Outline the assumptions and methods of Positivist and Interpretivist approaches to research Social science research can generally be approached in two main ways, positivism and interpretivism. ‘For many observers, this diversity is a sign of chronic intellectual failure and as an indication of the chaotic state into which the subject has fallen and cannot escape’ (Scott, J. 2011. P. 1), however, a social researcher may argue that the differences in how research is conducted leads to a broader and more rounded understanding of the social world, even if they may maintain that their hosen method is correct.
Positivism is the approach which argues that research in both social science and natural science can be approached in a uniform and objective manner. Interpretivists argue that researchers should use subjective methods and interpret situations depending on circumstances and form their theories accordingly. This essay will expand on the ways these research methods are carried out and the thinking behind using these approaches. Positivism and interpretivism differ greatly in the ways they are carried out and in the reasoning behind using them as methodologies.
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When coming from a positivist perspective the researcher will generally use deductive reasoning, meaning they will form a theory they wish to test out, they will devise a way in which to test the theory, create a hypothesis and collect data through the method they have chosen in order to support or oppose it. ‘The essential nature of a hypothesis is that it must me falsifiable’ (Walliman, N. 2006. P. 18) and it must also be provable.
According to Walliman falsification may lead to complete rejection of a theory, meaning the researcher may need to go back and adjust their theory and hypothesis. When conducting research coming from the interpretivist perspective inductive reasoning is usually used, which is where theory is an outcome of research’ (Bryman, A. 2012. P. 19). A researcher using inductive reasoning will choose a category that they wish to research and conduct some general research around this category without deciding on a theory first.
This method is much more open to new ideas than the deductive method and the direction of research is subject to change throughout, as more information and viewpoints become available. There are two main types of data ollected when researching aspects of social science, they are quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative data is numerical data, collected by manipulating variables within a social situation which effect the people who are part of this situation. Quantitative researchers usually employ positivist perspectives, approaching their research in a systematic way.
Studies can be carried out through experimentation (measuring cause and effect), or statistics can be collected through questionnaires or census. The effect on participants is measured using numbers, categories or yes or o answers and can be represented visually with graphs or table. Emile Durkheim is seen as one of the founding fathers of sociology and of positivist social research. approach seeking to find law-like relations among phenomena and modelled on the physical sciences’ (Cuff, E. C. 2006. P. 59).
Durkheim’s study was conducted entirely objectively by analysing official statistics rather than by interview which would have involved personal association. This lack of subjectivity may be seen as an advantage to researchers if their wish is not to become emotionally involved with their articipants. The way quantitative studies are typically designed means there is no scope for personal circumstances to factor, meaning discussion of topics other than that of the study, between researcher and participant is kept to a minimum or avoided altogether.
Another advantage for an investigator who is collecting quantitative is that the lack of discussion when questioning and collecting data means the study is quicker and more efficient than a study with in depth interviewing. Interpretivist researchers largely collect qualitative data when conducting their studies. A qualitative researcher is interested in peoples’ individual experience. When conducting a study researchers will spend large amounts of time with participants asking probing and open questions to obtain the most in depth information they can.
This method can be very time consuming and although much useful information will be gathered, it may often take a long time to sift through the data which has been obtained and analyse the themes. Representation of qualitative data is much less standardised than with quantitative data, it needs to be represented through words and discussion rather than facts and fgures in a graph. Positivist and interpretivist researchers occupy very different philosophical positions. Ontology is ‘a branch of philosophy concerned with understanding the nature of matter’ (Ransome, P. 010. P. 448), so it is concerned with what we understand to be real and how we understand reality. There are two main ontological perspectives, the first of which is materialism, which is tied into the positivist approach to researching the social world. A researcher who identifies with the materialist philosophy believes that social interaction is determined entirely by physical circumstances and thinks hat social phenomena can be explained by these physical circumstances. Contrasting with this is the idealist perspective which is associated with interpretivism.
Idealists understand the world to be constructed in the minds of individuals and thus to be understood differently by each individual. When approaching research they take interest in peoples’ personal experience of the world. The ways that positivist and interpretivist researchers conduct their research and collect their data differ greatly, the first is numerical, scientific and impersonal, the latter is experiential, subjective and individual. The philosophies behind these ethods are complex, but reasonable when you understand the connections made when identifying with one reasoning or the other.
The diversity of methodology and understanding in social science makes for a rich understanding of society. Bryman, A. (2012). Social Research Methods – 4th Ed. Oxford, England: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. cuff, E. C. (2006). perspectives in sociology (5. ed. ). London, England: Routledge. Ransome, P. (2010). Social theory for beginners. Bristol, England: Policy Press. Scott, J. (2011). Conceptualising the social world: principles of sociological analysis. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Walliman, N.