Thursday, 14 May 2009

Being Clear About Methodology, Ontology and Epistemology

When you begin writing your PhD you'll need to get to grips with some academic language. Your degree title is a Doctorate in Philosophy and this suggests that a minimum requirement is that you are conversant with the philosophy of research. In particular, you need to get on top of three very important concepts.

Methodology ... to do with the tools and techniques of research
Ontology ... to do with our assumptions about how the world is made up and the nature of things
Epistemology ... to do with our beliefs about how one might discover knowledge about the world

Whilst there are some philosophical traditions that problematise these concepts, most research students need to articulate their position in relation to each term individually and collectively ... even if it is simply to refute the need to do so because you are subscribing to a view of the research process which denies our ability to subdivide in this way.

These three words form relationships to each other in that your epistemological and ontological positions should have some bearing on the methods that you select for your research. In the social sciences getting on top of these individual concepts and their relationship(s) to each other is vital if you want to (a) be able to write articulately for publication and (b) want to avoid social gaffes in your viva. There are several great books that set the territory out for you and many PhD programmes include smaller taught elements that cover this material. If you haven't done it yet, get hold of one of the following books and begin your journey into the murky realms of the social science research debates.

Some helpful reading might include ...

Crotty, M. (1998) The Foundations of Social Research: meaning and perspective in the research process, Sage Publications, London

Burrell, G. and Morgan, G. (1979) Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis: Elements of the sociology of corporate life. Heinemann: London

Whereas, the following journal article offers a masterly overview of the terms in relation to the field of management research ...

Tranfield, D. & Starkey, K. (1998) ‘The Nature, Social Organisation and Promotion of Management Research: towards policy,’ British Journal of Management, Volume 9, Number 4, pp 341-353.

If you can read and follow the Tranfield and Starkey paper you're making progress and you should follow up some of the references it cites. If it reads as a foreign language then you've got some work still to do.

This is the most popular posting on the site ... if you've found this helpful don't forget to look around at the other posts as they form something of an interconnected set of ideas that underpin doctoral standard research.



123 comments:

  1. I personally found the Crotty text very helpful. Interesting perspectives and extremely readable. More than I can say about Mssrs Tranfield and Starkey. Okay Okay - I get the hint. Off to do some more work so that these particular words of wisdom can be appreciated!

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  2. I am doing a PhD research about collaborative learning and multiliteracies. Actually, I am bit hazy about ontology of my research.

    Could you give me some hints helping me to understand more?

    VU PhD student

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  3. Robert MacIntosh3 June 2009 10:48

    There is a difference between being hazy about the concept of ontology and your research having a hazy view of the ontological position that you adopt. The former just needs a bit of further reading and work ... the latter is a much bigger hurdle and, for me, would need you to make a decision, take a position and work forward from that point. Mixed methods I quite like. Mixed ontologies and/or mixed epistemologies don't tend to easily fit within the same PhD

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  4. I subscribed to a relativist ontology for my research and now near the end have now been told relativism is the kiss of death for any thesis - can anyone point me in the right direction for support of relativism so I can be sure I can defend this position strongly enough in my viva?

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  5. Robert MacIntosh16 March 2010 09:13

    The only kiss of death is inconsistency ... if you buy the relativist argument stick with it and pick an external examiner who sympathises.

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  6. I have created my dissertation (2008) on symbolic analysis, for program comprehension.
    In it symbols of the program with their relations form the ontology. Epistemology is the approach how to understand relations with the proper context like familiarization or troubleshooting.
    Methodology is a set of theories how to implement different kind of analysis. Below methodology there is a set of specific practical methods.

    What is important: there is the paradigm level, too. Different kinds of paradigms are static and dynamic and symbolic analyses.

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  7. I am into a theory course in a BA(hons) on my way (hopefully) to a doctorate in creative writing, and testing these waters...want to suggest a research hierarchy that goes philosophy, epistemology, ontology, theory, methodology, methods...where the thesis/work is traced/connected to greater or lesser extents through all.

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  8. I am so happy to discover this blog as I slave in isolation over my D Phil, way down south in South Africa. Discovered it while trying to refine the distinction between epistemology and ontology. I am researching adolescent literacy practices, using Multiliteracies and New Literacy Studies as framework for qualitative analysis, and Systemic Functional Linguistics for close analysis of text samples across IM, Facebook, email, text messaging and formal writing. Would love to see more useful and encouraging contributions.

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  9. well your Po$t is good and i really like it :). . .awesome WORK . . .KEEP SHARING. .;)
    research methodology

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  10. I too found the Crotty text very useful to understand just what that fuzzy notion of methodology was all about. To understand that we need to be looking at epistemology, theoretical perspectives, methodologies and methods was very helpful indeed.
    I didn't use Crotty's model in the end as I wanted to focus on ontology and axiology as well as epistemology, but it was a crucial iterative step in the process of defining my reseach design chapter.
    I'll have a look at the Tranfield & Starkey paper now, thanks for the reference.

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  11. It seems that Crotty is classifying under epistemology what are essentially ontological views: objectivism/subjectivism (he even describes objectivism as the "view that things exist as meaningful entities independently of consciousness and experience" p. 5). this description has to do with the way the world is made i.e. ontology, and not about knowledge acquisition i.e epistemology.

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    Replies
    1. I read Crotty and very much agree with your assessment. He seems to be using the label epistemology when he means ontology.

      Delete
  12. Hello,

    I have tried to get the Tranfield article through UOP (where I am a DM doctoral student) and our public library. Through ProQuest, I can only get the abstract. Through Wiley Library online, I would have to pay $35.00 fee to access the article. Is there a way I can get the article without paying the fee? Any assistance is greatly appreciated! My email is CrystalDavis777@yahoo.com. I was able to get the editorial done on the article!

    Thanks!

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  13. i need help. in clear examples please tell me about Methodology, Ontology and Epistemology
    I have read but am not every confident when it comes to expalining those terms

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  14. Sarah ... the posting above was my best attempt to explain them. Confidence comes from gradually figuring out which is which. It took me a couple of decades so cut yourself some slack

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  15. I am so happy to have found this blog! I have just started looking at all these research terms ontology, epistemology, theoritical & conceptual framework. It just makes me feel good that I am not alone in this.

    Thanks!

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  16. Finding this blog was really liberating. I spent countless hours trying to understand ontology, epistemology and methodology with more and more confusion. This blog has unlocked the key. I now can see the light. @ Sarah, if you google "crotty ppt", you should be able to find a powerpoint which is pretty straight forward.

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  17. Sarah, below is the link to the PPT I told you about.
    http://www.darleenopfer.com/File/Research_Perspective_overview_slides_2008-2009.ppt
    Thanks

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  18. I am a creative writing PhD candidate and I am thoroughly confused by this notion of methodology. Does that mean which area of theory I choose to align my argument with?

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  19. Robert MacIntosh18 June 2011 02:37

    I'd suggest that you read a couple of the texts recommended. Methodology isn't inherently about alignment with the theoretical focus of your thesis ... although there are undoubtedly some bodies of theory that more closely align with some methods. Rather, methodology is the decsription of the tools and techniques that you will use during an enquiry process that engages with some body of theory that you have selected.

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  20. I am doing a PhD on analysing strategy formulation in emerging markets in africa. i am really battling crystallizing on my research philosophy and and methodology starting from ontology and epistemology. I have read cecile badenhorts book the journey which was a good ice breaker , any recommendations for the next step.Help!!!!!

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  21. I have found this blog very useful as I have just started my Phd programme and despite reading various books, I still found terminologies such epistemology, ontology and methodology to be like chinese to me. I am sure other Phd students who are confused as I was will find the blog very useful. I will inform them about it. Thanks to the person who came up with such an idea. Cheers.

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  22. Whoever it was that is still troubled but trying to study strategy formulation in African markets ... Try reading the three recommended texts listed for this posting ... These are the ones that helped shape my thinking. It also helps to meet other academics ... Think about going to a conference for example, or read some very different strategy articles and see if you can explain the differences in the oldies.

    Good luck

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  23. I was struggling with ontological and epistemological concepts. Some sources describe it as an either/or approach but you have provided clarity. I have found that Ritchie and Lewis (2003) Qualitative Research Practice: a guide for social science students and researchers. Sage:London. I have also found Crotty to be readable. Thanks

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  24. I am doing a Ph.D research using action research method. How can I select a theoretical framework for this method?

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  25. If you're doing a PhD via action research you're on your way to sorting out your methodological stance. These are related to but separate from your theoretical angle or framework. For example, I've done action research using business process theories (basically from systems theory), from complexity theory, learning theory and dialogue theory. Matching your theory to your phenomena of interest is the thing you'll need to do ... thereafter, you need to account for the way in which you understand knowledge ... e.g. your philosophy of knowledge using the terms in this post or one of the other ways of thinking it through.

    Good luck

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  26. i want to know i can do phd on management. I have done Masters degree in Labour Management.
    Please advise.
    mohan

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    Replies
    1. Mohan

      I'm pretty sure that you'll be able to do a PhD in Management ... as a subject, it tends to draw on such a diverse range of root disciplines that most people can find a niche for themselves. My own background was in engineering for example. Look at the other posts on the site for some advice on writing a good proposal and recruiting a good supervisor.

      Good luck

      Delete
  27. Thank you Robert MacIntosh!!! Like those before me in this blog, I find it very useful to read your comments and advice. I am enrolled in a PhD programme and my area of research is teacher professional development, classroom practice and their influence on teacher professional identity. I have two questions: Should I state my ontology before my epistemology? and sould I regard professional development, classroom practice and teacher identity as my ontology and narrative inquiry as my epistemology given that my paradigm is interpretivist? Thank you

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the feedback ... ontology and epistemology are closely interlinked ... a good exposition of the two in my own field is Ann Cunliffe's article on Social Poetics in the Journal of Management Inquiry 11(2) 2002 128-146. However, I think you may be mixing your professional identity and research methods up with your ontology and epistemology respectively. Keep reading ... the muddy waters gradually clear out in my experience

      Delete
  28. Really glad I have found this blog. I have been struggling with the meanings of ontology and epistemology with my Masters in Counselling and am somewhat cheered (but no closer to understanding these meanings) by reading that people doing PHDs are also still unsure. Is there a simple way of finding out what these words mean please? I ahve looked at the Crotty link but am still unclear.

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  29. There are a number of other sources that offer definitions of ontology and epistemology ... my own attempt at simple definitions are offered in the posting above. I'd have a look through some of the research methods or philosophy of research texts in your own area (i.e. counselling) since these may be more helpful than the management research ones that I am familiar with. If you find something that is more helpful to you perhaps you could post it back onto the site. Good luck

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  30. In a very basic way, I studied epistemology in regards to interview/interrogation of those from cultures other than our own. As an example, the differences between Polychronic v Monochronic outlooks, has derived through epistemology or various ways in which we think. I recall reading an example that stated something along the lines of 'Early man 'knew' the world was flat' - this was ontological, to them. That is what the evidence at the time pointed to. So it is an example that just because something is ontological in some circumstances it is not necessarily true ?
    Are these valid assesments ?

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  31. Warren ... I suppose the significant insight is that their ontological assertion that the world is/was flat is based on an epistemology which didn't yet include insights from new technologies, models or data. Once someone sailed to the edge and found out that they came back around rather than falling off the world became known as round. Critically, it is the dialogic relationship between epistemology and ontology that you see in your example

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  32. Hi Robert,
    Thanks for this Blog Site. I am a Masters student in a dark hole and am thrilled to find other people out there.
    I have also been grappling with terminolgoy. If human experience provides meaning ,is this the epistemolgy and ontology which underpins the framework for a qualititative research approach? I am battling to see how the two can be separated. If there is no order is it possible to understand meaning?

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    Replies
    1. One rather hopes that human experience does provide meaning ... any other conclusion presents a fairly bleak view of what it is all about! In the specific context of accounting for your research practice however it is important to be able to defend the knowledge claims that you make. Some views of the philosophy of knowledge do indeed claim that you cannot separate epistemology and ontology since for some it is a meaningless distinction. However, I can only tell you that in my own research work, I have found the readings listed in the original post helpful in terms of clarifying how best to write an account of what I've been doing. Good Luck

      Delete
  33. Hi there, I am still undergrad but need to work out what my ontology is... From the reading I have done it feels like I would definitely have more than one!!! Is there a list of possible or popular ontologies with descriptions? This would be REALLY helpful :-) Thanks, Sam

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    Replies
    1. Sam ... most of the books listed in this post do precisely that so I'd recommend reading one of them ... the Crotty book was the one I started with

      Delete
  34. Really helpful hints in dealing with the complicated issues of ontology and epistemology. Thank you guys!

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  35. Hi Doctor,

    I am really battling in putting together my conceptual framework for the inductive research i am doing for business phd. i think one of the main reasons is that i think i am not confident on my understanding of 'conceptual framwork' .Is there anything you recommend i should read to get a better understanding.

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  36. It depends on what you mean by a "conceptual framework." With inductive research the real challenge is that you build theory from the data (as opposed to theory testing / deductive approaches). I'd suggest getting yourself immersed in the literature surrounding your topic AND getting yourself immersed in the data that you've gathered. Once you've spent some serious and quality time attending to these two things, it is time for you to build what I would call a conceptual framework by iterating back and forth between your data, existing explanations and your own explanation. It is a tough but very rewarding process. Have a read at some of the great scholars out there who practice this approach ... the Ann Langleys, Martha Feldmans and so on ... oh, and critically ... speak to your supervisor so that you're on the same page as them

    Good luck

    Robert

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  37. I have been asked the following question and think I have the correct answer but wanted to get your feed back can you explain the, Connection between ontology and epistemology and the interpretivist paradigm

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  38. BHL ... you don't actually seem to have asked a question. One of my issues with research questions is that they should merit their grammatical status and be entitled to the use of a "?" ... the thing which strikes me about your comment is that the interpretivist paradigm links a particular view of ontology and epistemology together. For example, it is clearly NOT linking a view that "facts are things out there in the world which we can discover and which are immutable" with the view that "we find out about facts by asking people who them straightforwardly tell you the truth". I'd recommend reading Mats Alvesson's AMR article from 2003 Vol 28 No 1 ... it helped me a lot.

    Good luck

    Robert

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  39. Thank you very much. I guess my question is, what is Connection between ontology and epistemology and the interpretivist paradigm?

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    Replies
    1. BHL ... a better question thanks. The "Connection" is that epistemology and ontology are related and in many ways it doesn't help to think of them as isolated choices (a point which Crotty makes much more eloquently in his book) ... there is a heirarchy at play where the interpretivist paradigm that you mention is constituted of a particular combination of ontology and epistemology as noted in my last answer. I can only recommend that you read the Crotty text and thereafter get into conversation with fellow students and your supervisor to explore what is a complex set of issues.

      Happy reading

      Robert

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  40. First of all: God bless you! So glad you are out there (would you consider it an objectivist stance?!), taking some of your precious time answering in such a clear and helpful way Qs from lost PhD students like me. Would it be correct to consider enactivism as a theroetical perspective on its own within the constructionist epistemology? And a metohodology of survey research with a questionnaire and some statistical analysis as possibily matching it? Thanks

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  41. Marcella ... I like Maturana's work and so him speak once at LSE ... very engaging. That said, I do not consider myself an expert in his area. I would say that your first assertion that enactivism is a position within a broader constructionist epistemology is correct. However, I don't personally see an obvious connect to survey instruments and statistics as a matching set of methods. These approaches tend (in my view) to sit more comfortably with more objective takes on the nature of knowledge and knowing. I'd refer you to an earlier reply citing Mats Alvesson's excellent critique of interviews as performative ... if that is the case for interviews, I think it is much harder to square what is happening when a researcher builds a regression analysis around a pattern of "strongly agree" responses in a questionnaire. I think that you might be more comfortable with interviews, observations, focus groups, etc. but that is a personal view and can't substitute for the agreement you need to reach with your supervisor

    Work hard, read well and keep at it

    Robert

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  42. Dear all

    I am embarking into my Ed D course and I am preparing an assignment on Research Methodology. I need to state my ontological and epistemology positions. My area of research is Teacher Leadership in Mauritius. Am I right if I say that my ontological position is that teacher leadership can help immensely in the effective management of a secondary school, that is the more teacher leaders we have, the more efficient the school culture will be and my epistemological position is that teacher leaders should use their leadership skills in classroom management, effective teaching but also helping in handling school matters (extra curricular activities and the informal curriculum as well.

    I would like your views.

    Mahend

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  43. Vimal

    ontology is about what we assume things to be consituted of or from. Hence you might assume that leadership is consituted of particular personality traits or you might start from the assumption that it is a relational phenomemon which emerges in particular settings. Similarly, epistemology is how we come to know things and you can explain how you think you'll come to know about teacher leadership ... e.g. by asking those doing the job to tell you, by observing them, asking those they lead ... or by doing the job and working reflexively with what Cook and Seeley Brown call an epistemology of knowing. Think about the choices you face, think about defining your terms and think carefully about the phenonomenon you wish to study. Good luck

    Robert

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  44. Hi Robert,thank you for this, it is always good to see these issues discussed so clearly. However I am still having trouble because I started off with my research idea...What are the trajectories of graduates in my local area...I then identified Bourdieu as being useful (although it is not a theory testing phd). I am using a mixed method approach with secondary analysis of statistics, questionnaire with open and closed questions, followed by biographical narrative.....I have read Crotty, M. (1998) The Foundations of Social Research: meaning and perspective in the research process, Sage Publications, London which I really like, but I just can't seem to connect it with what I am doing. Taking a step back I think my study vias towards the qual and I also think I should be mentioining pragmatism, but I'm just not sure..I also can't picture how to structure this part of the methods chapter i.e do I do a heading for ONTOLOGY; EPISTEMOLOGY; METHODOLOGY and METHODS. Its annoying as I know my methodology and methods, but not the first two Any pointers would be gratefully received....thank you thank you :-) Teresa...frstrated with my bloody methods chapter lol

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  45. Hello, what a fab blog. I am revising a "failed" PhD and one of the issues my examiners had was lack of detail on my methodology. I am using the life course theoretical framework (i.e. Glen Elder)and a phenomenological approach to help explain the nature of ageing in a post industrial area of England. I am a bit fuzzy re: the differences between my "theoretical underpinnings" of my research and the ideas of espistomology and ontology. Any thoughts? Thanks so much.

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  46. Teresa

    two quick points in response to your comment. First, on your topic area ... if the phenomenon of interest here is graduate trajectories, and the underpinning theory is Bourdieu then the missing piece for me is the research question. Ideally, it should frame an enquiry that allows you to explain the patterning of graduate trajectories via the theory you're working with. Incidentally, there is some great material on elite careers that you might translate to early career settings.

    Second ... your method chapter needs to do three things. First section should set out the terrain in terms of the nature of knowledge and establish that you know that there are competing views. Second section should set out the choice of methods you've adopted and argue why this is an appropriate choice given the RQ you address. Third section should set out what I call "the actual mechanics of the analytical process." i.e. if you collect biographical data in interviews, how will you code, structure and analyse this data to draw conclusions about your RQ. This third piece is often overlooked. In terms of section headings I'd go with "knowledge and the research process" ... then "research design" ... then "analytical processes" ... or something of that sort

    Good luck

    Robert

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  47. Anon ... theoretical underpinnings for me would be the theory you are using to explain / interogate the situation. Whereas, the ologies are your way of accounting for the research process you execute and which gathers data that you will interpret from the perspective your particular theory. Of course, all theories foreground some issues whilst backgrounding others. Similarly, some methods foreground some data whilst ignoring others. Hence the need for a sympathetic set of theory and methods

    Good luck

    Robert

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  48. Hi Robert, many thanks for your brilliant blog. Can you help me with an issue please? I am looking for a data collection method for social ontology. I can't find any suitable references. I was thinking of a questionnaire on how a learner is created but can't locate any references. Thanks. Regards, Pete

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    Replies
    1. Peter ... I think you might be better to look at journal papers that adopt a social constructionist stance and examine how they account for the research process. The empirical work of Ann Cunnliffe or Andrew Brown might offer a good starting point in my own field. I'd be surprised if a questionnaire was the best or most obvious method of unpacking the ways in which learners are constructed / labelled / identified. My first guess would be observational studies, diaries, semi-structured interviews, etc. Good luck

      Robert

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    2. Just to add to Robert's excellent comments, can I suggest that you also consult with the work of Jonathan Potter, Margaret Wetherell and Derek Edwards, who are all leading social psychologists working in the social constructionist framework. When you say 'how a learner is created', do you mean from the perspective of the learner themselves, or from the perspective of the persons doing the learning delivery? I agree totally with Robert's advice that questoinnaires are unlikely to provide a useful methodology. You probably need to be focusing on ethnomethodological approaches, as Robert has suggested.

      Delete
  49. I'm so glad to have found this blog. Not only because I've been looking to understand these terms but because I was starting to worry that I was the only one who wasn't able to grasp them fully. I'm a Master of Philosophy student and I know if I can sort these things now it'll help later for Doctoral study. You've saved me from that drowning feeling. Thank you,thank you, thank you!

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  50. Hey i am trying to find the ontological and epistemological view in some articles can this statement be the ontological view "The topic of CSR is receiving growing attention in the academic literature as the role that CSR plays in business has grown"

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    Replies
    1. It could be but perhaps not in the sense that you'd expect. In relation to the knowledge claim that CSR is playing an increasingly important role in business, there are both ontological assumptions and epistemological ones. i.e. that there are such unamiguous things as facts (e.g. about the level of importance of CSR and its adoption) ... and that there are ways in which we could investigate such knowledge. Without reading the rest of the article its impossible to tell ... but this little snippet didn't strike me as explicitly being about the "ologies". Good luck

      Robert

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  51. Hello Robert in short I am doing phd research in E-Business deployment,the RQs are :
    •What is the level of e-business deployment in Libyan universities?
    •How can the Libyan universities achieve a higher level of application of e-business technologies and related information systems in Libyan universities?
    •What are the barriers to the increased deployment of e-business in Libyan Universities?
    •What would be an idealized model of e-business deployment in Libyan universities and is it possible to develop a set of recommendations to adopt that model

    I use multiple case study approach with interviews, and documents analyzing methods for data gathering,please can you guide me regarding to the ontology and epistemology in this research?. according to carrot. can I consider that my research is constracutionist ( epestimology ) and interpretivism ( theoretical perspective )?. thnx

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  52. First, there isn't enough information here for me to form a view. Your RQs all look very functional in that they ask very practical questions but the area I'd have most difficulty with is the lack of any theory either implied in the question(s) or in your means of analysing them. Take two extreme examples. If you're using business process theory you could be looking for instances of the merging, co-location, elimination of processes, etc. This might entail modelling processes to see what if any impact e-business practices have. There is a long tradition of work on this including some stuff I have published. This would take a fairly positivist and realist approach. However, a second approach could be completely different. You could be interviewing people in Libyan Universities to see how they make sense of their institution's decision to implement or not implement e business solutions. This could be much more to do with the traditions, culture, history, structures, etc of the institutions themselves. This latter piece could well be constructionist, interpretivist and/or critical realist in its orientation. The issue you are asking me to resolve is (a) non trivial (b) central to the knowledge claim that you're going to try and make (c) shaped heavily by the preferences of those papers / theories / theorists that you want to cite and (d) an essential discussion point with your supervisor.

    I hope that the blog has given you some clues for where to look, what to read, etc.

    Good luck and happy new year

    Robert

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  53. Hello Robert,
    I am doing my Master's in Public Health.
    My question is similiar as the previous one.
    Mr RQ: What are the perspectives of women towards cervical cancer screening, and their reasons for abstaining from screening in Surulere, Lagos?
    My research Topic is: A QUALITATIVE STUDY TO EXPLORE THE KNOWLEDGE, AND LAY PERSPECTIVES OF WOMEN TOWARDS CERVICAL SCREENING, AND REASONS THEY ABSTAIN FROM SCREENING IN SURULERE DISTRICT; LAGOS, NIGERIA.
    I used indepth interviews for my data collection and came from an interpretative social constructionist approach based on the topic and RQ.
    Could you guide me through my epistemology and position as a Nigerian woman, it would help to appear casually, so that participants feel relaxed; and speak to them respectfully in English/Pigeon language they understand; especially as similar cultural sensibilities are being shared. This will reduce the impact of different levels of educational status, and allow them to speak more freely.
    Fnd it really challenging discussing this could you give me some guidance to make this good and appropriate?
    Expecting to hear from you. Thanks

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  54. Thanks for the question. You've alighted on an important issue which is that of your own position, experiences and biases that you bring to the research. Clearly a positivist approach to the research would suggest that biases don't matter and that me, or anyone else, would get similar findings. However, reflexivity is key here and I suggest that you read something by Mats Alvesson (his AMR 2001 piece for example) or my own paper from Qualitative Research in Organization and Management from 2010.

    Good luck with your study

    Robert

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  55. Robert, Thank you for this most interesting blog. I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggles with these concepts. I've been reading Crotty's 2010 book and have appreciated the outline in Table 1 (p.5) showing the various epistemologies, theoretical perspectives, methodologies, and methods. He does note that it is not an exhaustive list and I'm wondering if you might have a reference for a complete outline that includes the various ontological perspectives as well as the appropriate linkages across the categories if such a thing exists. Thanks for your help with this.
    Mary

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  56. Mary ... I don't know of anything that is completely comprehensive. If you find something please let me know. Meantime, there are always new texts coming out. Each of them offers a partial glimpse but after reading a few of them you tend to get a sense that you've sorted your own view out. I'd encourage you to read a few other sources and to try to get into conversations with your supervisors or fellow students to compare notes.

    Good luck

    Robert

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  57. Hi Robert,
    Firstly, thank you for such an imformative blog! Secondly, I would appreciate some advice.
    I am studying a Doctorate of Education (EdD) and I am now at thesis stage and due to a big life change (moved country and changed career) my planned thesis is out of the window; I am now looking at something that is portable as I could be having a job change again soon. I am focusing on how leaders within organisations navigate the tensions and frustrations of structures, frameworks, accountability etc (it seems to be leaning towards an 'agency' and 'structure' debate) and I will be taking a narrative inquiry methodology using life histories to explore how leaders have navigated organisational structrure and governance frameworks, and how this has influenced their practice (and potentially vice versa). My supervision team have mentioned a critical realist approach but I am not all too familiar with that having looked more at symbolic interactionism previously and I am starting to feel like I am drowning without a clear place to start. I am confused with what I have read about critical realism. There are elements of CR that seem to focus on the objective, but my study is far too subjective and individualised to be objective. Perhaps I am not understanding CR too well. But could I actually take a CR approach with Narrative Inquiry methodology, or should I be looking at something else. Any advice? Thanks!

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  58. Hi Mr Macintosh! I just want to inquire if there is any sample structure on epistemological framework for communication research?

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous ... you've got me! I don't get the question at all

      Robert

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  59. Fiona

    I think critical realist approach would suit the research data and analysis that you're thinking of. It sounds like an interesting project. Good luck

    Robert

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  60. Hi Robert! Thank you for the blog has really really helped. I am an under grad! Studying the perception of leadership in sport! Would I state my ontology is coaches in sports can enhance player performance and my epistemology is they can achieve this through their experiences and knowledge?

    Thank you Eric

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    1. Eric

      think about what you see as leadership, coaching and performance (in ontological terms) and how you'd understand / assess the impact of one on the others (in epistemological terms)

      Sounds a good study

      Robert

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  61. Robert

    Do you agree or disagree with this 'Qualitative research is simply good story-telling and has no measure of objectivity?

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    1. Heidi ... I'd (a) disagree (b) suggest that the ideas of both "measuring" and "objectivity" would need to be further explored before your question could be answered and (c) suggest reading Robert Sutton's thought provoking article entitled "On the Merits of Closet Qualitative Research" from Organization Science in 1997

      Robert

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  62. Hi Robert. First of all, thank you for an extremely readable and intelligent blog. The discussion above has been most useful. My question relates to mixed methods research. In my research, I used a web survey of university students followed by 30 unstructured qualitative interviews the purpose fo which was to gain understanding of a particular issue. One of the comments of my examiners relates to clarifying my research philosophy. While I think of positivism/objectivism for the web survey, I feel that an interpretivism/constructvism approach suits the qualitaive part. is it usual for a mixed methods research to have a combination of epistemological approaches? I am confused.

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    1. If you are using mixed methods you've probably already come across Tashakkori and Teddlie's Sage handbook of mixed methods, 2010. This has some discussions about the philosophical foundations for mixed methods. As well, I found J. Creswell 2007 Designing and conducting mixed methods research, has a good chart on p. 24 that takes a similar look at philosophical foundations as does Crotty (Foundations of Social Research, 2010) on p. 9.
      I'm also doing mixed methods research (in Nursing) and have found pragmatism to be a good fit. Creswell describes the ontology for pragmatism as "singular and multiple realities -e.g. researchers test hypotheses and provide multiple perspectives". He describes the epistemology as "practicality, e.g. researchers collect data by 'what works' to address research question".
      I hope that helps a bit. Jennifer Greene is another good source - Mixed methods in social inquiry 2007.
      Good luck!

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    2. I agree with Mary. I am doing mixed methods research in public heath and I've also found the above references extremely helpful. where my confusion lies is in refining my qualitative analysis to match my pragmatic approach. I performed a thematic content analysis, however, with further readings, I felt that hermeneutic interpretations resonate well with my philosophy...but I only scratched the surface of this approach...far from 'knowing' it well.

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    3. Nora ... there are some of us who have been reading around this for many years and still feel far from "knowing it well" ... enjoy the process of deepening your understanding and reasssure yourself that you only need to develop a defensible line of argument for your thesis. Your supervisor is key to this process. Good luck

      Robert

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  63. In my own opinion, as expressed in the blog, mixed methods are fine ... mixed ologies are problematic. The issue here is how you account for the two approaches. At its worst, you'll dig a big hole if you present the survey as gathering reasonably objective, verifiable data which is amenable to statistical analysis, etc ... whilst the interviews might be presented as socially constructed accounts of experience which might bot be regarded as fixed, independent of the context, etc. In my own practice, I try to avoid being in the position of defending contradictory worldviews ... you might be lucky enough to have thought this through already. Good luck

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  64. Hi Robert! I feel lucky to find this blog amidst my endeavour to understand ontology, epistemology and axiology of my research. My work is on ecological economic modelling integrating geospatial ways with a case study depending on collecting data through interviews. The plan is to gather on ground data (through onterviewing) about how farmers value ecological economic parameters which inturn influence their practices/actions on their land. Then use that data for further scenario building and modelling in a geospatial manner. I have read Mason 2002, Qualitative Researching and some portions of Denzin and Lincoln 2005, The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research and some of Law, J. 2004. After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. Still, I can't figure out my stance and my position in ontology and epistomolgy. There are so many positions as positivism, post-positivism etc...that I can't figure out where my research stands in that? Any suggestions?

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  65. Juwairia

    generall, the best advice is to pick one such text (my preference was and still is Crotty) and use its classifications. Also, I'd suggest reading Mats Alvesson's AMR paper 2003 Vol 28 Issue 1 when you're accounting for your use of interviews. Beyond that (which should appear in your method chapter) ... I'd encourage you to look for the key writers you want to engage and tease out their own positions such that you have (a) a broad schema from someone like Crotty and (b) more nuanced positioning that is specific to your own topic / literature

    Good luck

    Robert

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  66. God bless Dr. Robert MacIntosh for this blog.I have gone through your explanation on philosophy of research, all readers'comments and your answers with keen interest. I can say that the blog has set me on on this terrain. As a student researching INFLUENCE OF NEWSPAPER FRAMING OF CONFLICTS ON ETHNIC GROUPS CONFLICT BEHAVIOURS, with questionnaire as instrument, pls, (1) how relevant and at what point do i introduce either or both of these philosophical foundations? (2) What should be the strong point of emphasis when grounding the work on these philosophy?

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  67. RSK ... it sounds to me like you want to establish the influence of one factor on another. Being clear on how you construct, measure and present these factors is important. I'd suggest that you deal with your "ologies" in the method chapter as is traditional. The delicate issue you face is placing yourself in relation to (a) a constructivist position where how newspapers report, influences how I react and (b) the fact that you want to use a survey instrument. Good luck

    Robert

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    1. Thanks for your answer to my question of 26 April 2013. However, i wish to share with you the latest development on my work. After more reading and critical observation, my supervisor and I concluded that the study will be better handled with QUANTITATIVE METHOD after a slight modification of the topic to read NEWSPAPER FRAMING OF CONFLICT AND ETHNIC LEADERS CONFLICT BEHAVIOURS.
      My question sir, which of the philosophical approach will be apt for it?
      Thanks from RSK Malaysia

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    2. RSK ... good that you have made a choice. If you watch Alan Parker's film "The Commitments" you'll hear the great advice that "it's a beginning and after the beginning, everything is inevitable." Your choice of a quantitative method implies to me that you are leaning toward a view of data as knowable, verifiable and out there. In which case, you are leaning toward a rational, positivist orientation. Good luck with the execution of your study

      Robert

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  68. Hello,

    I have some questions to You. Im writing my master thesis (my research is qualitative) and i realy stuck on this part of ontology. If i writing about addictions (for example gambling). In my opinion my ontological view is constructivist, because i think that there is no only one truth about phenomenon of my research... And i have bihaviourism like theory which explain people behavior... But, this theory is so objective... and i try to unhderstand if i have to take another one theory which explain this phenomenon and would be opposite to behaviourism ? For example existentialism or humanism or another one (still reading and i dont know, its seems to much theories can explain this phenomenon but i try to find the best one)... And my supervisors told that i have to take another one, but some time ago i heard that its not so good to take to much theories... and I really lost between all of these things. Oh well i hope You understand what i mean, because i have to many thoughts in my mind and i dont know how to tell everything what i want to tell.

    I hope You undersnad.
    Kami.

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  69. Kami

    I know nothing about gambling or other addictive behaviours. As I have said to other posters here, the critical relationship is that with your supervisor. If s/he is advising that you need another theory then I'd follow their advice since it is their domain of expertise not mine. However, as a general point, emplying multiple theories becomes challenging and introduces the danger of either (a) skating across the surface of multiple theories whilst not fully engaging with any one in particular and/or (b) not attending to the difficulty that some theories talk past each other because they are inherently incompatible.

    Good luck

    Robert

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  70. Hello,

    Thank You for your answer. I know that much theories is the chalange. But i hope i will find the right theories and it wpnt be complicated to apply it. Anyway, thank You for your help and keep this blog active, because its so helpful!

    Kami

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  71. Hi Robert
    I am currently preparing my Masters dissertation that is focused on the effects of professional identity on interprofessional learning within a specific context. I have spent significant time trying to consider the Crotty (1998) schema. Since I am trying to make sense of this after data collection and analysis, my methods are clear (one to one interviews followed by a focus group), but I am struggling with the next steps. In my opinion my epistemology is aligned to Constructionism, with an interpretivist theoretical perspective, and then there is a gap for the methodology. I have considered the major methodological approaches but my work does not align itself to any of these. I have considered a generic qualitative approach but I am not sure how this sits with the epistemology and theoretical approaches. I guess that what I am asking is whether it is appropriate to have a constructionist epistemology, with an interpretivist theoretical perspective, and whether these fit with a generic qualitative approach. My other question relates to how I articulate the schema into my report- I was thinking of contextualising each of the 4 schema specifically related to the research aims, any thoughts on this would be greatly received.
    The debate this blog produces is an excellent way of not feeling so isolated in my qualitative research.
    Thank you
    Mark

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  72. Mark

    when I first came across the Crotty book I liked the fact that it simplified things into making a single choice under each category. As you read more, you come across new terminology and nuances that don't always slot straightforwardly into his schema. There is a clear sympathy between constructionist and interpretivist approaches, with the likely variance centring on the social dimension. What to do next is to consider (a) whether someone else's framework such as the Burrell and Morgan one help present a neat and singular articulation for you or (b) whether to to present 2 or 3 organising devices such as Crotty, Burrell and Morgan, etc. then summarise your own position. The two key audiences for this process are your supervisor and the community of practicing scholars who you cite in terms of the content of your research. Sound them out ... run a line of argument past them, etc. Good luck. You're significantly better informed than I was at the equivalent stage.

    Robert

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  73. Hi Robert
    Thank you so much for your advice and guidance. I have picked up the Burrell and Morgan text to read and have arranged a meeting with my supervisor for next week. A further thank you for keeping this blog going, I have read lots of the other contributors comments and challenges and it offers reassurance that I am not the only person who is working through these key areas of research. I also want to thank you for your comments, I felt like I was going round in circles and your supportive comments have encouraged me to explore this within my research.
    Many thanks
    Mark

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  74. how to consider method+methodology+theoretical perspective+ontology and epistemology in a research and why?

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  75. how to consider method+methodology+theoretical perspective+ontology and epistemology in a research and why?

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  76. What is the difference between interpretative and interpretive research

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    1. I think the difference is the same as oriented vs. orientated ... I'd use them interchangeably and I'd look for what is "normal" in the literature you work within. However, if others know of a more substantive difference they may be able to help

      Good luck

      Robert

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  77. Dear Robert,

    I am investing the quality of data for maternal health and access to safe water and sanitation in developing countries. Can you please guide me on which theories I can draw on to guide this study?

    How can describe the the: ontology, epistemology and methodology in relation to this study?

    Thank you very much

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  78. Anonymous

    I can't really answer the question of which theories you could use because the list is enormous. If I were embarking on that study I might want to compare the actual data on access to clean water with the ways in which different stakeholder groups describe and refer to these data. This would allow you to do something on identity, narrative, stakeholder theory, sensemaking or any number of themes/theories. That in itself is a sub-set of the questions you could ask ... such as the link between access and health outcomes, etc. Then, finally, the three ologies only make sense once you've picked the phenomena of interest and the theoretical angle. In this short answer I've picked out some things which are fairly rational, objective, scientific and some things which are much more constructivist. Good luck choosing and don't forget to speak to you supervisor(s) as you do so.

    Robert

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  79. Hi Robert,
    I took your advice to seek a supervisor before applying for my PhD. 2 supervisors in my preferred Uni have shown interest in my topic. Thanks.
    I thought i should deep my toes into the murky waters of ontology and epistemology. Why does social research lecturers often gloss over these rather important research philosophies in taught under-grad and master classes. I am looking for a simple way to understand ontology and epistemology.

    Am I right to say that ontology is what we know/experience/feel; and epistemology is how we come to know what we know?
    Thanks

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  80. Yugocent

    landing a supervisor is the first big hurdle ... good luck with choosing the right team to lead you through your PhD. As I note in the original post. Ontology relates to our assumptions about the nature of knowledge and the world we inhabit. This in turn connects to how we know/feel/experience the world. Epistemology relates to our views of how we would gather views/experience of the world ... at least, this is how they make sense to me. Good luck with your PhD and thanks for reporting back

    Robert

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  81. very useful information thanks for sharing..
    UK dissertation

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  82. you're very welcome ... good luck with the MBA

    Robert

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  83. Thank you for this very useful blog. My PhD is investigating whether software is an aid to practitioners in schools. Can my ontology be based on my personal first hand experience and my epistemology from the literature review ? My methodology is Action Research using qualitative and quantitative methods.
    Elizabeth

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  84. Elizabeth ... your questions need a little adjustment before they can be answered. Your ontology cannot be "first hand experience" ... however, your ontological position might be based on the view that personal experience shapes the knowledge that you gather hence all knowledge is subjective or constructed. Similarly, your epistemology isn't just the literature review. The account you give of how you gather knowledge is epistemological and is likely to be sympathetic to some views in your literature review but may well clash with others. Hence, in linking your literature review to your methods chapter it is helpful to be able to give an account of the status of the knowledge claims made by fellow researchers and how you position yourself in relation to those. Good luck with your study

    Robert

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  85. Nice Discussion. JUST ASKING:Is it possible to have different ontological,epistemological,and methodological stances or one of them, and yet to come up with same/closely the same research output in the same problem?

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    1. Juma ... it is possible that you could come up with similar insights from different research orientations but the likelihood of this becomes lower when the orientations concerned are diametrically opposed.

      Robert

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    2. Thanks! If you get time please help me from this! Just reply through this post, thanks in advance!

      http://www.researchgate.net/post/Please_COMMENT_ASK_or_SUGGEST_to_help_on_the_best_move_FORWARD_Especially_with_regard_to_Literature_Ontology_Espistemology_Methodology_and_the_like

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  86. Hello,
    Thank you all for the valuable participation. I'm a PhD students. I'm actually stuck to identify theoritical framework for my research. So my research is about the impact of servant leadership approach on employees' productivity in higher education. So, any idea about the possible framework?
    Thank you,
    FAdil

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    1. Fadil

      this is a fascinating topic area but implies a number of challenges. How would you define productivity in HE and how would you identify someone taking a servant leadership approach ? In both cases, a more positivist orientation would see these as reasonably straightforward and measurable items which could then be correlated. A more social constructionist approach would see the research framed as trying to understand how "servant" is co-produced amongst colleagues. Either framing is fine but confusing them would not be. Good luck with your study

      Robert

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  87. Hi... nice blog...I need some help... I have to make a “methodology report” on the strategy of a sports club regarding how to retain the existing members, to facilitate and increase services for the members so as to revive their interest and participation and to attract the new members especially from the youth … which dimension/approach is the best to choose among ontology, epistemology and methodology? Also, which paradigm model is the best to choose among positivism, post-positivism, constructivism, critical theory and participatory? Simply, I need to choose one paradigm model and one dimension/approach… kindly let me know and share your thoughts, thanks a lot... I don’t work for that club, I m only a student…

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    1. Adil

      there is no "best" ... there is only a negotiation between your own beliefs and values on the one hand, and the audience that you are writing for on the other hand. The report you've been asked to make sounds interesting but I could see one orientation that would privilege facts and figures ... and another which would ask what it is about the values, perceptions, image, etc. of the club that is not resonating with for example, youth members. I can't answer your question ... only you can.

      Good luck

      Robert

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  88. What is the provision for evaluation of knowledge? Is it epistemology, ontology and methodology? i'm confused.

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  89. Anonymous, how one would evaluate knowledge is itself contingent upon how one conceptualises knowledge. If one takes a very rational, scientific and objective view of knowledge then evaluation is a relatively simple technical exercise where results are triangulated, verified, repeated, etc. For example, asking whether someone could run the same tests on a fresh batch of data / situations and arrive at the same conclusions is entirely reasonable in this world view. If however, you view knowledge as socially constructed and subjective the process of evaluating knowledge itself becomes more contested as do ideas such as generalizability. The three ologies therefore give you good questions to ask about an issue such as evaluation rather than any singular or simple answer. Good luck with your studies

    Robert

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  90. Hi Robert, I am finding the questions and answers above very insightful and thank you for taking the time and effort to give guidance to students on their research journey. I am and undergraduate social work student undertaking honours research. I am having a lot of difficulty in determining my ontological,epistemological and theoretical stance on my topic.
    My research topic is "how comfortable are mental health-workers are in dealing with the complexities of asylum seekers". The prevailing political stance has been to demonise asylum-seekers as 'illegal' (which is incorrect) and 'turning away the boats' and border protection, all creating a hardening stance from the general population with no insight as to why people seek asylum and lack of caring anyway. Due to the well researched data of the effect of Australia's hardline on the mental health and well-being of asylum seekers. I feel that this is a major issue in the very near future in regards to entry of asylum seeker s to the public mental health system, of which the majority of workers are people who are subjected to the negative political and media representation of AS.
    Research is very new to me, and an area of me stepping out of my comfort zone big time. I thought that perhaps interpretive epistemology with perhaps a constructionist ontological stance and I am stuck on the theoretical approach. I would love some guidance on this please? :)

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    Replies
    1. Christine, as you are aiming to co-construct the views and attitudes of mental health workers, take a look at Kathy Charmaz's Constructivist Grounded Theory Method and read thesis and papers commenting on this method which is ontologically relativist and epistemologically subjectivist. Good luck with your research. It is important to approach this research having reflected on the lens you will be interpreting the data through (your lens) and adopting an agnostic stance if possible.

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  91. Christine ... whilst I'd empathise with the importance of the topic you're studying, I'd be the first to acknowledge that it is a long way from my own area of expertise. I'd have no way of judging what theoretical lens would be seen as helpful in the social work field. In my own field you might choose to use practice theory, actor network theory, institutional theory or many others. Taking a broadly constructionist approach to understand how and why people do things would be my first choice but that is personal preference. Equally, you could issue a questionnaire and "measure" people's attitudes to key issues. My strong advice would be to speak to domain experts and use their supervisory expertise. Good luck with your study

    Robert

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  92. Hi
    Like many others on this blog, I am currently in the proposal phase of my PhD. The focus of my study is on the students' experiences of learning with digital multimodal texts (those texts that have more than one ‘mode’ so that meaning is communicated through a synchronisation of modes. That is, they may incorporate spoken or written language, still or moving images, they may be produced on paper or electronic screen and may incorporate sound) ... i will be considering experience about the phenomenon from the perspective of students coming from one specific field of study for the research. I am planning to use phenomenography as methodology. But how do I present the context being students from a specific field of study whereby I will not be able to generalise the findings. Is there anything like Phenomenographic case study as methodology?
    Qualitative research and methods are new to me so I am still trying to figure out a lot of issues. Thank you

    D.

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  93. D

    I have not idea is the honest answer but the wider point is that the issue of generalisability comes up a lot ... especially in relation to qualitative research. I'd be very careful in relation to the term "case study" since it means so many different things to different people. There is a separate post on that topic and I'd recommend reading the Robert Sake book mentioned there. Good luck with your study

    Robert

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  94. Very Clear information About Methodology..

    Mba dissertation writing

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    1. thanks Vetri ... good luck with your dissertation

      Robert

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  95. presently writing research proposal for my PhD dissertation on Readiness for Change in primary education. am using Armenakis and Holt 2007 models as instruments to collect data. it is a mixed method approach, both qualitative and quantitative research methods. i would like to have advice on my topic. thanks.

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  96. Anonymous, this sounds like an interesting piece of work ... if you have a problem, some relevant theory, access and the ability to gather data then you're well on your way. Advice on what to do next needs to come from your supevisor. Good luck with the project

    Robert

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  97. I'm very clear on my Epistemology and Theoretical Perspective (constructivism and interpretivism), but they both seem quite similar to me. What is the difference between an Epistemology and a Theoretical Perspective?

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  98. Dear Anonymous ... for me, epistemology (as described in the post) is how we would gather insight about the world. I particularly like the Cook and Seely Brown paper from Organization Science 1999 Vol 10 No 4 who use the distinction between an epistemology of possession as contrasted with an epistemology of practice to theorise about knowledge. It is well written and makes some fairly complex material come to life from simple examples like riding a bike (e.g. they point out that there is something about riding a bike that is known by all who can cycle but which most would find very difficult to explain). A theoretical perspective is a much looser term and could mean a number of things. What it usually means for me is that we use a body of theory to give us a perspective on a particular phenomena. e.g. you could use institutional theory to explain patterns of innovation in a firm or industry. In that sense you would be adopting a theoretical perspective or standpoint. Constructivist or interpretivist are often used in conjunction with epistemology ... e.g. coming from a constructivist epistemology. In my own thinking about this mesy territory I found the Crotty book particularly helpful. Good luck

    Robert

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    1. Thanks for this Robert - very helpful.

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