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Epistemological Positions of Extensive and Intensive Research

This essay is an attempt to .nd out how extensive and intensive research strategies in business and management studies re.ect distinctive epistemological positions. I start by comparing the goals of methods of extensive and intensive research strategies. Then, I discuss how the former re.ects a positivist epistemological position and how the latter re.ects a di.erent non-positivist epistemological position � phenomenology. Finally, instead of selecting one research strategy as superior to the other, an alternative of combined methods from both strategies is discussed.

Bruner

distinguished

two

modes

of

thought

as

follows:

There are two modes of cognitive functioning, two modes of thought, each providing distinctive ways of ordering experience, of constructing reality. The two (though complementary) are irreducible to one another. E.orts to reduce one mode to the other . . . fail to capture the rich diversity of thought. Each of the ways . . . has operating principles of its own and its own criteria of well-formednedd. They di.er radically in their procedures for veri.cation (p. 11)

Van

de

Ven

(2007)

relates

each

of

these

modes

to

two

di.erent

research designs as follows: the �paradigmatic logico-scienti.c� of thought with what he calls variance research dealing with �what� questions and, �the narrative� of thought with what he calls process research dealing with �how� questions.

This

demarcation

of

research

designs

is

similar

to

what

Sayer

(1992)

calls

extensive

and

intensive

research strategies. Thus, the two strategies in question re.ect in fact two modes of human intelligence and cognitive functioning. In the following section, I will explain more the two research strategies, then I follow with explaining the relation between them and philosophy.

2 Contrasting Extensive and Intensive Research Strategy

Sayer

states

that

the

distinction

is

not

a

question

of

�scale

or

depth

versus

breath�

but

the

two

strategies do (i) ask di.erent questions, (ii) use di.erent methods, (iii) study di.erent groups,

(iv) and

need

di.erent

types

of

tests

(1992,

p.

242).

This

is

discussed

in

next

four

subsections

subsequently.

2.1 Research Questions

Extensive research is designed in ways that look at a small number of properties among a large number

of

individuals

(units

of

analysis)

(Sayer

1992).

The focus here is on .nding variables which

can

be

incorporated

into

exploratory

models

or

causal

statements

(Van

de

Ven

2007),

and

on

revealing

formal

relations

of

similarity

(Sayer

1992).

According

to

Van

de

Ven

(2007)

it

aims at .nding answers to �what� questions such as �what are the antecedents or consequences of the issue� (p. 145).

On the other hand, intensive research aims to examine a large number of properties among a small number of individuals. The indispensable concept here is �a commitment to seeing the social world from the point of view of the actor�. Such a commitment requires more involvement of

individuals

making

it

�much

more

.uid

and

.exible�

(Bryman

1984,

pp.

77�78).

Van

de

Ven

calls

this

type

of

research

�process�

emphasising

that

the

focus

here

is

on

the

process

of

how

issues

�emerge,

develop,

grow,

or

termimate

over

time�

(2007,

p.

145).

Sayer

(1992)

adds

in intensive research �much of the information is qualitative and concerns processes, activities, relations

and

episodes

of

events�

(1992,

p.

242).

Understanding

the

meaning

of

such

processes

activities and relations �constitutes the knowledge to be gained from an inductive . . . mode of inquiry�

(Merriam

1997,

p.

4).

2.2 Methods

Typical methods used in each strategy also di.er. In extensive research they are mainly large-scale survey of population or representative sample, formal questionaires, standardised inter�views, or statistical analysis. Qualitative methods such as study of individual agents in their causal contexts, interactive interviews, ethnography and qualitative analysis are used in inten�sive research . Danermark

et

al.

add:

The way in which intensive and extensive procedures relate to qualitative and quan�titative methods can be described thus: the intensive empirical procedure contains

substantial elements of data collecting and analyses of qualitative kind. The exten�sive procedure has to do with quantitative data collecting and statistical analysis. (2001,

p.

163)

2.3 Study Groups and Representativeness

The

focus

in

extensive

research

is

on

taxonomic

groups

which

is

explained

by

Sayer

as

�groups

whose members share similar (formal) attributes but which need not actually connect or interact with one another� while intensive research �focuses mainly (though not exclusively) on groups whose members may be either similar or di.erent but which actually relate to each other structurally

or

causally�

(1992,

p.

244).

2.4 Appropriate Tests

Di.erent tests are needed for each type of the research strategies. For extensive research replica�tion tests are important to see �how general the particular .ndings are in the wider population�, for intensive research corroboration tests used to �see that the results really do apply to those individuals

actually

studied�

(Sayer

1992,

p.

246).

A

summary

of

extensive

and

intensive

research

strategies

is

given

in

table

1.

3 Epistemological Positions and Assumptions

3.1 Extensive Research and Epistemology

Research under extensive strategy relies on quantitative methods and on �statistical testing of empirical hypotheses� to provide veri.able and reliable data sets because such methods con�sidered to serve the �positive-science ideal� of positivists who �utilize empirical methodologies borrowed

from

the

natural

sciences

to

investigate

phenomena�

(Berg

2000,

p.

10).

Merriam

(1997)

also

links

quantitative

research

to

positivism:

In positivist form of research . . . knowledge gained through scienti.c and experi�mental research is objective and quanti.able . . . on the topic dropping out of high school . . . From a positivist perspective you might begin by hypothesizing that stu�dents drop out of high school because of low self-esteem. You could then design an intervention program to raise the self-esteem of students at risk. You set up an experiment controlling for as many variables as possible, and then measure the results. (p. 4)

The example shows how a positivist-natural-science approach is being applied to social phe�nomena

(Bryman

1984).

According

to

positivists,

reality

is

stable,

observable

and

measurable

Table 1: A summary of extensive and intensive research

Extensive Intensive

Research What are the regularities, com- How does a process work in a par-

Question mon patterns, or distinguishing features in a portfolio or popula�tion of portfolios? How widely are certain characteristics or processes distributed or presented? ticular case or small number of cases? What produces a certain change? What did the agents ac�tually do?

Relations Formal relations of similarity Substantial relations of connection

Types of groups Taxonomic groups sharing similar proprieties Causal groups which are related

Typical large-scale survey of population study of individual agents in their

Methods or representative sample, formal questionaires, standardized inter�views, statistical analysis causal contexts, interactive in�terviews, ethnography, qualitative analysis

Limitations Although representative of a whole population, they are unlikely to be generalizable to other popula�tions at di.erent times and places. Problem of ecological fallacy in making inferences bout individu�als. Limited explanatory power. Actual concrete patterns and con�tingent relations are unlikely to be representative, average or general�izable. Necessary relations discov�ered will exist wherever their rela�tions are present, e.g. causal pow�ers of objects are generalizable to other contexts as they are neces�sary features of these objects

Tests Replication Corroboration

Source:

Sayer

1992,

p.

243

(Merriam

1997,

p.

4),

and

theory

development

�requires

generality,

precision and simplicity� (Danermark

et

al.

2001,

p.

157).

One

is

able

to

see

clearly

how

these

qualities

are

imposed

by

quantitative strategies. Extensive research aims at producing generalisations by examining a large number of the individuals, and this thrust for generality makes it necessary to simplify them by only focusing on a restricted number of property resulting in excluding �properities which

make

important

di.erences

to

the

behavior

of

individuals�

(Sayer

1992,

p.

241).

Among other characteristics of the �paraphernalia of positivism� are objectivity, replicability, and

causality

according

to

Bryman

who

explains

how

social

surveys

�which,

within

this

tradi�

tion, is one of the preferred instruments of research� can be easily adapted to such concerns: objectivity is achieved by maintaining a distance between observer (researcher) and observed (individuals); replication is achieved by applying the same research instrument and techniques to other contexts; .nally, �the problem of causality has been eased by the emergence of path analysis

and

related

regression

techniques

to

which

surveys

are

well

suited�(1984,

p.

77).

Precision, one of the positivist qualities, is found in mathematics by the use of statistics and mathematical models. Statistics is often used when it is impossible to conduct overall ex�amination. For example, to make statements about the health of a population, samples are investigated

since

it

is

impossible

to

investigate

the

whole

population

(Danermark

et

al.

2001).

However, such exploratory statements are not certain because of the ecological inference fallacy problem.

The ecological fallacy occurs when making inferences about individuals from aggregate statistics based on data collected from the group to which those individuals belong. For example, let�s assume that a study has found that employees in organisation A score higher on IQ test on average than employees in organisation B. It will be an ecological fallacy to infer that a randomly selected employee from organisation A will score higher than a randomly selected employee from organisation B.

To conclude, research under this strategy is described as �positivist or empiricist� and is �under�pinned

by

a

distinctive

theory

of

what

should

pass

as

warrantable

knowledge�

(Bryman

1984,

p. 77).

3.2 Intensive Research and Epistemology

On the other side, intensive research rely on qualitative methods which philosophical roots have

been

traced

by

many

writers

to

phenomenology

and

symbolic

interaction

(Merriam

1997,

Bryman

1984).

(Bryman

2001,

p.

15)

de.nes

phenomenology

as

�a

philosophy

that

is

concerned

with the question of how individuals make sense of the world around them�. Bryman credits the application of phenomenological ideas in social science to Alfred Schutz (1899�1959). Schutz

states:

The world of nature, as explored by the natural scientist, does not �mean� anything to the molecules, atoms, and electrons therein. The observational .eld of the social scientist, however, namely the social reality, has a specinc meaning and relevance structure for the human beings living, acting, and thinking therein. By a series of common-sense constructs they have pre-selected and pre-interpreted this world which they experience as the reality of their daily lives. It is these thought objects of theirs which determine their behavior by motivating it. The thought objects constructed by the social scientist, in order to grasp this social reality, have to be founded upon the thought objects constructed by the common-sense thinking of men,

living

their

daily

life

within

their

social

world.

(1954,

p.

59)

From

this

quotation,

(Bryman

2001,

p.

16)

draws

two

points:

.rst,

the

subject

matter

of

natural

sciences and social sciences is essentially di.erent. Second, social researchers should �gain access to people' s common-sense thinking and interpret their actions from their point of view�.

Merriam explain how the same example of dropping out of high school mentioned above to be treated from a

qualitative perspective would not test theory, set up an experiment, or measure any�thing. Rather, you might be interested in understanding the experience of dropping out from the perspective of the noncompleters themselves, or you might be inter�ested in discovering which factors di.erentiate noncompleters from those who may have been at risk but who nevertheless completed high school. You will need to interview students, perhaps observe them in or out of school, and review documents such as counselors reports and personal diaries (pp. 4�5)

From this example, it is clear that qualitative methodology requires more involvement of in�dividuals

making

it

�much

more

.uid

and

.exible

than

quantitative

research�

(Bryman

1984,

p. 78).

Social phenomena and their meanings are constantly being constructed and revised by inter�action

between

actors

Bryman

(2001).

Social

researchers

under

this

strategy

have

the

respon�

sibility of involving with social actors and interpreting their actions. They do this through qualitative methods such as participant observation.

The fundamental di.erences between extensive and intensive research strategies in regards to epistemological

and

ontological

positions

in

summarised

in

table

2.

Table 2: Fundamental di.erence between quantitative and qualitative research strategies

Strategy Quantitative (extensive) Qualitative (intensive)

Principle orientation to the role of theory in relation to re�search Deductive; testing of theory Inductive; generation of the�ory

Epistemological orientation Natural science model, in par�ticular positivism Interpretivism

Ontological orientation Objectivism Constructionism

Source:

Bryman

2001,

p.

22)

Selecting a Research Strategy

A debate over quantitative and qualitative methodology has gained considerable attention over the

last

several

decades

(Howe

&

Eisenhart

1990,

Bryman

1984)

in

which

both

research

method�

ologies are compared on technicial and epistemological levels.

In regards to epistemology, such a debate is strengthened from time to time by recourse to the Kuhnian sense of the term paradigm to denote the research strategies. This makes it clear to see that two divergent epistemological positions are being presented since paradigms are meant to

be

incomparable,

even

incompatible,

with

each

other

(Bryman

1984).

Becker

(1996)

gives

two

points

which

�account

for

the

persistent

feeling

that

the

two

methods

di.er epistemologically�: (i) they �raise somewhat di.erent questions at the level of data� and how collected data is used to make �generalizations about social life�. For example, quantitative survey researchers use di.erences among numerical data to generalize explanations based on logical inference. On the other side, qualitative .eldworkers look for narrative description of activities. (ii) �the situations of data gathering present .eldworkers, whether they seek it or not, with a lot of information, whether they want it or not. If you do a survey, you know in advance all the information you can acquire�. (pp. 2�3)

4.1 The Quantitative-Qualitative Debate

Many of the epistemological distinctness of quantitative methodology has came from writings within the qualitative tradition as methodologists in quantitative tradition �seem rarely to write about

the

nature

of

their

research

activity�

(Bryman

1984,

p.

76).

Quantitative methodologists and scientists have criticised qualitative research considering it a.ecting the subjective attitude of scientists and �un.t for making predictions� (Danermark

et

al.

2001,

p.

151).

Another

reason

why

intensive

research

considered

to

be

less

objective

than

extensive

research

is

because

its

results

are

not

replicated

elsewhere

(Sayer

1992).

Moreover, researchers tend not to admit that intensive research designs give more in terms of exploration because

they

are

afraid

�of

appearing

�unscienti.c�

(Sayer

1992,

p.

250).

On the other hand quantitative methodologists rejoined that quantitative research is based on �a naive theory of objectivity� and it is un.t for describing the complexity of social reality (Danermark

et

al.

2001,

p.

151).

The empirical point of departure is the perspective of the actor which makes this phenomenological position di.erent from positivist approaches where researchers seem to view events from the outside trying to impose empirical concerns upon social reality �with little reference to the meaning of the observations to the subject of investigation� (Bryman

1984,

p.

78)

Sayer

gives

an

example

of

this

�where

a

statistical

average

is

found

to

which

no

real

individuals

correspond�

(1992,

p.

250).

Another key-note of this tradition is provided by Schutz�s contrast between �a natural science approach which sees people as inert and a phenomenological approach which seeks to focus upon

the

lived

experience

of

people�

(1967,

p.

34

cited

in

Bryman

1984,

p.

78).

This lived experience allows researchers through quantitative methods (such as participant observation) to produce rich data, unlike quantitative methods (such as surveys) where data is based on what individuals say they do and feel but not on what researchers see them doing or feeling.

4.2 Intensive Research as Preparation

In this section, instead of selecting one research strategy as superior to the other, an alternative of combined methods from both strategies is discussed.

Bryman

suggests

that

� not only that one technique can never be inherently superior to its supposed alternatives, but also that a technique is likely to be more useful in some contexts than

others

�(1984,

p.

80)

which

further

suggests

that

the

issue

here

is

more

technical

(which

technique is more useful in what context) than epistemological (which technique is superior).

Since each of quantitative and qualitative methods serve di.erent purposes, this di.erence in objectives can be used in a research theme where intensive research (by means of qualitative methods) is carried out .rst as exploratory method to provide leads and for hypothesis genera�tion. Then extensive research (by means of quantitative methods) is carried out as a veri.cation method

to

con.rm

or

reject

leads

suggested

by

qualitative

research

(Bryman

1984)

(hypothesis

testing). Sayer

(1992,

p.

246)

also

gives

an

example

of

how

an

�extensive

[quantitative]

study

would be need to test for replication� of results of an intensive (qualitative) study.

This

theme

of

research

has

been

identi.ed

in

physical

sciences

by

Kuhn

as

he

states:

�large amounts of qualitative work have usually been prerequisite to fruitful quanti.cation in the physical

sciences�

(1961,

p.

162).

It should be mentioned though since qualitative research in this theme is providing �fodder� to quantitative research, it is considered to occupy a �lower rung on the epistemological ledder� but this

position

is

acccepted

by

researchers

in

the

qualitative

stream

(Bryman

1984,

p.

84).

An example

is

a

study

of

the

West

End

by

Gans

(1965,

p.

350)

as

cited

in

Bryman

(1984,

p.

84),

in which Gans refers to his research as �reconnaissance � an initial exploration of a community to provide an overview�. Gans later acknowledges that many of the hypotheses reported by his research can be �tested against the results of more systematic social science research�.

5 Conclusion

Two di.erent research strategies in business and management, extensive and intensive, have been compared at the levels of methodology and epistemology. These two types of research derived

from

two

modes

of

thought

(Bruner

1986)

and

re.ect

two

distinctive

epistemological

positions.

Researchers under extensive strategy (positivists) use methods such as statistical surveys and standardised interviews which they allow them to acquire objective knowledge. Researchers of intensive strategy (anti-positivists) rely on less structured methods such as participant obser�vation or unstructured interviews which allow them to acquire knowledge about social reality. Currently, methods from both sides are combined together enabling social scientists to form and test hypotheses, and generate social knowledge.


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