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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