nelson Mandela have said?

I was the military attaché in Switzerland when President Nelson Mandela visited the country, in 1997, if my memory serves me right. Ambassador Ruth Mompati arranged for the entire embassy staff to meet him. We were standing in a circle, and when he came to me I came to attention, saluted him and said: “God morning Mr President, may I introduce myself. I am colonel Nel.” He smiled, shook my hand and answered me in Afrikaans.

Even though I was in uniform in my previous life, I always believed that the solution to South Africa’s problems is education, not violence and war. It was evident from a number of speeches by President Mandela that he, too, felt that the route to job creation and prosperity for all South Africans would be through quality education and training.

That is why I established Mentornet. The company was originally established as Manpower Mentoring Academy on 6 March 1991. In 1999 we accredit through SAQA (the old ‘blue book” process, which some of you might remember) to offer three higher education certificates. A year later the Council on Higher Education (CHE) was established. They simply swept the accreditation of all private learning institutions off the table and, to ensure that such providers would not be able to continue offering learning they also convinced the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), then still the Department of Education, to cancel the registration of all private providers.

As if this was not bad enough, the DHET “blacklisted” all the private providers accredited by SAQA as not being registered and included a list of all our names in their web site. I still can’t believe that nobody took legal action against them for doing this. To this day the CHE and their quality assurance body, the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) uses this “having been deregistered by DHET” as an excuse when they do not wish to accredit private providers and cannot find a valid reason for their refusal. Mentornet subsequently did accredit with SETAs and the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) and registered with the DHET again.

President Mandela challenged public universities to restructure themselves to cater for the previously disadvantaged, especially the unemployed. Instead universities still focus on issuing political leaders with so-called honorary degrees while the pass rate for those who need learning is absolutely dismal. Surely this is something that the CHE should pay attention to rather than to target small private learning institutions, or, even worse, doing their utmost to protect poor performing public universities against private higher education institutions who perform much better and offer much better quality learning.

Government departments and parastatals approached Mentornet to offer a bachelor’s degree in occupational and vocational learning because they were concerned about the poor quality learning taking place in the workplace and offered by TVET Colleges. Such a degree should focus on the theory and philosophy of occupational and vocational learning rather than practical learning, which legacy and even the new QCTO qualifications focus on. Mentornet developed the qualification, but the CHE do not seem to understand the desperate need for such a qualification if workplace learning is to add value to the industry. Perhaps they do not understand the difference between occupational learning, i.e. workplace learning, which focuses on acquiring skills and the theory and philosophy of occupational learning, which would be academic learning.

It is often claimed that private learning institutions are just opportunists trying to make lots of money while offering poor quality learning. I cannot speak for other private learning institutions because I do not know what their fees or profit margins are. I can, however, say the following about Mentornet:

  • Mentornet’s course fees for a national qualifications is less than a third of what government currently sponsor students with, and universities add an amount to such sponsorships.
  • Mentornet students enjoy a three-course meal every day when the attend contact learning or study schools at no additional cost to them or their employers.
  • Mentornet students do not need to purchase prescribed books and they receive professional developed and published books for most of the modules that they attend. All books for the bachelor’s degree will be published books that student will not pay for in addition to their study fees.
  • Mentornet is registered for skills levies and pay the required amount without claiming anything back, ever. In addition we spend and amount of approximately 18% of our annual salaries on the development of our staff members and we allow two unemployed students on every course for free. Such unemployed students are employed by us if they perform well enough on their courses.

In closing, I don’t think President Mandela would have been happy with the way in which the CHE forsakes its responsibility to promote the quality of learning in higher education or performitivity of most public universities.


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The Nature and Elements of Research Paradigms: Behaviourism

Written by Hannes Nel, B. Mil; BA Hons; MBL; D. Com (HRM); D. Phil (LPC)


Introduction. There are a multitude of paradigms. Some of them are modifications of classical paradigms that have been slightly changed by academics. Then there are those paradigms that are not research paradigms. They may be educational, philosophical, or theoretical, but not of such a nature that they can logically serve as the foundation for academic research.

I will discuss 28 different paradigms that I regard as of importance to academic research, starting with behaviourism. Your comments, criticism, additions or endorsements of the articles will be appreciated. The paradigms that I will discuss are the following:

  1. Behaviourism
  2. Constructivism
  3. Critical race theory
  4. Critical theory
  5. Empiricism
  6. Ethnomethodology
  7. Feminism
  8. Functionalism
  9. Hermeneutics
  10. Interpretivism
  11. Liberalism
  12. Modernism
  13. Neoliberalism
  14. Phenomenology
  15. Positivism
  16. Post-colonialism
  17. Post-modernism
  18. Post-positivism
  19. Post-structuralism
  20. Pragmatism
  21. Pre-modernism
  22. Radicalism
  23. Rationalism
  24. Relativism
  25. Romanticism
  26. Scientism
  27. Structuralism
  28. Symbolic interactionism


Behaviourism. Behaviourism is a set of doctrines that argues that human and animal behaviour can be explained in terms of external stimuli, responses, learned histories and reinforcement.

Behaviourists argue that the human mind cannot be known and, therefore, cannot be shown to have an effect on the individual’s behaviour. All mental states, including beliefs, values, motives and reasons can only be defined in terms of observable behaviour. Any data of a mental kind should be regarded as unscientific. Reinforcement can increase (positive reinforcement) or decrease (negative reinforcement) desired behaviour.

All human behaviour can be understood in terms of cause and effect. Behaviourists, therefore, argue that research should focus on that which is determined by, and is the product of, the environment. This implies that research should focus on observable behaviour which can be objectively measured rather than on things like cognitive processes which can only be inferred.[1] Intentionality and purposiveness are excluded or regarded as less important.

Positivism includes behaviourism, because positivism believes that understanding of human behaviour can be gained through observation and reason.

Behaviourism disagrees with constructivism because constructivism claims that understanding is gained through experience and reflection. There is, however, a link between positivism and constructivism with “reason” requiring “reflection”. This, however, can hardly be seen as establishing a positive link between behaviourism and constructivism because of other elements which we will discuss under constructivism, which happens to be the next paradigm that we will discuss.

The problem with behaviourism as a research paradigm is that changes in behaviour without taking cognitive processes into consideration are often only temporary. Consequently it does not deal with subjective human meaning-making.

[1] Accessed on 23/11/2017.

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Quality Assurance the RSA Way

There is hardly a private provider who does not experience frustration about poor service delivery by quality assurance bodies and I know of many private learning institutions that just gave up and walked away. This is really sad, because in the end it is the students and learners who suffer the most.

I decided to share my experiences and the hard lessons that I learned with other private providers and also those who would like to accredit as private providers. I actually already did a substantial amount of work on writing a book which deals with the theory of quality assurance as well as how it is used or abused by South African quality assurance bodies and learning institutions. The book will probably be rather voluminous, but I will add an index at the back so that you can use it as a source of reference.

However, it would be unwise to write only about my experiences and the lessons that I learned. Therefore I invite you to share with me your frustrations with quality assurance bodies, the lessons that you learned and any other experiences that you had from which others can learn. Just make sure that what you write is ethical, valid and accurate. The test is if you would be able to provide evidence in court if you were asked to testify. This does not mean that you will be asked to testify in court, but it will be a deciding factor if I can use your information or not.  I will also prepare a questionnaire that you can complete, but this will only be to gather data on statistics and so on. Please send me your stories separately by email to . You may send your stories anonymously if you so prefer, but then it is more likely that I will not be able to use your contributions.

I am hoping to have the book published before the end of the year and everybody whose contributions I use in the book will receive a free copy.

Regards, J.P. ( Hannes) Nel, CEO Mentornet (Pty) Ltd

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