ARTICLE 64: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Pre-modernism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Is there any justification for universities to conduct research for the sake of research?

Stated differently, should universities spend time and money on research that does not solve any social, technological, economic, legislative, environmental or political problems?

Should universities be allowed to spend time and money on research just to flex their intellectual muscles?

To show other universities and the world how advanced they are?

Is such research a step backwards?

After all, that is what pre-modernists did centuries ago.

I discuss pre-modernism in this video.

Originally pre-modernism was based upon revealed knowledge from authoritative sources. It was believed that ultimate truth could be known and the way to this knowledge was through direct revelation. This direct revelation was believed to come from a god with a church as the primary authority source.

Pre-modernists see the world as a totality with a unified purpose. The human being is seen as part of the whole, which is greater than its parts. This means that value is added to the sum of the values of each part by combining them into one phenomenon from which knowledge can be gained.

Pre-modernists strive to progress away from historical developments. As part of the whole, human beings also share the blame for the mistakes that the collective made through history. The rationale for this is that each individual is personally and collectively responsible to act morally correctly. However, there is no distinction between individual and collective responsibility.

Although an emic approach fits in better with the spirit of pre-modernism, research can also be done by a researcher who is not a member of the target group for the research, i.e. an etic approach. Qualitative or quantitative research methods can be used to investigate the human being as part of the whole.

Pre-modernism, modernism and post-modernism can be seen as periods of time and as philosophical systems, the one evolving into the next.

Although pre-modernism is seen as the forerunner of modernism, they differ in the sense that modernism is a scientific paradigm, preferring quantitative research methods, whereas pre-modernism favours qualitative research methods.

Criticism of pre-modernism is that it is almost irrelevant except, perhaps for historical development study purposes. The reason for this is that the notions of divine interventions and the mystical have been pushed aside by what is regarded as reason. Even so, some of the most advanced universities world-wide support the notion that ‘research for the sake of research’ is an advanced approach to research. This includes understanding events and cultures that no longer exist. In this respect one can argue that pre-modernism still has a role to play, although it is now technicist paradigms rather than interpretive paradigms that support free inquiry.

The notion that research should not be restricted by considerations of immediate practical relevance applies to any field of research. The pursuit of knowledge for the purposes of deepening understanding might, eventually, support or at least inspire practical and occupational value.


Pre-modernism originally believed that ultimate truth could come from direct revelation.

Now pre-modernism is moving away from historical beliefs.

The world is a totality with a unified purpose.

The whole is regarded as greater than its parts.

Each individual is held personally and collectively responsible to act morally correct.

People share the blame for mistakes.

An emic approach to data collection is preferred.

Qualitative and quantitative research methods can be used.

Pre-modernism is associated with some elements and opposed to other elements of modernism and post-modernism.

Some academics regard the value of pre-modernism for research purposes as insignificant.


On my question if universities should spend time and money on research just for the sake of research:

Yes, I think they should.

In fact, in my opinion there is no such things as worthless research.

Research that is well structured, logical and based on corroborated data will always add value.

Even if only to serve as an example of how academic research should be conducted.

Enjoy your studies.

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