Written by Dr Hannes Nel, D. Com; D. Phil
Most, if not all, paradigms, are research methods while what we call research methods are often just tools that we use to collect data. Some paradigms developed into full-fledged research methods because of their rise in popularity. Transformative research is an example of this.
are a multitude of paradigms. Some of them are modifications of classical
paradigms that have been articulated by academics to enhance the research
process. 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. The
paradigms discussed in this series of articles are those that are generally
accepted as being of relevance to academic research. However, the list can
never be exhaustive or final because research is a dynamic process and new
paradigms are developed all the time.
paradigms, also called philosophical perspectives, philosophical epochs,
epistemological approaches, discipline matrices, or theoretical frameworks,
represent certain assumptions and perceptions with respect to the nature of the
world and how we come to know about it. There are many different definitions
for a paradigm. Here are examples of such definitions:
paradigm can be defined as an integrated cluster of substantive concepts,
variables and problems attached with corresponding methodological approaches
collection of logically related assumptions, concepts, or propositions that
orient thinking and research.”
“An example or
pattern: small, self-contained, simplified examples that we use to illustrate
procedures, processes, and theoretical points.”
philosophical intent or motivation for undertaking a study.”
“The set of
common beliefs and agreements shared between scientists about how problems
should be understood and addressed.”
“A paradigm is
essentially a way of thinking about or viewing the world. Paradigms are also
frameworks that researchers use as a basis for everything else that they do.”
paradigm, therefore, implies a philosophy that includes certain patterns,
structures and frameworks or systems of scientific and academic ideas, values
and assumptions that a group of researchers have in common regarding the nature
and conduct of research. This differs between different groups of researchers;
hence we have a relatively large number of different paradigms to choose from.
The philosophical point of view informs the research methodology and also the
way in which the contents of the research will be interpreted. It, furthermore,
links the choice and use of methods to the desired outcomes. Paradigms are
systems of interrelated ontological, epistemological and methodological
fact that we need to adopt one or the other research paradigm shows that
qualitative research is rather subjective, because what we are actually doing
is to adopt a point of view while ignoring, rejecting or neglecting a number of
other possible points of view. Especially researchers making use of
quantitative research methods might feel that just one paradigmatic approach,
usually technicist in nature, should be the only philosophical approach.
can discuss the argument that only quantitative research produces accurate and
objective results, at length. In reality numbers can also be manipulated to
support a particular point of view. However, what is needed is that we accept
that we are dealing with people and that the truth can have many different
flavours. In qualitative research the truth is time-bound, meaning that what is
true today might not be true tomorrow (which is not what technicist paradigms suggest).
paradigms should be chosen essentially with the research problem and research
question or questions in mind (quantitative research often uses a hypothesis
rather than a research question or problem). Research paradigms allow for a
variety of research methods to be used in order to answer research questions.
The choice is not so much about research methods, but rather about ontological
and epistemological assumptions. The challenge is to select a paradigm or
combination of paradigms that are most suited to solving a problem and
answering one or more research questions. The choice of a research paradigm or
paradigms should be made in the context of many and often competing influences
on how research problems are defined and investigated, and against the
background of personal preferences and many external variables.
determine the spirit in which research is conducted and, as such, impact on the
nature of the research question, i.e. what is to be studied, and on the manner
in which the question is to be studied. They add a philosophical perception to
the clinical academic meaning of arguments and content and are a reflection of
the value system of the particular researcher. Even so, the chosen paradigm or
paradigms have an influence on the data collection methods and research methods
that you will use.
a researcher you will inevitably follow at least one of the paradigmatic
approaches even if not intentionally. More likely, though, you will position
your research at a point where elements of different paradigms are found in
your approach with an emphasis towards one, two or even more of them. This is
especially true when complex research problems are investigated.
more than one research paradigm facilitates the possibility of increasing the
comprehensiveness of the knowledge developed through your research. Your
research findings should often be as generic as possible, meaning that they
should apply to a variety of contexts. Some paradigms apply to only one or a
limited number of contexts. For this reason the adoption of a number of
supporting paradigms might be called for.
need to choose the paradigm or paradigms early, i.e. when you structure your
research approach and methods. You may even specify it in your research
proposal already, because it shows your intent, motivation and expectations of
the research. You will have no basis for choosing the methods or research
design that you will follow if you don’t choose your research paradigm or
paradigms as an early step, perhaps even the first step after your research
problem or hypothesis. Research is a circular and
recursive process; therefore you may change your paradigmatic approach at a
later stage if it becomes necessary, even though this might cost you time and
will need to make a number of philosophical assumptions in order to choose a
paradigmatic approach to follow in your research. Once you have chosen a
research paradigm, you need to make all elements of the research design clear,
and articulate all elements of your research with the paradigm that you have
chosen. If you choose more than one paradigm, one of them will probably
represent your primary focus with two or three others playing a lesser role.
should, however, guard against combining paradigms that are in opposition to
one another. The reason for this is that the concepts, theories and practices
of supporters of opposing paradigms are based on different ontological and
epistemological assumptions. They, furthermore, do not share a common
vocabulary with shared meanings, and there is no neutral ground from which to
adjudicate the merit of the paradigms or their products. Technicist paradigms, for
example, are often in opposition to interpretive paradigms while critical
paradigms fit in somewhere between the two groups. Being in “opposition”,
“challenged by”, “rejecting”, “associated with”, “disagree with”, etc. do not
mean that different paradigms completely differ or agree, but rather that they
agree or disagree in terms of certain characteristics.
need to be fully aware of the paradigmatic assumptions that you make and you
need to consistently move from description to explanation in terms of your
findings and conclusions without deviating from your paradigmatic assumptions.
Progressing from description to explanation requires substantial creativity if
your research is to make a positive contribution to the available scientific
in the design of your research process can be ensured by articulating the
research question and methods to the paradigm or paradigms of your choice. You
can probably achieve better coherence by grouping target group members together
based on certain criteria, for example gender, age brackets, geographical
location, etc. You can also achieve more coherent results by making use of a
more suitable data collection method, for example interviews.
In closing, it would
be almost impossible, and irrelevant, to list and discuss all paradigms that
you can find. The reasons for this are, firstly, that researchers do not agree
on which paradigms are, in fact, paradigms, at least not as philosophical
points of view that can be used for research purposes. Secondly, many paradigms
overlap and echo the nature and elements of other paradigms, which leads to a
substantial measure of duplication. Thirdly, it would be difficult, if not
impossible, to find all paradigms that exist and that are still being
developed. We will discuss 28 different paradigms that can be utilised in
academic research in the articles following on this one.
http://www.uir.unisa.ac.za/bistream/handle/10500/4245… Accessed on
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