ARTICLE 65: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Radicalism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Can a drive to achieve change be justified if it is radical?

Is “being radical” not an indication that the motives for the drive might be suspect?

Does it not mean that one group is trying to enforce its will on other people?

Will such a drive not lead to resistance?

Do people who become involved in a radical campaign consider the origin and merit of the drive?

Or do they just participate because it is fashionable or because they are the victims of mass hysteria?

I discuss radicalism in this article.

The increasing occurrence of radical actions, for example by university students and the communities at large campaigning for certain privileges and against corruption and other ills in many countries brought radicalism as a paradigm to the fore. Some researchers regard radicalism as a research method. Radical research focuses on understanding the need to change existing situations and practices from a transformative socio-economic perspective.

At the individual level people tend to think in terms of their own interests. According to radicalist thinking this can be managed. In addition, the way people behave is largely determined by their respective levels of academic development and financial capacity. Consequently, people in organisations treat one another according to their status, which is to some extent determined by their qualifications and income.

Research using radicalism as a paradigm mostly investigates social arrangements between people, for example nations, communities, student groups, etc. The epistemological aim of such research would be to analyse and improve the knowledge of people about emancipation and change.

Research is conducted on groups to investigate the nature and behaviour of such groups. Radical research can also be used to do research on individuals, for example to help people “fit in” with a particular group or community or to determine why individuals do or do not fit in with a particular social setting. The higher up the community hierarchy level the target group for the research is, the more difficult it becomes to institute radical change. It would, for example, be much easier to radically change the policies of a university than the policies of a country.

Key elements of radical research include covering a network of role players, continuous fieldwork, a bottom-up perspective, studying real events, a networked design process, using a prototype that is as real as possible, real world evaluation and becoming part of innovation initiatives. As many role players as possible should be included in the target group for radical research. This is necessary to gain deep insight into the relationships and interactions across the network of organisations relevant to the research topic.

Even though examples of real work provide the best research results, mock-ups and prototypes may be used to address specific issues related to the research, for example when setting up real scenarios would be too expensive, time-consuming or impractical. However, prototypes should be as close to the real item as possible to be relevant.

You should follow your research up by providing role players with feedback, and fieldwork should be spread over a period rather than just one or two short interventions. Fieldwork requires the study of real events. Simulated activities do not provide as accurate information as real work.

Real work conditions are subject to many more unexpected occurrences than simulated conditions or scenarios. Even small and routine incidents are dynamic and coloured by many complex issues that might impact on the research. Although observation while an activity takes place will provide the best information, inspections after the fact might sometimes be necessary as a second-best option.

Radical research follows a bottom-up perspective. Many of the good insights and important aspects relevant to the research can be found on grass-root levels in organisations. You can cover rich descriptions and relevant insights by focusing on people who work with issues relevant to the research daily. Although higher level managers should also form part of the target group, rich information about management can be obtained from people on lower levels in the organisation. 

A networked design process is used in radical research. A design perspective enables you to move from a descriptive to a constructive focus. Design workshops, prototyping and early evaluations and focused field work may be conducted to cover newly found aspects that are important. All target groups in the research are not necessarily linked or even aware of one another.

In radical research, you should become part of innovation initiatives. Maintaining a strong and close relationship to the target group enables you to study real world responses and events. Having the opportunity to follow an innovation project from the inside is a good way to get access to underlying assumptions and real-world challenges, organisational issues, financial aspects, etc. Radicalism cannot be applied with the same measure of success in all fields of research. The less a field of research deals with human interaction, the less applicable will a radicalist paradigmatic approach be.

Because of its focus on positive change, radicalism is associated with critical theory, neoliberalism, post-colonialism, feminism, romanticism and critical race theory.

One can perhaps argue that the technicist paradigms, namely rationalism, positivism, scientism and modernism are in opposition to radicalism because of a difference in research methods. Radicalism favours qualitative research methods, although it can also be used with quantitative research methods.

The inequalities between people in a community sometimes lead to advocacy campaigns to eliminate or at least reduce discrimination against minorities or otherwise disadvantaged members of the community. However, radical change in a short space of time is mostly difficult to achieve because of the large number of variables involved.

We increasingly witness advocacy campaigns that try to speed up the change by keeping the drive running at an intense level for as long as they possibly can.


Radicalism is a social arrangement aimed at emancipation and change.

People are treated in accordance with their status in the community or group.

Organisational structured are hierarchical and stratified.

Individual self-centredness is managed.

Radicalism studies real events.

A bottom-up perspective is followed.

Continuous fieldwork is done.

Deep and rich insight are sought.

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

Groups are mostly researched.

A network of role players is covered.

Radicalism is associated with neoliberalism, feminism, post-colonialism, romanticism, critical theory and critical race theory.

Radicalism is opposed to scientism, positivism, modernism and rationalism.

Criticism against radicalism includes:

  1. That it does not apply equally to all fields of research.
  2. That large numbers of variables are involved in change, making it difficult to achieve permanent change.
  3. And that it is difficult to institute radical change on high levels in society.
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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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