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Research Paradigms
Politics of Researchers
Author: Shashidhar Belbase

[Sep. 18, 2007]

At present, there has been frequent discussion on paradigms of research among the faculties and research students in Kathmandu University School of Education. Most of the researches at the beginning of its M.Phil. and Ph.D. have not discussed research paradigms but at present all most all researchers have mentioned about research paradigm in their methodology and design part. This shows that researchers and faculties are being more conscious towards different paradigms of research. So far as the analysis of research methods and paradigms of forty nine M.Phil. and eight Ph.D. dissertations and theses is concerned, they show a shift of research paradigm in School of Education from modernism to post-post-modernism. This is a great achievement to the school but it is always a great challenge to establish and make the shift sustainable. In this connection this paper has discussed on research paradigm, factors that determines a particular paradigm, levels of research paradigm and the different paradigms with their impact in the research. The author has tried to be reflective on his understanding of research paradigms based on review of researches and other literatures.

Search of Meaning

It is dark outside. It is dark inside. Half of the globe is dark now. Half of the globe is sleeping now and half of the globe is breathing deeply now. Half of the time is ante-meridian and half of the time is post-meridian. I am half awake and half sleep. I have determined to finish it (writing this paper). I continued typing few lines but could not get the flow.
Stopped-typed-stopped-retyped-deleted-stopped-again, then a flash of idea came. Paradigm! A popular jargon in research world. I opened windows media player from the machine that played a music: "every night in my dreams I see you I feel you that is how I know you go on …….far across the distance and paces between us …."
I forgot the darkness as I heard the music. Then it made my mood fresh and I focused on the keyboard and the monitor. I started typing whatever ideas came at first in my mind about research paradigms based on my own experiences, review of papers and some research books.
In my understanding till now, a research is guided by its methodological part. The methodology of research is guided by axiological assumptions (values) of researchers, value determines how to reach to the information source and what tools to apply for collection of data (epistemology) and finally what tools and techniques do researchers choose is determined by what is the personal belief of researchers as being a researcher (ontology). In this way a researcher’s belief (subjective/objective), way to view the reality (nominal/realistic) and his/her value determines the paradigm of a research. According to Kuhn (1970), it stands for the entire constellation of beliefs, values and techniques, and so on shared by the members of a community."
Chalmers (1982 as cited in Wallis, 2007) defines a paradigm as “made up of the general theoretical assumptions and laws, and techniques for their application that the members of a particular scientific community adopt” (p. 90). Chalmers (1982, p. 91) points out that a paradigm has five components:

    1. Explicitly stated laws and theoretical assumptions.
    2. Standard ways of applying the fundamental laws to a variety of situations.
    3. Instrumentation and instrumental techniques that bring the laws of the paradigm to bear on the real world.
    4. General metaphysical principles that guide work within the paradigm.
    5. General methodological prescriptions about how to conduct work within the paradigm.

Denzin and Lincoln (2005) have defined a paradigm as a basic set of beliefs that guide action of an individual. They further state that paradigms deal with first principles or ultimates. They are human constructions which define the world view of the researcher-as-interpretive-bricoleur. These beliefs can never be established in terms of their ultimate truthfulness. In this way a research paradigm is the set of belief, norms, ethics, values and principles that guide the actions of a researcher from selection of research topic to the execution of research with writing a report.
In my understanding the significance of paradigms is that they shape how we perceive the world and are reinforced by those around us, the community of practitioners. I agree with Williams (1998) when he writes within the research process the beliefs a researcher holds will reflect in the way they research is designed, how data is both collected and analyzed and how research results are is presented. For the researcher it is important to recognize their paradigm, it allows them to identify their role in the research process, determine the course of any research project and distinguish other perspectives.

Levels of Research Paradigm

Research paradigm can be understood at three levels: philosophical, contextual or social and technical. The first one considers the basic belief about the world, the second one considers the social guidelines (ethical considerations) about how a researcher should conduct his or her research or inquiry and the third level considers the method or techniques of conducting the research. In other way we can discuss the three levels of paradigm as technical, practical and emancipatory as discussed by Habermas. The philosophical level is the highest level at which generally researchers discuss about five sets of assumptions in subjective-objective dimensions: ontological, epistemological, axiological, methodological, and human nature.
Ontological assumptions refer to the nature of social reality. There are realist and nominalist perspectives to view the social reality. According to realist perspective social reality is tangible, hard and made up of relatively immutable structures that exist independent of our perception and consciousness. According to nominalist perspective the social reality is constructed in names, labels and concepts that are used to structure that reality. Realist view considers that reality is out there as external to the knower and it is unique whereas nominalist perspective considers that reality as constructed by individual or society and so there can be multiple realities.
In my understanding epistemology refers to the nature of knowing and construction of knowledge and is divided into the positivist and anti-positivist stance. So far as the former is concerned it believes that reality is objective as an external observer is possible, the latter that the knower and known are interdependent and that social science is essentially a subjective. A researcher with the positivist perspective studies the parts to understand the whole, he or she looks for regularities and causal relationships to understand and predict the social world. To the anti-positivist reality is constructed by individual in social context and so the social world can only be understood by occupying the frame of reference of the participant in action.
To me axiological assumptions are closely related to the epistemological. These are assumptions regarding the role of values. In this regard two questions come to the mind of a researcher: whether values can be disregarded in order to understand the reality or the values can be considered as a means to understand the reality?
When a researcher considers the human nature then he or she follows either deterministic or voluntarist view. The former one views individuals as products of their environment, the other believes individuals create their own environment (Putman, 1983; 36). Finally there are assumptions about the process of research, the methodology. Nomothetic methodology focuses on an examination of regularities and relationships to universal laws, while ideographic approaches centre on reasons why individuals create and interpret their world in a particular way (Putman, 1983; 41). The social world can only be understood by obtaining first hand knowledge of the subject under investigation. Methodology focuses on the best means of acquiring knowledge about the world (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).
In this way, to me, a research paradigm may exist at level one where the sole purpose of doing research is to establish a method, system or law, it is not time bound. In level two, the paradigms seek meaning from relationships of variables in social, cultural, economical and political life of people from context which is time bound. At the final level, a research paradigm seeks solutions to all social, cultural, economical and political issues liberating people from all sorts of oppressions, suppressions and injustices. So, it is not sufficient to know only a particular paradigm for a research but the level of that paradigm should be understood in order to make it more rigorous for changes to occur no matter it is positivism or constructivism or integralism.

Diversity of Research Paradigm

One day my professor asked us a question during my Masters' Degree in Philosophy class: Do you believe that there is a single reality or multiple realities about our society? I was surprised to hear the question. I could not understand it at first. Some of my friends tried to answer on their own but I could not speak for a while. Actually not for a while but it took me the whole semester to understand the question. The question of single and multiple realities was concerned with our belief, values and ethics (our worldviews or paradigms).
I came to know from different papers and research books that there is great diversity of research paradigms at present. Broadly speaking these paradigms are divided into three categories: modernism (positivism/post-positivism), post-modernism (interpretivism/ constructivism, Criticalism and Representationalism) and post-post-modernism (integralism). These paradigms have their own focus, methods, and quality standards that guide researchers to address the issues regarding designs, tools, validity criteria and interpretation of data.
These paradigms, to me, were not originated by educational researches but they were imported from other areas or disciplines such as naturalistic science, social and political science, literatures and philosophy.
Positivism and Post Positivism
Rise of modernism in research is heavily influenced by the contemporary development of science and technology during the beginning of twentieth century. There were great scientific inventions and all the researchers heavily focused on objective results of scientific experiments.
The research is conducted in order to prove or disprove, predict or measure the variables. Experimental designs were the dominant followed by rigorous quantitative data analysis and interpretations (objectively). So the researches on education and other social sciences were also highly guided by these paradigms. Research objects are considered as lifeless subjects. Quantitative data analysis becomes dominant in all facets of educational and social science researches. Researcher controls and observes in an objective dispassionate manner (Mortens, 1998; Kmitta, 2000; Guifoyle, 2005). The research is considered value free and all kinds of judgments are suspended till the statistical results are achieved.
There are controlled criteria of validity and reliability. Statistical tools are applied to control the quality of the research. Content validity, construct validity, concurrent validity, criterion related validity and predictive validity tools and technique are dominant in all sciences and all most all researches (Taylor, 2007 retrieve from www.smec.moodle.com).
During late seventies, social and educational researchers slowly came to realize the extremities of the rigidity of the hard science in the control of tools and methods of data collection, analysis and interpretation. So, they started considering the human factors not only as experimental objects but also recognized the subjectivity of individuals. So, survey tools were designed to know the facts and information about human feelings, experiences and opinions through questionnaires, non-participant observation, interviews and quasi-experiments. This brought a shift in the research for the first time in the history of research in education and social sciences. This is the era of post-positivism that came to challenge the absolute positivism.
Researchers apply different methods of validation: triangulation of method, data and theory. Here triangulation of method means adopting multiple methods of data collection, triangulation of data means cross-checking of the data by more than one tools/approaches, and triangulation of theory means adopting multiple theories to capture the pertinent issues from different perspectives.
Though positivism can be dominant paradigm in researches of natural sciences but in social sciences and education it can not be absolute and so there is need of relative and perspectized way of understanding the reality and conducting research. It opened the door to enter into another paradigm: interpretivism/constructivism.

Slowly social and educational researchers came to realize the obsolete use of quantitative data and objectivity of tools and techniques. They tried to understand the feelings of research participants and understand the meaning of their responses rather than being objectively unbiased. They considered the human feeling as a part of research that is very liquid and can not be judged by rigid scientific tools. The researchers tried to understand the nature of reality more subjectively and inter-subjectively. This brought the research into a new paradigm: Interpretivism and constructivism. It was big shift of paradigm in the history of research in social sciences and education. Educational researches came to adjust these shifts together with sociology, anthropology and philosophy.
Researchers collecting data using tools such as participant observation, ethnographic field work and fourth generation evaluation (Guba and Lincoln). Researchers immerse in the socio-cultural context observing human behavior and action closely being participant in the phenomena. It brought the researchers into an interactive link with participants and understand from participants' perspective. It motivated researchers to construct meaning out the participants' perspectives in the social and cultural context.
Researchers adopted hermeneutical and dialectical approach to conduct the research emphasizing on the contexts and making judgments from the consensus of participants and the researcher. Now the research is no more value free and objective but is value laden and subjective. The researcher do not remain as speechless mankind but open ears to listen and speak to give a value connecting the known and the knower.
The validity criteria have changed from triangulation to trustworthiness applying the criteria of credibility, dependability, conformability, transferability and fairness. Researchers focus on authenticity of the information applying the above mentioned criteria in order to address the issue of standard of the quality of research. This paradigm originated in early eighties and remained as dominant till late nineties (Taylor, 2007).

The rise of constructivism led to the foundation of criticalism. Researchers could not remain idle just observing the realities of lives of people during their study. They could not bring the voices of people into their own voice but they simply constructed ideas and meaning out of those voices from the field study or ethnographic tales. The tales remained tales of the field but did not intervene in it for further changes of the society rather it made researchers as passive witnesses of the social realities. So, this has caused researchers to think over their own role as researchers towards the lives of people (students, teachers, parents and others). Researchers have started being a bit critical to the social practices (their own and others) and started doing critical action research to bring some changes in beliefs, norms and values as per context of development of social, cultural and political dimensions.
The researchers have started being critical to their own and others’ practices and tried to bring theories into practices (praxes). The praxis of theory, methods and philosophy has become the pivot for arguments and counter-arguments. Researchers within critical paradigm believe that knowledge is socially, historically, culturally, and politically situated with multiple realities. The purpose of research is not only to understand the reality but to promote social change, liberate people from the darkness of ignorance, exploitation, injustices and discriminations. Even the quantitative data can be analyzed and interpreted in order to understand the ground reality and take political decision for necessary intervention. Neutrality of researcher is not expected but a researcher becomes an active political player for the sake of positive changes in society. In such a condition researchers have started focusing on the process rather than tools and end results of researches. If anybody as a researcher tries to remain neutral to social, political, cultural suppressions and oppressions then that is considered as intellectual dishonesty (as this paradigm considers).
So, they have employed praxis of readers and researchers as means to judge the quality standard of the research (Taylor, 2007). Researchers have maintained the quality of the research through the message of research for change with pedagogical thoughtfulness, critical reflexivity and re-envisioning the future actions.
The critical paradigm made the researcher and readers aware of social discriminations, exploitations, injustices but could not resolve them. Just being critical reflector could not do much for the changes except realizing it. This created a room for next paradigm to come into practice. When there were louder voices but less echoes, more critiques but less ways out, more tension but less consolation, the new system of belief, value, and ethics emerged as a representationalism in the jargon of research as a paradigm.

The critical perspective in research as a paradigm was successful to create a wave to shake the world. The wave brought the voices of voiceless to the forefront of social, cultural, historical and political arena. The voices became extremely biased and sought radical changes in the modern world. But such radical changes were not possible due to interdependency of the global economy. No society can be isolated from others and the trans-cultural, trans-historical, trans-social and political network throughout the globe has made everyone to rethink on their perspectives, values and ethics. So, researchers now have started focusing on how to represent the diverse ideas of self and others, how to create room for all and reduce the social injustices.

Researchers have now tried to focus on the fictionalization and narrative turns guided by literary genre of writing as research. This provided freedom to researchers to bring their own life histories (performative praxes) as a source of information that situates a personal to social and cultural context. This paradigm tried to view the social phenomena from the perspective of self and others: from the perspectives of dominated and dominator, suppressed and suppressor, oppressed and oppressor. This is time to rethink on each-others' roles and responsibilities. This time to seek an opportunity to serve each-others for the ecological balance. Researchers have a major responsibility to determine how a social and political order can be balanced so as to maintain local, regional and global peace. So, researchers have now tried their best to represent the voices of different castes and creeds, economic classes, women, marginalized people and people from all sectors as important players of changes.
Researchers have employed different tools and techniques to address the issue of quality standard (validity and reliability): crystallization, polyvocality, verisimilitude and other literary flavors of richness and depthness. This paradigm originated during the beginning of nineties and became a dominant paradigm in late nineties.
Representationalism as paradigm has been successful to represent the voices of people to the forefront of social, cultural, economical and political forums but it has not brought significant changes in the society. Slowly voices have been limited to formality and remained as political jargons. So, this has opened a new paradigm to us which seeks to have room for all with dignity and value.

I think representationalism as a paradigm tried to maintain ecological balance in the society (culturally and politically) but it could not show ways out for how to maintain the balance among people of different classes and creeds. Just by representing their voices in the research could not empower them. So, researchers were in search of a new paradigm which could not only listen, see and act but also include all the voices in the process of social, cultural, economical and political decisions. Nepal as being moving through a transitional phase of changes, it is more relevant issue in our research but I think we as researchers have not yet realized or do not want to act (do research to find better ways out). Donors! Do you put money for such researches in Nepal or other similar countries? (May be or may not be……).
This paradigm originated in early 2000s. This has brought a shift in the research through acceptance of diversity and viewing the world of research as a whole (holism, pluralism). This paradigm brought the idea of open curriculum and wisdom as a source of resolving all kinds of social conflicts and injustices. The wisdom of thought, philosophy and practices based on the holistic approach has tried to address the interest of all sectors of society. The political commitment is a must for this to happen. Here the political commitment means commitment of all researchers of social sciences and education in order to pave the ways out for a new social and economic order with more just, equity and inclusive world. This is the golden opportunity to do research for social changes, research for world peace, research for eradication of all kinds of suppression, oppression and treatment of human being as animals (still there is trafficking women and girls, slavery and discrimination in social, cultural, economical and political dimensions).
So, I think, integrated curriculum, integrated education, integrated participation in governance through integrated approach is the present need to address. So, integrated approach of doing research is the main agenda of research in this paradigm. This paradigm employs practical wisdom and holism as a tool to maintain the quality of research.

Recent Paradigm

The way researchers confront with the different situation, contexts, issues and problems they develop new ideas, methods and value system through which the research paradigm takes new form into a new paradigm. When a new paradigm emerges, it does not isolate or remove the old paradigms but it creates its own room under the social and cultural context. So, there can be existence of different paradigms at a time because there are people of different beliefs, experiences and have their different value system. So, in diverse society there are diverse ideas to resolve any problem and finally it introduces a new paradigm. At present too, there is still domination of positivism and post positivism in research in education. To some extent, there is flavor of new paradigms (criticalism and Integralism) in some theses but still there is higher application of traditional paradigms of research that is positivism and post-positivism.
These paradigms (positivism to integralism) till now have not been able to resolve the crises in the areas of social sciences and education. New paradigms (Criticalism, representationalism and integralism) have not influenced our pedagogy in the classrooms. We are still guided by our century old teaching methods though there are little changes with ICT but it is not within the access of many people in the developing and underdeveloped countries. Researchers in these countries have been driven by immediate monitory benefits and so have become more donor oriented researches.
Day-by-day the world is being too complex. New problems have been emerged through globalization and issue of localization, nuclear weapons and new economic and social orders, new political chaos and threats of international cybernetic terrorism. All the above mentioned paradigms have not been able to address the present crises. In these complexities search of a new paradigm of research is still an open ended question to all the researchers to think and act in a way to find more acceptable and just philosophy, theory and practice. Search of a new paradigm or work with established paradigm is a political stance of a researcher. This political stance empowers a researcher from philosophical ground to practicality of his or her research findings and implications. This not a time to debate between quantitative and qualitative approaches but to apply them for social changes with new thoughts, ideas and innovations to resolve present crises. So, let’s see what the new research paradigm will be within coming ten years. (1.51 am, September 22, 2007)

Chalmers, A. (1982). What is this thing called science? Queensland, Australia: University of Queensland.
Denzin, N.K.; Lincoln, N.S. (2005). Paradigms and perspectives in contention. In the Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Kuhn, Thomas S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions (2nd ed.). Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Putnam, L. (1983). The interpretative perspective: An alternative to functionalism. in L. Putnam, and M. Pacanowsky (Eds.), Communication and organizations, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Taylor, P. (2007). Transformative education group. Perth. Curtin University of Technology. (as cited in www.smec.moodle.com on August 10, 2007).

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