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.

Summary

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.

Close

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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ARTICLE 61 Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree studies: Post-positivism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Here we have a soft teddy bear with teeth.

How do you reconcile values and passion with politics?

And the teddy bear can also be quite cynical.

It believes that all knowledge is flawed.

And that reality can never be fully understood.

What I do not understand, is how a paradigm that values passion and involvement with the target group for the research can favour an etic approach.

I discuss the multi-faceted nature of post-positivism in this article.

Post-positivist approaches assume that reality is multiple, subjective and mentally constructed by individuals. As opposed to truth and evidence being critical factors of the positivist research, values, passion and politics are more important for post-positive research. Post-positivist thinkers focus on establishing and searching for evidence that is valid and reliable in terms of the existence of phenomena rather than generalisation. This contrasts with the positivist approach of making claims about absolute truth through the establishment of generalisation and laws.

Researchers working within the post-positivist paradigm follow a critical-realist ontology, implying that all knowledge is flawed in some way or another.  This means that, in the eyes of post-positivist researchers, reality does exist but can never be fully understood.

Objectivity is recognised as an ideal that can never be achieved, and research is conducted with a greater awareness of subjectivity. Reality is not a fixed entity and it is to a certain degree accepted that reality is structured in the minds of individuals involved in the research. Post-positivists caution, however, that the constructed reality does not exist in a vacuum, but is influenced by context (culture, gender, etc.). For this reason, post-positivists claim that objective reality as proposed by positivist philosophy can only be seen as one aspect or dimension of reality, the focus being on the context and purpose of the research.

Post-positivism is a useful paradigm for researchers who maintain an interest in some aspects of positivism such as quantification, yet wish to incorporate interpretivist concerns around subjectivity and meaning, and who are interested in the pragmatic combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. Research, therefore, is broad and general while theory and practice are studied as an integrated unit.

The positivist claims about truth and scientific knowledge are questioned by those supporting a post-positivist paradigm. You will, therefore, rely on your own epistemology, that is how you understand the scope and nature of your research as well as the factors that have an impact on it. You will also need to investigate more widely than you own understanding by taking into consideration how others construct and maintain their perceptions of the environment of relevance.  It is necessary to “see” the research topic and scope from the outside, in order to obtain a holistic picture of the research problem. This implies that you might need to follow an etic approach, even though an emic approach can also be followed, especially if an interpretivist paradigmatic focus is adopted.

From the above argument you can see that in research making use of a post-positivist approach, considering your research and the target group for your research from the outside does not always mean a purely etic approach. It is necessary to consider your research topic more objectively than would have been the case if you became part of the target group for the research. However, an emic approach will enable you to employ sound judgement and to critically consider your data, analysis, conclusions and findings. This would be preferable if a degree of passion and involvement with the target group for your research is called for. You can also combine elements of an etic and emic approach. This will require paying special attention to ethics in the sense that you need to respect and uphold the human rights of the members of your target group.

Like critical theory, post-positivism occupies the space between positivism and constructivism. It also shows elements of relativism in the sense that it is more flexible than the scientific paradigms from which it seems to have evolved. It is also associated with interpretivism; that is the search for meaning, although this is mostly linked to positivism, because quantification can also be used for analysis of data. It, furthermore, shares with post-modernism the characteristic that it can be disruptive in the way data is analysed.

 The limitations of post-positivist approaches generally relate to the interactive and participatory nature of quantitative and qualitative methods. In using interactive and participatory approaches, post-positivists are heavily criticised by positivists who claim that post-positivisms are qualitative methods that are merely an assembly of anecdotes and personal impressions, which are highly suspect in terms of research objectivity and researcher impartiality. Contrary to this, those in favour of approaching research from a more functionalist point of view argue that the two research paradigms could be used complementary, to strengthen the data collection and analysis process.

Summary

Post-positivism focuses on values, passion and politics.

Realty is regarded as multiple, subjective and mentally constructed.

The paradigm seeks truth and evidence that are valid and reliable in terms of phenomena, not in terms of generalisation.

Post-positivism is based on a critical-realist ontology.

All knowledge is flawed.

Reality is not a fixed entity and is influences by context and purpose.

Objectivity is a volatile entity.

Post-positivism can be associated with relativism, interpretivism, constructivism and positivism.

Post-positivism is also opposed to positivism.

Criticism against post-positivism includes:

  1. That the objectivity of research making use of the paradigm is questioned.
  2. That the impartiality of the researcher is questioned.
  3. And that some academics regard the paradigm as an assembly of anecdotes and personal impressions.
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ARTICLE 59: Research Methodology for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Post-colonialism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Was colonialism a success?

Who benefited from colonialism?

Who were damaged by the empire building process?

What would the empires and colonies of old have looked like if the transitive process did not take place?

Does it still matter or is it water under the bridge?

Questions like these show that there is lots of potential for interesting social research in the colonial past.

I discuss post-colonialism in the article.

Post-colonialism is the study of the impact of colonial rule on colonised people and how it impacted on their culture, economy, religion, government, etc. The key to post-colonialism, as to colonialism, can be found in the presence of any form of oppression. It is often a reaction to what especially the victims of colonial rule would regard as a variety of different injustices.

Post-colonialism is mostly based on a description of the colonial past, often by writers from the colonies; a tradition of gaining insight and knowledge by learning from the past. Ironically, it was academics from colonial powers that mostly studied and wrote about the social and political power relationships between the colonial powers and their colonies. This, however, gradually changed as colonies regained their freedom and started delivering their own academics, writers and researchers.

Post-colonialism is a set of approaches to the interpretation and understanding of colonialism that draws both continuities with, and challenges, the grand narratives of colonial rule.

Political power, cultural identity and culture are often the focus of post-colonial studies. The purpose of such studies is often the redress of injustices of the past and regaining cultural, intellectual, political, national and judicial independence and autonomous status. 

Both qualitative and quantitative research methods can be used to do research in post-colonialism.

Feminism, critical race theory, ethnomethodology and post-modernism are closely associated with post-colonialism in the sense that all these paradigms can be used to investigate oppression.

In a feministic vein post-colonialism is seen as an effort to subjugate women. In a critical race-theory vein, an attitude of superiority towards people of a different culture, gender, language, or colour are often indications of post-colonialism that can, and often should be researched with the aim of achieving equity and growth.

In an ethnomethodological vein post-colonialism focuses on common-sense reality as it plays out in interaction between people, i.e. social life.

In a post-modernistic vein, it is believed that independence and freedom are Western ideologies used to colonise foreign cultures.

Post-colonialism is a good example of a paradigm that exposes a rather unsettling disagreement amongst academics about the true meanings of paradigms. This can be found in discussions and arguments about paradigms in books, to some extent, and magazine articles, to a much larger extent. Different writers discuss paradigms from different perspectives and in different contexts, making it difficult to generalise about which paradigms are in opposition to which others and in terms of what criteria they differ. The disruptive nature of post-colonialism is yet another characteristic that it shares with post-modernism.

Post-colonialism, for example, differs from colonialism in the sense that it focuses more on the results of colonialism rather than the nature of colonialism as a philosophical point of view. It, furthermore, can be said to be in opposition to any of the technicist paradigms in the sense that it focuses more on the study of subjective interpretation of social interaction, whereas technicist paradigms, such as positivism, focus more on statistical analysis and cause and effect. Both, however, explore social reality. That is why claims to opposition or association between paradigms should be qualified, or at least understood as being true in a specific context and in terms of specific criteria. This means that the same paradigm can be associated with and opposed to a second paradigm. Even this, however, is not perfectly accurate because every opposition or association should be qualified.

Some writers focus on the disappointing results of colonialisation, for example inequalities, cultural conflicts, fragmentation and refugee problems, while others emphasise the benefits of colonialism, for example educational systems, infrastructure and technology as elements of post-colonialism. These, however, are often sensitive issues that lead to conflict and heated arguments.

Because of its historical nature (colonies belong in the past) research in post-colonialism leans heavily on written documents. Written documents invariably require a measure of deconstruction, which should not be a problem seeing that it is typical of virtually all qualitative research.

Some academics feel that most literature on colonialism is written by countries that were colonial powers. This, however, is rapidly changing as academics in colonies of the past increasingly write about topics such as colonialism, racism, discrimination, equity and justice.

Post-colonialism is also criticised for its obsession with national identity. Some researchers feel that national identity is a rather fluid concept that changes over time and, therefore, does not justify any claims to what could have been, or what could not have been, if a particular country was not colonised.

Summary

Post-colonialism mostly deals with oppression, learning from and describing the colonial past.

The research process focuses on interpretation and understanding.

Post-colonialism draws continuities with and challenges the grand narratives of colonial rule.

A quantitative or qualitative research approach can be followed.

However, a qualitative approach is preferred.

Post-colonialism can be associated with ethnomethodology, post-modernism, critical race theory and feminism. 

It is opposed to positivism and structuralism.

Criticism against post-colonialism includes:

  1. That it is too dependent on literature study.
  2. It is mostly written by die “wrongdoers”.
  3. It is often obsessed with national identity.
  4. And that colonization was a failure.
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ARTICLE 56: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Neoliberalism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Many writers wrote about an innocent and beautiful farm girl who sought fame and fortune in the city.

Only to become the victim of unscrupulous criminals who misused her innocence.

Neoliberalism is such a teenage girl.

In this article, I will tell you how vulnerable neoliberalism is to the corrupt people of our world.

Neoliberalism is a description of the dominant mode of conducting political and economic organisation in a global world, which obviously would also be the field in which research is conducted. It also has an impact on other elements of the human environment, for example education, jurisdiction, and science.

Whereas classical liberalism signalled a negative view of the state, neoliberalism conceives of a positive role for a state that creates the optimal conditions for capitalist expansion, control and exploitation. The state has a definite function and responsibility towards the community, including the protection of private property rights, guaranteeing the quality and integrity of money, military defence and police protection of the community, the proper functioning of the economy and markets, and the protection of the environment. Governments that support neoliberalism would typically follow policies that encourage privatisation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade and the reduction in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. A neoliberalist economic approach would promote entrepreneurship, creativity, participative leadership and democracy.

Neoliberalism is associated with a form of state that seeks reduction in public spending; it is obsessed with efficiency and effectiveness and elevates the market as the primary instrument for determining the distribution of social goods. An important basis of liberal thought is that all individuals are equal in terms of being legal citizens of a country. 

In terms of the academic focus, knowledge is regarded and promoted as an investment for the future and as a global commodity. Traditional, legacy approaches to education and training are challenged by focusing more on the skills needs of industry, rather than philosophy and theory.

In neoliberalist research, the relationships between researchers and communities have changed from “research on” to “research with” communities. This means that research based on a neoliberalist paradigm would include the researcher as part of the community while conducting research in liberalisation, i.e. an emic approach.

Action research became more prominent than in the past because of the emic approach and the focus on politics and the economy. In this respect the purpose of the research is not just to contribute to the available knowledge in a field, or to develop emancipatory theory, but rather to forge a more direct link between thought and action that underlies the pure-applied distinction that has traditionally characterised management and social research.

Private institutions are important role players in the preparation of students for future careers. Research, consequently, focuses more on the needs of industry, governments and markets rather than on knowledge for the sake of academic status. Action research is conducted with the primary intention of solving a specific immediate and concrete problem in a local setting.

Even though neoliberalism clashes with liberalism in some respects, it also supports liberal values such as equality and freedom in relation to imperialism, gender, race and austerity. Neoliberalism is associated with critical theory, post-colonialism, feminism, radicalism, romanticism, and critical race theory with the result that researchers making use of a neoliberalist paradigm would probably make use of a qualitative research approach.

The technicist paradigms, notably scientism, positivism and modernism can be said to be in opposition to neoliberalism. Some academics claim that the lack of scientific consistency should be blamed for the failure of neoliberalist government and economic policies, while others feel that it is rather unethical and irresponsible government and business practices that resulted in increased unemployment, higher inflation, social unrest, environmental disasters, etc. in many countries.

Summary

Neoliberalism focuses on political and other elements of the human environment.

Knowledge and skills development are regarded as an investment.

The state and private institutions play an important role in the economy and therefore also in research.

Neoliberalism support extensive economic liberalisation.

A qualitative research approach is preferred.

An emic approach towards the target for the research is favoured.

Neoliberalism is well suited for action research.

Neoliberalism can be associated with critical theory, critical race theory, feminism, radicalism, romanticism and post-colonialism.

Neoliberalism is opposed to scientism, positivism and modernism.

Criticism against neoliberalism is that it lacks scientific consistency and that unethical and irresponsible government and business practices can damage the value of the paradigm for research and practice.

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