ARTICLE 55: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Modernism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Here we have a paradigm with an identity crisis.

It is called modernism, but it is bureaucratic.

It supports scientific research methods but tries to predict the future.

It tries to predict the future but ignores environmental change.

It is based on a realist ontology but is optimistic about the future.

It focuses on research about social events and phenomena but rejects interpretivist paradigms.

I will try to explain how these anomalies in modernism are possible.

Modernism evolved over a period of approximately 400 years from a philosophy based on the interpretation of the mythical to a paradigm based on logic.

It is a movement towards articulating traditional beliefs and practices with modern ideas and needs.

Initially modernism was associated with the church and art. However, the concept developed into a full-fledged paradigm through a process of logical growth. Currently science and reason are critical considerations for achieving accuracy, objectivity, and reliability in the process of knowledge creation. Reason transcends and exists independently of our existential, historical and cultural environments.

Some researchers regard modernism as the paradigm of all true knowledge.

Modernism favours structure, hierarchy, order and centralised control. Planning leads to order, authority is vested in a superior, centralised control is an effective management approach and planning should be done vertically from top to bottom. Consequently, modernist management is largely bureaucratic, prescriptive, procedural and structured.

In terms of research, modernism would imply investigating stages of development. Modernism belongs to the group of technicist paradigms, which favour quantitative research approaches. Important values, therefore, include the scientific method; the authority of the expert; the singularity of meaning; truth and objectivity.

Modernism is used for prediction by analysing reasoning about information that is independent of the environment. The modernist view of time is linear, with events happening one after the other, with no other purpose than to keep progressing in a particular direction. Consequently, statistical analysis and graphical representation of trends are regarded as valuable tools for analysing data.

Modernism follows a realist ontology by accepting facts independent of the human mind. To achieve this the information that is collected and analysed needs to be objective, accurate, valid and authentic in terms of academic meaning, value, and content. Knowledge increases over time and supports certainty, order, organisation, prediction, rationality, linearity and progress. Even though a realist ontology, modernism is mostly optimistic about the future.

Research making use of modernism always has as an objective proving facts by making use of accurate statistics, homogeneous epistemological and moral principles and unyielding norms.


Existing theory is considered in the search for truth and coming to valid conclusions based on the available information about a phenomenon or event. Acquired knowledge is regarded as universal and true. Reason is used to overcome conflict and challenges.

Modernism mostly relates to research on human beings.

Therefore, social research methods are often used even if in combination with a quantitative research approach. Modernism can also be associated with modern societies and developed states (as opposed to pre-modern societies). It often includes campaigns to promote human emancipation, equality, redress and social progress. The family is seen as the central unit of social order and is therefore also often the focus of research using a modernistic philosophy.

During the past approximately seventy years a series of epistemological developments followed from modernism, starting with empiricism, which claims that all knowledge is derived from sense experience. Empiricism further evolved into scientific empiricism or modern science with the development of modernist methodology.

Feminism, like most other paradigms, can be approached in a modernistic manner. It is believed that women who are oppressed by patriarchy can achieve independence and regain their “authentic selves” through reason.

Ethnography, critical theory and critical race theory can also be associated with modernism if quantitative research methods are used or a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods.

In modernistic terms language is transparent, meaning that a one-to-one relationship exists between what is written or said, and the concept that is investigated. This is in opposition with the post-modern ontology that meaning in language cannot transport meaning from one person to another without being interpreted first.

Modernism is also in opposition with the interpretivist paradigms. As you probably know by now, they are constructivism, relativism, ethnomethodology, hermeneutics, symbolic interactionism, interpretivism and phenomenology.

Interpretivist paradigms are regarded as anti-realist, meaning that they use subjective data and research methods.

A belief of modernism that clashes with critical race theory and colonialism is that all cultures will embrace the truth because it is universal. Mass culture, mass consumption and mass marketing form part of the modernistic system. Homogeneity is regarded as a strength.


Modernism is the paradigm of all true knowledge.

It is based on logic.

Master-narratives and meta-narratives are accepted for research purposes.

Modernism favours structure, hierarchy, order and centralised control.

Modernism fits in well with a quantitative research approach.

Authority is vested in a superior, who would also be an expert in the field of study.

Scientific research methods, including statistical analysis, are preferred.

Knowledge, truth, reason, validity and objectivity are important criteria for research.

Efforts are made to predict future trends by analysing data independent of the environment.

Modernism can be used in combination with critical theory, critical race theory, scientism and empiricism.

It opposes the interpretivist paradigms.

Criticism that is sometimes raised against modernism is that the process is too bureaucratic, prescriptive, procedural and structured.

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ARTICLE 54: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Liberalism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


Liberalism implies freedom.

Does this mean that people should be allowed to decide for themselves how they will live, if they will work or not, if they will commit crime or not, support a particular religion or not?

Or does it mean that the government should protect people against the criminal, decadent, greedy, racist, sexists, etc.?

Liberalism promotes change and reform.

Does that mean that everyone should have the right to own property?

Or does it mean that the government should own all property to ensure that all will have equal access to the wealth of the country?

Are all people in any country really equal before the law?

Or is the law there to protect the rich, the wealthy and the elite?

I discuss liberalism in this post.


Neoliberalism rendered liberalism, in the opinion of some academics, obsolete.

Even so, liberalism is still a relevant paradigm.

Liberalism advocates tolerance, progress, humanitarianism, objectivity, reason, democracy and human rights.

To this can be added a host of other positive attributes dealing with human rights, social interaction and freedom.

This, amongst other things, implies that all individuals in a country have an equal status as legal subjects, regardless of other inequalities and differences that might divide them.

All the elements of liberalism offer valuable fields for research.

In a constructivist spirit, research should utilise observation and experiences to reflect on and evaluate previous perceptions in the hope of understanding the situations and phenomena being investigated.

Understanding should lead to change and reform.

Constructivism is a variant of liberal theory if issues like human rights, freedom of social interaction are investigated.

Neoliberalism also supports or extends some elements of liberalism.

For example, private property rights, a classically liberal state and the efficiency of the free market system.

In other respects, neoliberalism is in opposition to liberalism.

However, neoliberalism is gradually adopting more and more liberal values.

The four central areas in which liberalism and neoliberalism overlap are human rights, non-discrimination, education and the media, freedom of speech and opinion.

Liberalism is a philosophical approach to human interaction.

It is also a social force.

The basic premise of liberalism is the equality of individuals before the law.

In this respect, liberalism links up with critical race theory, critical theory and feminism.

Liberalism is associated with relativism through its relativist conception of rights.

It accuses other paradigms of being relativist to proclaim its own relativism as universalism.

For example, liberal relativism is sometimes rather a neo-colonial tactic designed to maintain the exploitation of developing countries by developed former colonial powers, or new powers taking over the role of colonial power under the guise that they are helping the needy country to grow.

Liberalism is associated with radicalism because both support the struggle for democracy, specifically campaigning for the right to vote, welfare reform and public services, with radicalism adopting a more aggressive stance than liberalism.

Liberalism is in opposition with some values of critical race theory and colonialism because of its favoritism towards the elite, the rich and the noble.

Some academics still associate ‘liberal’ with unrestrained and undisciplined attitudes and behavior.

The strength of liberalism is said to be its most serious weakness.

This is its commitment to emancipation.

Throughout history, liberalists claimed their love for liberty while demonstrating contempt for people of the colonies and for women.

Liberalists are of the opinion that they are entitled to enforce ‘democracy’ upon the ‘less enlightened’.

Because of its authoritarian stance, liberalism cannot be equated with democracy and liberty is not the same as equality.

The second weakness of liberalism is that there is hardly any consensus of what it means.

People’s thoughts about and understanding of liberal concepts such as human rights largely depend on who is in charge, whose side you are on, what you stand to gain or lose because of your point of view if your point of view is legal and politically correct and your position in a social group or community.

A negative consequence of the liberalism paradigm claiming to favor the needy while discriminating between the informed, rich and educated on the one side and the uninformed, poor and uneducated on the other side, is that research on the former often follows an emic approach while research on the latter follows an etic approach.

The informed, rich and educated are regarded and treated as participants in the research while the uninformed, poor and uneducated are regarded as subjects upon whom research is done.

Summary of Liberalism


Is a philosophical approach to human interaction.

Is a social force.

Advocates tolerance, progress, humanitarianism, objectivity, reason, democracy and human rights.

Offers a valuable field of research.

Uses observation and experience as data or data collection methods.

Supports the equality of individuals before the law.

Is associated with constructivism, neoliberalism, critical race theory, critical theory, feminism, relativism and radicalism.

Is in opposition with some values of neoliberalism, critical race theory and colonialism.

Criticism against liberalism includes:

 Supporters of liberalism accuse other paradigms of being relativist to proclaim its own relativism as universalism.

It favors the rich, the elite and the noble.

Some associate liberalism with unrestrained and undisciplined attitudes and behavior.

Its commitment to emancipation is a strength but also a weakness.

Liberalists sometimes adopt an attitude of contempt for people of the colonies of old and for women.

There is a lack of consensus amongst academics about the meaning of liberalism.

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ARTICLE 53: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Interpretivism

Written by Dr Hannes Nel


Do you think the personal opinions and intuitive beliefs of people can deliver valid and accurate research findings and new knowledge?

Interpretivists do.

That triggers a new question in my mind.

When is data truly valid and accurate?

Is it when it can be proven by means of statistical analysis and laboratory tests?

Or perhaps it is valid and accurate when the majority regards it so.

I discuss the way in which interpretivists perceive the truth in this post.


Often also called ‘anti-positivism’ or ‘naturalistic inquiry’, interpretivism is a softer and more subjective philosophy than hermeneutics.

We can also see interpretivism as a group of paradigms, including hermeneutics and some other paradigms that I will mention nearer to the end of this post.

All interpretivist paradigms claim that there is a clear and significant difference between the natural and social sciences, with the technicist group of paradigms favouring natural research, while interpretivist paradigms favour social research.

As you know by now if you followed my posts, natural science mostly uses quantitative research while social sciences prefer qualitative research methods.

According to interpretivism, precise, systematic answers to complex human problems do not exist.

Every cultural and historical situation is different and unique and requires analysis of the uniquely defined contexts in which they are embedded.

Social laws, if they exist, should be uncovered through qualitative analysis and interpretation.

Because of the specific social, political, economic and cultural experiences underpinning each study, the findings cannot be generalized.

They do, however, provide greater clarity on how people make meaning of phenomena in a specific context.

Therefore, the interpretivist philosophy facilitates greater understanding of the human condition.

Interpretivists are of the opinion that human life can only be understood from within because norms and values cannot be divorced from the individual.

Human activities cannot be observed as some external reality.

Social reality is viewed and interpreted by individuals according to the ideological positions that they hold.

Therefore, knowledge is personally experienced rather than acquired or imposed from outside.

Reality is multi-layered and complex.

A single phenomenon can have multiple interpretations.

Interpretivism, therefore, focuses on people’s subjective experiences.

On how people “construct” the social world by sharing meanings and how they interact with or relate to each other.

Meaning is, thus, constructed and developed through interaction between people.

In interpretivism, social life is regarded as a distinctively human product.

Interpretivists assume that reality is not objectively determined, but is socially constructed in terms of language, consciousness and shared meanings.

The underlying assumption is that by placing people in their social contexts, there is a greater opportunity to understand the perceptions they have of their own activities.

The uniqueness of a particular situation is important to understand.

It generally attempts to understand phenomena through the meanings that people assign to them.

Human behaviour is believed to be affected by knowledge of the social world.

As our knowledge of the social world and the realities being constructed increase, it enriches our theoretical and conceptual framework.

There is, thus, a two-way relationship between theory and research.

Social theory informs our understanding of issues which, in turn, assists us in making research decisions and making sense of the world.

The experience of doing research and its findings also influence our theorizing.

Inevitably, as theory will be abstract, it gives a partial account of the multifaceted social world.

Such a theory allows researchers to link the abstract with the concrete and the theoretical with the empirical.

For interpretivists, the social world depends on human knowledge.

They believe that our own understanding of phenomena constantly influences us in terms of the types of questions we ask and in the way we conduct research.

Our knowledge and understanding are always limited to the things to which we have been exposed.

That is, our own unique experiences and the meanings we have shared with others.

As we proceed through the research process, our humanness and knowledge inform us and often also direct us.

Often subtleties, such as intuition, values, beliefs or prior knowledge influence our understanding of the phenomena under investigation.

Therefore, to conceive the world as external and independent from our own knowledge and understanding is to ignore the subjectivity of our research endeavours.

Interpretivism pays attention to and values what people say, do and feel and how they make meaning of the phenomena being researched.

Interpretivism pays special attention to the meaning that individuals or communities assign to their experiences.

Patterns, trends and themes should, therefore, emerge from the research process.

Your role should be to understand real-life situations from the point of view of the

target group for your research.  

The human mind is regarded as a purposive source of meaning.

Interpretive investigation searches for meaning in the activities of human beings.

There is a radical element in interpretivism in the sense that it investigates real-life events and phenomena.

A concept in qualitative research that shares some perspectives with the interpretivist paradigm, is the notion of praxis.

Some regard praxis as a separate paradigm while others regard it as a research method.

Praxis means acting upon the conditions that you face to change them.

It deals with the disciplines and activities predominant in the ethical and political lives of people.

By exploring the richness, depth and complexity of phenomena we can begin to develop a sense of understanding of the meanings given by people to such phenomena and their social context.

Through uncovering how meanings are constructed, we can gain insight into the meanings imparted and thereby improve our understanding of the whole.

You might have noticed that interpretivism has its roots in hermeneutics.

Both paradigms study the theory and practice of interpretation.

In hermeneutics, the text is the expression of the thoughts of its author.

Interpreters attempt to put themselves within the perception or thinking pattern of the author to reconstruct the intended meaning of the text.

Interpretivism relates to the constructivist epistemology.

Constructivism holds that individuals, in their reasoning, do not have access to the real world.

This suggests that their knowledge of the perceived world is meaningful in its own terms and can be understood through careful use of interpretivist procedures.

The social context, conventions, norms and standards of the individual or community being researched are crucial elements in assessing and understanding human behaviour.

This applies to all interpretivist paradigms, namely hermeneutics, phenomenology, ethnomethodology, constructivism, relativism and, of course, interpretivism.

It also applies to radicalism although radicalism belongs to the critical group of paradigms.

All the interpretivist paradigms pay attention to human interaction with phenomena in their daily lives.

Even though both interpretivism and positivism support social science, interpretivism opposes positivism because of its stronger leaning towards physical science and quantitative methodology.

Some researchers criticize interpretivism for its acceptance of such a large variety of rather subjective and intuitive sources of knowledge and meaning.

Interpretivism is said to lack scientific consistency because conclusions and findings are often based on assumptions.

Summary of Interpretivism


  • Prefers qualitative research methods.
  • Uses analyses and interpretation of social events and phenomena.
  • Considers ethics and politics.
  • Explores the richness, depth and complexity of real-life events and phenomena.
  • Identifies the uniqueness of social events and phenomena.
  • Gains new knowledge by analysing intuition, values, beliefs, assumptions, and conversations.
  • Can change the status quo.
  • Enriches our theoretical and conceptual frame of reference.
  • Improves our understanding of social events and phenomena.
  • Is associated with all the interpretivist paradigms and with radicalism.
  • Opposes the technicist paradigms.
  • Is criticised for accepting subjective and intuitive sources of data. AND
  • For lack of scientific consistency.

Social reality:

  • Is interpreted according to the researcher’s ideological position.
  • Can have multiple interpretations.
  • Will differ in terms of context and time.
  • Cannot be interpreted precisely and systematically.
  • Is interpreted through interaction between people.
  • Is a distinctively human product.
  • Is affected by knowledge of the social world.
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ARTICLE 52: Research Methods for Ph. D. Studies: Humanism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

No other paradigm demonstrates as vividly as humanism how radically context, time and motives can impact om the nature of truth.

Under the guise of the promotion and protection of human rights, humanism can be used to promote selfish, often political motives.

Humanism can claim human right in an aggressive and racist manner.

Even so, humanism can also be used for constructive, ethical and honest purposes.

Such is the power of this paradigm.

I discuss the nature and elements of humanism in this post.


Humanism is a set of subject matter and arguments on social relationships emerging from ‘enlightenment’.

It is a socio-political doctrine that is not restricted to the boundaries of one society.

It is, furthermore, a cross-cultural concept with internal issues that cover and include all of humankind.

Essentially, it deals with issues concerning human beings.

Like all other paradigms, humanism developed and evolved over time.

We can now define it as an ethical and democratic attitude towards life through which human beings give meaning to life.

It supports the building of a humane society based on human and other natural values in a spirit of reason and free inquiry.

Humanism relies to a large extent on reason and logic.

Except for African humanism, it rejects concepts such as superstition and the supernatural.

It is not a concept that drives humankind’s lifestyle as, for example, rationalism does.

Even so, it is a guiding principle for life.

Humanism belongs to the group of interpretivist paradigms.

Different from technicist paradigms, that mostly identify and describe the causes for events and phenomena, humanism seeks to find the reasons for events and phenomena.

Theory consists of explanation and understanding.

Explanation seeks to make event and phenomena “predictable” through knowledge of their causes.

Understanding seeks to make events and phenomena intelligible through knowledge of their causes, intentions, purpose and meaning.

That is, its epistemology.

The inclusion of understanding expands the boundaries of theory and research to include not only the search for causes of behaviour, but also the task of seeking to grasp its underlying rationale.

The process of conducting research involves developing theory rather than discovering, creating or uncovering meaning.

The researcher needs to utilize observations and experiences to uplift the experiences of the community into academic theory.

It is not always easy to articulate the goals, assumptions, intentions and values of the community to the academic validity, authenticity and accuracy that the researcher is looking for.

Theory is often presented in the form of narratives.

A narrative is an integral way in which human intelligence organizes experience to grasp its meaning.

It usually takes the form of a descriptive diagnosis of a situation.

The value and validity of this type of theorizing is frequently experienced as revelation, the so-called ‘Ah-Ha’ experience.

Sense-making is regarded as a process of creation.

The sense-making function of theory introduces the notion of the construction of social reality.

This implies that the principles and values by which people live are corrigible products of the human mind.

This means that it is subject to constant re-thinking and review.

From a humanistic perspective, the search for independent, antecedent cause will never be enough to explain behaviour because a more complete understanding depends on comprehending the aims, purposes and intentions of the individual.

Intentions are influenced by historical events.

However, intentions are mostly deduced from observation of the evolvement of events and phenomena.

People are not bound by the past.

They adapt and grow as they gain knowledge and experience.

Humanistic views make a distinction between how humanity reacts to themselves within a historical context, whilst affected by a philosophical concept.

People are free to do things the way they want to and to make their own decisions.

Consequently, it is difficult to predict how people will behave and respond to external stimuli.

Although not always predictable, people’s behaviour is often intelligible and decipherable.

To understand the meaning of behaviour, you, as the researcher, will need to look beyond prior causes to search for the research target’s purposes and motives.

Although humanism starts from assumptions, findings still need to be corroborated.

Accuracy, validity and authenticity are important if it is to be accepted as scientific research.

Humanism does not seek generalizability.

Theory and research are used to sharpen, highlight and bring to the foreground as many aspects as possible that make the situation being investigated unique, distinct and different from other situations.

In this respect humanism can be associated with action research.

The sensitizing aspect of humanistic research can also be found in ethnomethodology.

Like interpretivism and hermeneutics, humanism accept assumptions as data and deliberately make such assumptions explicit by developing them into theory through observation and experience.

Humanism can also be associated with critical theory because it seeks to call attention to the problems and deformations of the status quo in communities.

The status quo is challenged by pointing out the gap between it and a preferred state.

Especially academics who support technicist paradigmatic approaches criticize humanism for being ‘essentially contestable’.

Consequently, positivism, scientism and modernism are opposed to humanism.

Different forms of humanism have developed through time.

The following are such forms:

  1. Literary humanism.

Literary humanism is a devotion to the humanities of literature culture.

  • Rennaissance humanism.

Renaissance humanism is the spirit of learning that developed at the end of the middle ages with the revival of classical letters and the renewed confidence in the ability of human beings to determine for themselves truth and falsehood.

  • Cultural humanism.

Cultural humanism is the rational and empirical tradition that originated largely in ancient Greece and Rome.

It evolved through European history, and now constitutes a basic part of the Western approach to science, political theory, ethics and law.

  • Philosophical humanism.

Philosophical humanism is any outlook or way of life centered on human needs and interests.

  • Christian humanism.

Christian humanism is a philosophy advocating the self-fulfillment of the human being within the framework of Christian principles.

  • Modern humanism.

Modern humanism is also called Naturalistic humanism, Scientific humanism, Ethical humanism and Democratic humanism.

It is a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion.

Modern humanism has a dual origin, both secular and religious, and these constitute its sub-categories.

Christian humanism and Modern humanism are sub-categories of Philosophical humanism.

  • Secular humanism.

Secular humanism is an outgrowth of the eighteenth-century enlightenment rationalism and nineteenth-century freethought.

  • Religious humanism.

Religious humanism emerged out of ethical culture, unitarianism, and universalism.

  • Civic humanism.

Civic humanism is a historiographical construct.

A multitude of academics and philosophers played a role in the development of the sub-paradigm.

Civic humanism places a great emphasis on the human beings as actively engaged in the world as the center of power.

It considers the human beings as the greatest living beings on earth.

They should rule the world and all other living beings on it.

Human beings display moral and intellectual commitment to maintain examined control through thoughts, intentions and actions.

They are responsible for the stability of nature and the relationships between human beings.

This entails a commitment to an examined life of reasoned consistency in intellectual, practical and moral life.

It generates a common style in the mastery of self, or nature by the rational anticipation of effects.

  1. African humanism.

Research based on an appreciation of African tradition is concerned with human values that are broadly recognized as part of African culture, such as a sense of identity as inseparable from one’s community and a strong sense of collective being and consciousness.

In this context, a person’s merit is judged in terms of his or her kindness and good character, generosity, hard work, discipline, honour and respect, and living in harmony.

South Africans know this philosophy as Batho Pele.

African humanism disagrees with ‘scientific objectivity’ and determinism.

For example, understanding causal relations and the prediction of behaviour are not necessarily primary objectives of research.

Causality may be understood in everyday terms or in the light of African cosmology (belief systems) and does not demand laboratory proof.

The methodology of scientific experimentation is viewed as overlooking levels of human experience which may facilitate transcending forms of existence, such as spiritual and ritualistic dimensions of human life.

African humanism is criticized as being a value system rather than a research paradigm because it cannot be widely generalized, its obsession with an African identity and empowerment, its subjectivity and lack of academic consistency.

Summary of Humanism

Humanism deals with issues concerning human beings. It is:

  1. A set of subject matter and arguments.
  2. A socio-political doctrine.
  3. A cross-cultural concept.
  4. A guiding principle for life.


  1. Stands for building a more humane society.
  2. Relies to a large extent on reason and logic.
  3. Mostly rejects abstract concepts like superstition and the supernatural.
  4. Seeks reasons for events and phenomena.
  5. Seeks to make events and phenomena intelligible through epistemology.
  6. Takes history and assumptions into consideration.
  7. Is associated with interpretivism, hermeneutics, action research, ethnomethodology and critical theory.
  8. Is opposed to positivism, scientism and modernism.
  9. Deduces intentions from observation, experience and development.
  10. Presents theory in the form of narratives.
  11. Values sense-making and a process of creation.
  12. Constantly rethinks and reviews human behaviour.
  13. Strives for accuracy, validity and authenticity through corroboration.
  14. Develops rather than to discover, create or uncover meaning.
  15. Do not seek generalizability.

Different forms of humanism have developed through time. The following are such forms:

  1. Literary humanism.
  2. Rennaissance humanism.
  3. Cultural humanism.
  4. Philosophical humanism.
  5. Christian humanism.
  6. Modern humanism.
  7. Secular humanism.
  8. Religious humanism.
  9. Civic humanism.
  10. African humanism.
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ARTICLE 51: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Hermeneutics

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


Must research be agony and pain to be good quality?

Can research be fun?

Most of you will probably agree that academic research can be interesting, but do you enjoy doing it?

Do you feel guilty when you enjoy collecting and analyzing data?

Why would you do research about a topic in which you have no interest and that is of no consequence to anybody?

Hermeneutics is the perfect paradigm for a topic that can take you on an emotional roller coaster ride.

I discuss hermeneutics in this post.

What is Hermeneutics?

Hermeneutics is the aspect of a study that involves interpreting the event or events being studied.

Originally, Hermeneutics referred to the study and interpretation of written biblical text.

Now it includes the interpretation of any form of communication,

Including verbal, artistic, geopolitical, physiological, sociological, etc.

It strives towards deeper understanding of the political, historical, sociocultural, and other real-world contexts within which they occur.

Language and history play an important role in the interpretation of events and phenomena.

Hermeneutics represents a specific perspective on data analysis.

In terms of communication, hermeneutics views inquiry as conversation and conversation as a source of data that can and should be used for research.

Hermeneutics is not based on theoretical knowledge only, but also includes the analysis of practical actions or omissions.

Hermeneutics is now applied in all the human sciences to clarify or interpret conditions that need to be understood for whatever reason.

Hermeneutics focuses on interaction and language.

It involves recapturing the meanings of interaction with other people.

Hermeneutics involves the analysis of meaning in a social context.

The intentions of other role-players are recovered and reconstructed to make sense of the current situation.

In hermeneutics theories are developed or borrowed and continually tested, looking for discrepant data and alternative ways of making sense of the data.

It is not the purpose of hermeneutics to offer explanations or to provide authoritative rules or conceptual analysis, but rather to seek and deepen understanding.

As a mode of analysis, it suggests a way of understanding or making meaning of textual data.

Objectivity is sought by analyzing our prejudices and perceptions.

Even so, ambiguity is not regarded as an obstacle to qualitative research and it is accepted that interpretation will sometimes be typical and perhaps even unique to a situation or context.

A hermeneutic approach is open to the ambiguous nature of textual analysis and resists the urge to offer authoritative readings and neat reconciliations.

Rather, it recognizes the uniquely situated nature of interpretation.

This means that events and phenomena can have different meanings in different contexts.

From this we can already see that generalized and authoritative theories will seldom result from research making use of hermeneutics as paradigm.

You, as the researcher, are free to accept or reject the interpretations of others, and you can add your own interpretation to the data that you use in your research.

You can also review historical text if you feel that it is necessary.

In the process you will also learn while contributing to the available knowledge in a particular field of study.

Understanding occurs when you recognize the significance of the data that you are interpreting and when you recognize the interrelatedness of the different elements of the phenomenon.

Many human, religious and philosophical scientists elaborated on and added to the nature of hermeneutics.

Two useful elaborations are, firstly the realization that rich data can be gained from expression and comprehension.

And secondly, that hermeneutical analysis is a circular process.

Let me explain this by means of the figure that you can now see on your screen.

The hermeneutic circle signifies a methodological process of understanding.

Understanding consist of two independent processes, namely understanding the meaning of the whole of a text or any other data and coming to understand the parts of the whole.

In this regard, ‘understanding the meaning of the whole’ means making sense of the parts.

Grasping the meaning of the parts depends on having some sense of the whole.

Each part is what it is by virtue of its location and function with respect to the whole.

The hermeneutic circle takes place when this meaning-making quest involves continual shifts from the parts to the whole and back again.

The hermeneutic data analysis process is aimed at deciphering the hidden meaning in the apparent meaning.

Therefore, in analyzing the data you are searching for and unfolding the levels of meaning implied in the literal meaning of the text.

Consequently, in designing your research, you will deliberately plan to collect data that is textually rich.

You should analyze the textually rich data to make sense of the bigger picture or whole.

Understanding requires the interpretation of words, signs, events, body language, artefacts and any other objects or behavior from which a message can be deduced.

Hermeneutics provides the philosophical grounding for the interpretive paradigms, including interpretivism, relativism, ethnomethodology, symbolic interactionism, constructivism and phenomenology.

It is also possible to associate and integrate hermeneutics with critical research paradigms.

Hermeneutics opposes rationalism, positivism, scientism and modernism.

These are all predominantly technicist paradigms.

It is, therefore, clear that hermeneutics is more suited for qualitative research rather than quantitative research.

Some researchers question the circular nature of hermeneutic investigation because setting understanding as a prerequisite for the parts as well as the whole is a catch twenty-two situation.

You cannot understand the parts if you do not understand the whole and you cannot understand the whole if you do not understand the parts.

A second criticism against hermeneutics is that viewing conversation as inquiry can damage the validity of your research conclusions and findings.



  • Deals with interpretation.
  • Uses language and interaction as data.
  • Seeks to understand rather than to explain.
  • Deepens understanding.
  • Involves the analysis of meaning in a social context.
  • Acknowledges that interpretation can be different in different situations and contexts.
  • Recognizes the role of history in interpretation.
  • Views conversation as inquiry.
  • Is a circular process. AND
  • Is comfortable with ambiguity.

Rich data can be gathered from how things are said and understood.

Theories are developed or borrowed and continually tested.

Hermeneutics can be associated with all the interpretivist and some critical paradigms.

Hermeneutics is opposed to the technicist paradigms.

Criticism against hermeneutics are that the analysis of data is a circular process and that viewing conversation as data can damage the validity of conclusions and findings.

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ARTICLE 50: Research Methods for Ph. D. Studies: Functionalism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


What do you think will the world look like when the COVID-19 pandemic is over?

How will the world function?

Who will play the key roles in the new system?

Which businesses will survive?

Will new businesses come to the fore?

What will politics look like?

Who will play the leading roles in governments?

Against what criteria will political leaders be elected?

Will the world have learned anything good from the crisis?

Functionalism will be a good paradigm to use if you plan on doing research to find out what the world will look like after the pandemic.

What is Functionalism?

Biological organisms have systems that perform various specialist and survival functions.

Similarly, social institutions ‘function’ in a systematic and coherent way through their constituent elements to ensure their survival and optimal functioning.

Airlines, for example, were indispensable in the pre-pandemic world.

But will they still play such a critical role in the post-pandemic reality?

Role differentiation and social solidarity are key elements in the smooth functioning of any organization.

This means that functionalism interprets each part of society in terms of how it contributes to the stability of the whole society.

Medical and health systems were always critically important to human beings.

Some might argue that they are currently more important than even governments.

What will it look like once the virus has been brought under control?

Society is more than the sum of its parts because the contributions of all members of a society facilitate the performance of the society as a whole.

It is in times of crisis that the roles of the elements of a system are tested the most.

All around the world people are asking if organizations and bodies on all possible levels were able to deal with the current world crisis.

Small, medium, and large businesses, countries, unions, federations, even families are tested to their absolute limits.  

Everyone plays an important part and the absence, or inability of an individual to contribute, detrimentally affects the performance of the community.

According to functionalism, an institution only exists because it serves an important role in the community.

Drive-in theaters all closed their gates when the television and computers, with the internet, took over.

Now it would seem that drive-in theaters might just make a comeback.

An individual or organization that does not play a role in the community will not survive.

How many political and business leaders showed their mettle and will survive the crisis?

This applies to individuals and groupings on all levels in society.

Individual, families, clubs, schools, suburbs, cities, countries, etc. all will only survive if they add value to the community.

Organizations and societies evolve and adjust to changing conditions to ensure the continued, smooth, integrated functioning of all elements of the organization or society.

When new needs evolve or emerge, new organizations will be created to satisfy the new needs.

When any part of the society is dysfunctional, it affects all other parts and creates problems for the entire society.

This often leads to social, political, economic, and technological change.

The mental state rather than the internal constitution of the researcher is important.

This implies that motivation plays an important role in what you would be willing to do to achieve success, that is the purpose of the research project.

The country that is most motivated and has the knowledge and skills to find a vaccine might save the world.

Functionalism includes structuralism because both paradigms investigate the functioning of social phenomena.

Like structuralism, functionalism also reacts against post-structuralism because of the disruptive nature of the latter.

Some researchers feel that functionalism focuses too much on the positive functions of societies while neglecting the impact of negative events.

A second point of criticism against functionalism is that the current nature of functionalism is no longer in line with the original spirit and purpose of the paradigm.

Researchers sometimes try to gain conclusions and findings from the ontology of a society when it might not even be relevant to the current phenomena any longer.

Thirdly, findings gained from a functional philosophical stance are not always generalizable because organizations and societies often differ in terms of their structure and purpose.


Functionalism deals with survival and optimal functioning.

Individuals as well as groups must contribute to the functioning of a society to achieve solidarity.

Organizations and societies evolve and adjust to changes in the environment.

A society can be regarded as a system of independent parts with each part fulfilling a separate role.

The mental state of the researcher, especially his or her motivation, is important to achieve accurate, valid and authentic research result.

Functionalism can be associated with structuralism.

Functionalism is opposed to post-structuralism.

Criticism against functionalism is that it is no longer related to its original ontology, that too much focus is placed on positive functioning and that it is too ideological.

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ARTICLE 49: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Feminism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


Feminism is often such an emotional topic that it would be almost impossible to keep arguments emotionless.

Even so, in the patriarchic academic world in which we conduct research, the female researcher who manages to keep her arguments and findings unemotional and objective will probably achieve more than those who try to compensate for inconsistent research with emotional arguments.

We cannot deny that women are different from men – even though equal.

Women will probably manage an organization differently from men, but their management style can be as effective, if not better, than that of a man.

Even though the principles and requirements for research are the same for men and women, they can still approach the research differently and be equally effective.

I discuss feminism in this post.

What is Feminism?

Feminism is grounded in feminist values and beliefs.

Philosophically speaking feminism is the movement for the political, social, economic and educational equality of women with men.

The ontology of feminism is that there is a ‘reality’ that has been created and shaped by social, political, cultural, economic, ethnic and gender-based forces.

These forces have evolved over time into social structures that are accepted as natural, cultural or in different other ways justified.

Feminist issues can be access to employment, education, childcare, contraception, abortion, equality in the workplace, changing family roles, redress, sexual harassment and the need for equal political representation.

The basic epistemological principles of feminism include the taking of women and gender as the focus of analysis; the importance of consciousness-raising; the rejection of subject and object; a concern with ethics and an intention to empower women and change power relations and inequality.

Simply stated, feminism is research done by, for and about women.

Feminism seeks to include women in the research process and to focus on the meanings that women give their world, while recognizing that research must often be conducted within universities that are sometimes still patriarchal.

Feminism is often used as the grounds for advocacy campaigns.

Research in support of the interests of women mostly aims to emancipate them and to improve their lives.

The aim of research on women is often to clarify bias and inequity in the way that women are treated in various social settings.

Examples of such settings include the workplace, universities, sport and many more.

Research on women also often include filling gaps in our knowledge about women.

Even though feminism is mostly directed at achieving equality between women and men, it also argues that women think and express themselves differently from men.

Feminism is characterized by its double dimension and diversity.

As opposed to traditional research, its objectives include both the construction of new knowledge and the production of social change.

Feminism assumes that women are oppressed in society, therefore research is used to help reduce such discrimination.

In terms of diversity, feminism can be multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary.

This means that it uses different methodologies and it is constantly being redefined by the concerns of women coming from different perspectives.

In terms of being multidisciplinary, feminism can utilize knowledge borrowed from any other discipline that is relevant to the topic and purpose of the research.

In terms of being interdisciplinary, feminism can analyze, synthesize, harmonize and ultimately link the knowledge borrowed from other disciplines to integrate and systematize findings into a coherent whole.

Transdisciplinary refers to feminist research contributing to and sharing knowledge with other disciplines.

Feminism, therefore, requires that issues such as antiracism, diversity, democratic decision-making, and the empowerment of women are addressed in any field of study where gender-related issues call for research.

In terms of research methodology feminism actively seeks to remove the power imbalance between research and subject.

It is politically motivated in that it seeks to change social inequality.

It begins with the standpoint and experiences of women.

Feminism uses a wide variety of research methods, including methods belonging with the qualitative, quantitative and mixed approaches.

A qualitative approach is mostly favored because it lends itself better to reflect the measure of human experience without focusing too strongly on males while neglecting the role of women in a particular social, economic, political or technological setting.

Feminism shares an academic as well as an affective link with neoliberalism, post-colonialism, critical theory, critical race theory, romanticism, and post-structuralism.

All these paradigms deal with inequality and discrimination.

Although feminism and structuralism deal with power relations between people, feminism seldom uses the rigorous approach to research that is typical of structuralism.

Ironically, the unemotional and clinical approach that is typical of structuralism might be what is needed to elevate feminism to a more generally accepted research paradigm.

The main objection to feminism as a research paradigm is not that it is invalid or irrelevant, as some might claim, but rather that the very supporters of the philosophy are causing damage by the emotional way it is sometimes put forward.

Some academics feel that the way in which it is applied and the spirit in which people write about feminism is sometimes overly emotional and lacking academic substance.


The ontology of feminism is that social structures evolved over time towards natural gender equality.


  • Is a movement for the equality of women with men.
  • Strives for the empowerment of women.
  • Rejects subject and object as differential concepts.
  • Is concerned with ethics.
  • Strives for consciousness raising for the status and rights of women.

A wide range of issues can be investigated by making use of feminism as a paradigm.

Research is done by, for and about women.

Women, therefore, are the focus of analysis.

Feminism can be associated with critical theory, critical race theory, post-structuralism, romanticism and neoliberalism.

Feminism is opposed to structuralism.

Feminism is sometimes criticized for lack of academic consistency and for following an over-emotional philosophy.

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ARTICLE 48: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Ethnomethodology

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


I guess the times in which are living is everything but funny.

Even so, I just watched a real-life incident on television that I found hilarious.

It is snowing rather hard in and around this city.

Next to a road in town a good number of homeless people erected tents in which they slept the previous night.

It was still dark when the cops arrived.

“I give you ten minutes to dismantle your tents before I start dismantling them!’, a cop shouted.

Absolute silence.

After a while, the policeman shouted again: “If you don’t dismantle your tents now, I am going to start writing out fines!”

A woman’s voice shouted from one of the tents: “I thought you said you were going to dismantle the tents for us!”

This is a good example of a situation that can be researched by making use of ethnomethodology.

Hello, my name is Hannes Nel and I discuss ethnomethodology in this post.

What is Ethnomethodology?

Ethnomethodology deals with the world of everyday life.

According to ethnomethodologists, theoretical concerns centre on the process by which common sense reality is constructed in everyday face-to-face interaction.

Issues related to social order are investigated by combining experiencing phenomena with sense experience.

Those of you who follow my posts and saw the previous one, will now already notice that ethnomethodology is associated with empiricism –

both paradigms believe that knowledge is gained through sense experiences.

Ethnomethodology studies the process by which people subconsciously formulate and apply certain ‘taken-for-granted’ rules about behavior which they interpret in an interactive situation to make it meaningful.

Ethnomethodology does not focus on individuals.

Its field of study is the dynamics of social life.

The individual is seen and researched as part of a social unit.

For example, a community or a group of people who in some way form a coherent unit.

Internal processes, emotions, values, beliefs and other psychological phenomena typical of the thought processes of an individual do not form part of ethnomethodology.

Because ethnomethodologists are mainly interested in social settings, data collected through interviewing is less valid than data collected through observation in the workplace.

And old books and newspapers often provide less valid data than observation of a recent event.

Data collected by means of interviewing is regarded as artificial, focusing on research needs instead of the problem being investigated.

Interviewing is data collection where you have control over those being interviewed, and that is not what ethnomethodologists want.

The observation of the behaviour of people under natural circumstances is considered as the best source of data.

For example, when doing routine work.

Observation of everyday life is said to improve the validity of the data that is collected.

Ethnomethodology does not formulate rules, laws or descriptions of practices of social groups that generally apply.

Knowledge is seen as relevant to a specific context and time.

Except for empiricism, ethnomethodology can also be associated with constructivism, hermeneutics, symbolic interactionism, interpretivism and phenomenology.

All these paradigms study social phenomena in one way or another.

Ethnomethodology does not fit in well with transformative research, which I discussed in a previous post as a research method.

Transformative research uses intangibles such as intuition, serendipity and unpredictable events whereas ethnomethodology deals with everyday life and real observations.

Some academics are of the opinion that the investigation of everyday life is too narrow and limited to provide valid and generally applicable knowledge about social interaction and hardly any theories about the wider interaction between human beings.


Ethnomethodology is used in the investigation of everyday life.

Social issues are investigated by analyzing sense experiences.

Groups are researched rather than individuals.

Thought processes are not taken into consideration.

Observation is used to collect data rather than interviewing or any other sources that are not current.

Knowledge gained through ethnomethodology applies to a specific context and time.

Ethnomethodology is mostly associated with interpretive paradigms.

It is also associated with empiricism, which leans more towards the technicist paradigms.

Ethnomethodology does not fit in well with transformative research.

Some academics regard research making use of ethnomethodology as too narrow and limited to provide validity and general applicability.

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ARTICLE 47: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Empiricism

Group of young interns listening carefully to an experienced doctor of medicine

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


I often wonder if the developers of paradigms were serious when they made claims like:

The only way in which you can learn is through experience, OR

You cannot learn anything from interviewing people, OR

External reality has no effect on behaviour.

Fortunately, most paradigms are quite flexible when it comes to the ways in which truth can be discovered.

And most, if not all of them, can be integrated.

Empiricism, however, is claimed by many to be an exclusivist paradigm.

Meaning that it cannot be integrated with other paradigms.

Or can it?

I discuss empiricism in this post.

What is Empiricism?

Empiricism is the doctrine that all knowledge is derived from sense experience.

It means that all evidence of facts and phenomena must be empirical, or at least empirically based.

Evidence should be directly or indirectly observable by the senses.

Also, people must experience things before they will learn.

The idea that people can learn through reasoning independently of the senses or through intuition is rejected.

Innate ideas and superiority of knowledge do not exist.

According to empiricism, people are born with empty brains, like a clean slate.

As people experience phenomena, the brain is filled by what they learn from experience.

Two learning processes take place –

The individual experiences a sensation and then reflects on the sensation.

Reflection, in turn, leads to new or improved knowledge.

Experience can be something that people learn from events in which they participated.

Events can be things that happened to them and observations that they made.

Experience can also be simulated through deliberate and pre-planned experimental arrangements.

Sense experience is, therefore, the ultimate source of all our concepts and knowledge.

Empiricists present complementary lines of thought if it is integrated with rationalist arguments.

First, they develop accounts of how experience provides the information that rationalists site, insofar as we have it in the first place.

However, the knowledge that we have was obtained through previous experiences.

Secondly, we can “create” experiences by doing experiments and building models, which can be simulations of reality.

In that manner we can gain knowledge through self-created experiences.

Empiricism favours quantitative research methods, although it can be used with quantitative, qualitative or mixed research methods.

Its leaning towards quantitative research is demonstrated by the fact that it can be associated with positivism.

Because positivism is even more technicist in nature.

And secondly, positivism also makes a clear distinction between objective facts and values.

Thirdly, both positivism and empiricism regard sense data that is uncontaminated by value or theory as the ultimate objective.

Empiricism is sometimes used in association with critical theory or any of the paradigms associated with critical theory.

Empiricism can also support scepticism as an alternative to rationalism.

Rationalists argue that, if experience cannot provide the concepts or knowledge, then we do not have them.

Empiricists do not agree with the rationalists’ account of how reason is the source of concepts and knowledge.

Empiricism is in opposition to structuralism because empiricism believes that learning is derived from gaining experience while structuralism focuses on interrelationships between objects, concepts and ideas.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that structuralism is used in research on events or phenomena that already exist, which means that knowledge also already exists.

According to empiricism, people can learn without reasoning.

Empiricism provides for accumulating further knowledge after having gained knowledge through earlier experiences.

Most empiricists accept that learning is a continuous process.

Accumulating facts and knowledge are a second goal of what is called “naïve empiricism”.


The philosophy behind empiricism is that all knowledge of matters of fact derives from experience.

The mind is not furnished with a set of concepts in advance of experience.

Knowledge must be deduced or inferred from actual events.

Reasoning and intuition are rejected as sources of learning.

Empiricists believe that innate ideas and superiority of knowledge do not exist.

People are born with an empty brain that is filled by experiencing phenomena through the senses.

Two learning processes take place – experiencing and reflection.

Experience can be simulated.

Prior knowledge is accepted in naïve empiricism and if empiricism is integrated with rationalist thinking.

Any research method can use empiricism although quantitative research is favoured.

Empiricism can be associated with:

  • Most interpretivist paradigms.
  • Some technicist paradigms, notably positivism and rationalism.
  • Some critical paradigms, for example scepticism and structuralism.
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ARTICLE 46: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Critical Theory

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


Violence against women tend to increase during every type of crisis.

Reports from some countries show that the abuse of women, children and old people are much higher than normal when countries institute lockdown in an effort to gain control over the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

According to medical and psychological reports, the detrimental impact of domestic violence on the physical and mental health of the victims has increased substantially.

As people lose their jobs and resources become scarcer, women and children may be at even greater risk of experiencing abuse.

Critical theory is one of the most suitable paradigmatic approaches to follow when conducting research on violence against women, children and the elderly.

I discuss critical theory and how it should be approached in this post.

What is Critical Theory?

The term ‘critical’ refers to the capacity to question the conceptual and theoretical basis of knowledge and method.

The questions that the researcher asks should go beyond prevailing assumptions and understandings. AND

Also, it should acknowledge the role of power and social position in phenomena.

Critical theory is prescriptive, explanatory, practical and normative.

It explains what is wrong with the current social reality,

It identifies those who are responsible for change, and

It provides clear norms for criticism and achievable practical goals for social transformation.

Its intention is not merely to give an account of society and behavior, but to realize a society that is based on equality and democracy for all the people in the society.

Conflict and inequality are crucial to understanding the dynamics of human relations.

Critical theory seeks to uncover the interests at work in particular situations and to interrogate the legitimacy of those interests.

Legitimacy implies identifying the extent to which equality and democracy are protected and promoted.

The intentions of critical theory are to transform society and individuals to social democracy.

Improving the quality of life in the workplace and in social settings focuses on the elimination or reduction of inequality, preferential treatment and discrimination.

Critical theory identifies the ‘false’ or ‘fragmented’ consciousness that has brought an individual or social group to relative powerlessness.

It questions the legitimacy of power.

It investigates issues of repression, lack of freedom of expression, ideology, participation (or not) representation (or not), inclusion or exclusion and the protection of individual and group interest.

Increasingly the multiple identities of individuals can justify an investigation.

Differences in race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, skin colour, disability and minority can be grounds for discrimination and oppression.

Any such discrimination can be investigated through critical theory.

Critical theory is any research that challenges conventional knowledge and methodologies.

It can use a quantitative or qualitative research approach.

Such research will, of course, need to maintain scientific objectivity.

In this respect the purpose of the critical theory paradigm would be practical, namely, to bring about a more just, egalitarian society in which individual and collective freedom are secured.

The contribution of critical theory is often not just adding to or improving current knowledge or philosophy, but also to contribute to the physical living quality of people.

The main task of critical research is seen as being one of social critique, meaning that the restrictive and alienating conditions of the status quo are brought to light.

Critical research focuses on the contest, conflict and contradictions in contemporary society.

It seeks to be emancipatory by helping to eliminate the causes of alienation and domination in society.

Critical theory decides what counts as valid social knowledge.

This is expressed as critique of the social structure and systems as revealed through the analysis of the discourse in society.

Although people can consciously act to change their social and economic circumstances, critical researchers recognize that their ability to do so is constrained by various forms of social, cultural and political domination.

Consciousness and identity are formed within the political field of knowledge.

Critical theorists argue that values, historical circumstances and political considerations cannot be changed through research.

Therefore, efforts to eliminate or reduce inequality and discrimination should focus on managing such values, historical circumstances and political considerations in such a way that people are not discriminated against because of it.

Our understanding of the educational, political, economic or social situation depends on the context within which we encounter them.

Our own theoretical knowledge and assumptions also influence our interpretation of observations.

These factors create our ideological frames of reference that act as lenses through which we see the world.

Research making use of a critical theory paradigm should, therefore, take the context and environment into consideration when seeking theoretical and physical improvements.

You, as the researcher, should disclose the needs and struggles of the community being investigated regardless of whether the community is aware of the needs or challenges.

Critical research attempts to reveal the socio-historical specificity of knowledge and to shed light on how particular knowledge reproduces structural relations of inequality and oppression.

It is assumed that social reality is historical and that it is produced and reproduced by people.

Every historical period produces rules that dictate what counts as scientific facts.

Society reproduces inequalities from one generation to the next.

This is called “reproduction theory”.

It is necessary to study conflict and inequality and the resistance that they cause to understand the dynamics of human relations.

Resistance becomes an important part of the response to injustices towards individuals or groups in a community or society.

In this respect, critical theory is also “resistance theory”.

Critical theory investigates and uses three types of knowledge, also called “cognitive interests”.

They are technical interests, practical interests and emancipatory interests.

Technical interests are concerned with the control of the physical environment, which generates empirical and analytical knowledge.

They are concerned with “how” things are done.

Practical interests are concerned with understanding the meaning of situations, which generates hermeneutic and historical knowledge.

Practical interests are concerned with the “what”, or the ontology of phenomena.

Emancipatory interests are concerned with the provision of growth and advancement, which generates critical knowledge and is concerned with exposing conditions of constraint and domination.

The emancipatory interest deals with the human capacity to be self-reflective and self-determining.

That is to act rationally.

Technical and emancipatory interests together deal with the epistemology of knowledge.

Critical theory serves as a foundation for and can be integrated with rationalism, neoliberalism, post-colonialism, feminism, radicalism, romanticism, humanism, and critical race theory.

Although qualitative research methods are popular, quantitative research methods can also be used.

Proponents of critical theory claim that it is a complex and intricate paradigm which requires years of intensive study to fully understand.

They, furthermore, feel that research that deals with the values and emotions of people need to take affective factors, which are difficult to quantify, into consideration.

A second school of scientists feel that regarding critical theory as complex is smugness.

Emotions, they believe, can be analyzed quantitatively by asking multiple-choice questions in a questionnaire.


Critical theory questions the conceptual and theoretical basis of current knowledge and methods.

It focuses on the contest, conflict and contradictions in society.

Valid social knowledge is expressed as critique of the social structure and systems.

Critical theory is hampered by social, cultural and political domination.

Historical as well as current own knowledge and assumptions are accepted as data for research.

Critical theory is:

  1. Prescriptive.
  2. Explanatory.
  3. Practical.
  4. Normative. AND
  5. Emancipatory.

The intention of critical theory can be:

  1. To identify who is responsible for change and who resists needed change.
  2. To realize a society based on equality and democracy for all.
  3. To uncover illegitimate practices in society.
  4. To transform society and individuals to social democracy.
  5. To improve the quality of life of a community or society in general.
  6. To identify the acts or omissions that cause inequality and injustice.
  7. To combat discrimination.
  8. To set achievable and practical goals for social transformation.
  9. To explain what is wrong with the current social reality.
  10. To add to and improve current knowledge.

Critical theory can be used with qualitative or quantitative research methods.

It investigates technical interests, practical interests and emancipatory interest.

Critical theory can be associated with rationalism, neoliberalism, post-colonialism, feminism, radicalism, romanticism, humanism, and critical race theory.

Positivism opposes critical theory.

Some scientists regard critical theory as complex while others regard the perception that it is complex as smugness.

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