Relationships Among Research Methods and Paradigms

Research methods and Paradigms

Relationships Among Research Methods and Paradigms

 
by Dr. Sharon Short
 
During the past several decades, considerable debate has raged between those who favor empirical (generally termed “quantitative”) research and those who prefer interpretive (generally referred to as “qualitative”) inquiry. Those who draw the lines most dogmatically argue that, since these research methods and paradigms are based on fundamentally conflicting views about the nature of reality, the researcher must commit to the one approach that corresponds to his or her philosophical position. One cannot endorse both paradigms because they represent reality in essentially contradictory ways and are therefore incompatible and mutually exclusive.
Several thoughtful scholars, however, have argued for complementarity among research paradigms rather than exclusivity (Eisner, 1981; Salomon, 1991; Soltis, 1984). As I struggled with these issues in the preparation of my dissertation proposal, I eventually concluded that those who claim that reality is either objective and external or socially constructed are claiming to much, and that it makes more sense to recognize some aspects of reality as objectively real and stable and other aspects of the same comprehensive reality as socially constructed. Salomon explains it in these words:

The very logic that underlies the acceptance of reality as social and research paradigms as human-made, admitting therefore a variety of these, ought also to accept the notion that no single paradigm or set of assumptions is necessarily superior to others….Rather, paradigms are ways to study selected aspects of the world, and thus their selection must be a function of that aspect chosen for study. (p. 15)

I think it is fair to say that reality is both stable and consistent (in general) and idiosyncratic and individualistic (in particular). This claim is much more true for the social sciences than for the physical sciences, and that may be the source of the trouble. Social scientists began by imitating the scientific methods of physical science, and these methods worked for them up to a point. But then there was so much more unexplained information than one would find in physical science, so much more variation and inconsistency, that some theorists rejected the paradigm entirely in favor of a different one, when in fact both of them could helpfully tell a part of the whole story.
Different aspects of education may appropriately be researched from each perspective. There is enough consistency, for example, in the way children develop cognitively, linguistically, and so on for general “laws” to be discovered, but there is also enough variation and individuality for research into specific cases to be important. More so than in the physical sciences, educational research needs to be approached from both ends of the spectrum if the reality under investigation is to be represented comprehensively. The correct paradigm, then, is the one that corresponds to the particular aspect of reality that is being examined.
Sources:
Eisner, E. W. (1981). On the differences between scientific and artistic approaches to qualitative research. Educational Researcher, 10(4), 5-9.
Salomon. G. (1991). Transcending the qualitative-quantitative debate: The analytic and systemic approaches to educational research. Educational Researcher, 20(6), 10-18.
Soltis, J. F. (1984). On the nature of educational research. Educational Researcher, 13(10), 5-10.

Research Genres

Research Genres, image courtesy of US Army

Research Genres

by Dr. Sharon Short
I am delighted and grateful that I was able to conduct my dissertation study in an environment where qualitative research is respected. This is not always the case. One of the students in my program mentioned to a colleague that she was planning a qualitative study, to which this individual responded, “Oh, then it isn’t real research.” Recognition of ethnographies, life stories, case studies, and the like as “real” research is joyfully welcomed by students of the social sciences who know that numbers are incapable of telling all there is to know about a subject, concept, or phenomenon. Having said this, however, I can appreciate scholars within the hard sciences questioning the legitimacy of an approach to research that allows such an astonishing array of options.
Qualitative inquiry has become an umbrella category for a bewildering variety of research procedures and reporting forms. These variations of qualitative approaches are sometimes identified as research traditions or research genres, and as many as 45 different types have been cataloged. Naturally, some of these traditions have become more thoroughly developed than others and are more widely known and applied than others. According to Jacob (1987), each such tradition or genre “forms a coherent whole, comprising internally consistent assumptions about human nature and society, foci of study, and methodology” (p. 1), somewhat like sports games that each adhere to their own sets of rules.
Since there are so many different “games” to choose from within the qualitative paradigm, and since each one requires expertise in its own unique assumptions and practices in order to be employed effectively, scholars recommend that researchers (especially novice researchers) select one or at most two of these genres within which to become knowledgeable and proficient. Furthermore, they encourage adherence to one genre as a whole rather than selectively using elements from different ones, at least until one has become very experienced.
Therefore, the next decision after one has committed to a qualitative research paradigm is to determine the most appropriate research genre for one’s research question. I found the following resources particularly helpful in understanding and selecting the genre within which to conduct my study.  See the following sources for more insights!
Sources:
Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Glesne, C., & Peshkin, A. (1992). Becoming qualitative researchers: An introduction. White Plains, NY: Longman.
Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education (Rev. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Jacob, E. (1987). Qualitative research traditions: A review. Review of Educational Research, 57(1), 1-50.
Piantanida, M., & Garman, N. B. (1999). The qualitative dissertation: A guide for students and faculty. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.