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 41: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Transformative Research

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


Change starts when someone sees the next step.

This is often true, and it is when the need for change becomes critically important that somebody will be motivated enough to apply their minds to finding a solution.

There are many examples of people who discovered wonderful solutions for problems when it looked like everything was lost.

And yes, it is during times of crisis that people often perform at their best.

War, financial depression, a pandemic seem to stimulate the innovative skills of people.

When caught with their back against the wall, people discover the most remarkable solutions.

The jet engine, electronics, vaccines are examples of such inventions.

Transformative research deals primarily with research on and for change.

I discuss transformative research in this article.

We are living in a dynamic environment where environmental, economic, technological, political, legislative, health and social change are the order of the day.

Transformative research focuses on the discovery and development of new ideas, procedures, products, etc.

Change can take place in any field of study, operations, or industry.

Transformative research challenges our current understanding and ways of doing things.

It provides new ways in which to do things, solve problems, even how we perceive life and the world around us.

Transformative research is often not planned.

Examples of things that were discovered by accident include penicillin, post-it notes, saccharine and the pacemaker.

It depends on a receptive and open mind.

It takes advantage of unforeseen events leading to novel hypotheses that might sometimes seem implausible.

It begins with learning, development of new ideas, visualization of problems and exploration of problem-solving techniques.

Communication and debate often prove beneficial in allowing the development of transformative ideas.

Accepted dogma is not allowed to stand in the way of the search for the truth in terms of a problem statement or hypothesis.

Researchers making use of a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods often favour a transformative research approach.

A good measure of logic, wisdom and creativity is necessary for transformative research.

Cognitive errors can lead to serious, perhaps even tragically destructive implementation.

And experimenting with faulty assumptions can lead to serious damage.

Irresponsible and shoddy research can destroy industries, even countries and populations.

Tainted research with short-term political or economic gain in mind can lead to serious long-term damage.

Research on global warming and the resulting climate change is an example of this.

You can probably think of even more radical examples.

Despite a rather liberal approach, you should keep in mind that researchers remain accountable for their findings and the consequences of their work.

You should, therefore, work in an academic atmosphere and make use of reputable data sources and research methods.

You research findings must be logical, accurate, authentic and valid.

The university, notably your study leader, will require of you to motivate your arguments and prove or at least explain the validity of your findings.

You will probably experience a feeling of elation and personal revelation when you discover something new or come to appreciate newly found information.

Discovering new knowledge or ideas may depend on optimism and hope.

And the development of a concept usually relies on persistence and mental discipline.

It is often claimed that revelations and discoveries happen by chance.

However, it is possible that you just had a better understanding of a system, keener observation or a better ability to think analytically than others.

New knowledge will change you and the environment in which you do your research.

Doctoral studies should lead to such intellectual evolvement and contribute new knowledge that can be used in a field of study.

Master’s degree studies can create an awareness of the need for change.

Transformative discoveries leading to paradigm shifts can effect change at many levels and fields of study.

When this happens, there will often be sociological stages of resistance to the change.

First the change is denied or ridiculed.

Then some people might get angry and resist the change, and

Finally, they will accept the change.

Some people might even claim that they knew all along that the change would happen.

Or that it was their idea.

Transformative research does not always lead to change.

You can expect to stumble upon some inaccuracies, especially in the beginning.

Creativity and an open mind invite trial and error, leading to a gradual progression towards new concepts and ideas.

Change mostly requires persistence and hard work.

Although sudden and unexpected change can happen.

However, observations and findings are often only approximations.

But it is the next step that is needed to trigger change.

Ontologically transformative research evolved from a paradigm to a full-fledged research method.

Paradigms that can be used in association with transformative research include functionalism, liberalism, pragmatism and radicalism.

Because of its focus on everyday life, ethnomethodology opposes transformative research.

Modernism is too bureaucratic, prescriptive, procedural and structured to be used with transformative research.


Transformative research deals with the search for change.

New ideas, procedures or products are often sought.

Change can be discovered by chance.

It can also be triggered through an open mind, creativity and analytical thinking.

Communication and debate facilitate transformation.

You need to be careful of making cognitive mistakes, because it can sometimes lead to serious damage.

Keep in mind that you are accountable for the outcomes and consequences of your research.

People sometimes resist change.

It can start with denial, followed by anger and resistance, and finally acceptance.

Transformative research does not always deliver creative solutions.

Change can happen suddenly, but it is mostly the result of a gradual process of transformation.

Paradigms that focus on change and survival fit in well with transformative research.

Paradigms that focus strongly on structure, bureaucracy, prescriptions and procedures do not fit in well with transformative research. 

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