Research Paradigm, Ontology and Epistemology

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Reflections on my POE

(Research Paradigm, Ontology and Epistemology)

Introduction

Curiosity, observation and the quest for better understanding about our surroundings are vital elements of human nature which consequently leads towards gaining enriched knowledge. An individual’s point of view, values, believes and others will impact our approach towards the choice of research pathway; and the underlying assumptions and structure.

This knowledge process will assess in defining major research dimensions such as ontology, epistemology, methods, methodology and paradigm; and how they are interrelated and complement each other. This will be followed by identifying and explaining the main research paradigms; finally, justifying the most applicable and closely aligned paradigm with my research area which is:

Among small to medium enterprises (SMEs) from developed countries that struggle to do business in in large emerging country markets (LECMs), what to do they perceive to be the major issues?

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Major Research Dimensions:

Ontology, epistemology, methodology, and methods are the major dimensions of any research which impact:

  • The research question formulation
  • Project conceptualisation
  • How the research is carried out (Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2010).

Orlikowski and Baroudi (1991) explained that ontology referred to the “individual’s” basic beliefs about the nature of reality such as objectivism, constructivism and subjectivism, which are very often left unexamined. On the other hand, they explained the epistemology as a framework for the knowledge. It illustrates the connection between “the known”, what counts as knowledge; and “the enquirer”, on what basis we can make knowledge claims, like positivism and post positivism, interpretivism, critical enquiry, radicalism and postmodernism (Crotty, 1998, p. 50).

In a recent study of paradigm framework, Grant and Giddings (2002) described that methodology is an expression of ontology and epistemology in relation to the way of study and research analysis should carry on. They also stated that methodology within a specific discipline is “a theoretical assumptions and principles that underpin a particular research approach”. In addition they pointed out the meaning of “research method”, as a technique for gathering and analysing the collected information and data. Information could be collected via questionnaire, face to face interview and even a case study or action research which can function as methodologies when clearly linked to a paradigm.

In summary, it is very clear that ontological and epistemological positions always inform methodological and methods choices (Grant &Giddings, 2002).

Major Research Paradigms:

Thomas Kuhn explained paradigm as a basic orientation to theory and research and it is a whole system of thinking. In Kuhn’s words, paradigm is “implicit body of intertwined theoretical and methodological belief that permits selection, evaluation, and criticism” (as cited by Grant & Giddings, 2002, p.12).

Over time, different types of paradigms have evolved. Choosing any particular paradigm to work with depending on few variables such as; the researched field, researched topic or problem, the researcher preferences and many other variables (Grant & Giddings, 2002).

Positivist, Post-positivist, Interpretative, Radical or Critical and Post-structural are the main paradigms but there are many others emergent research like indigenous approaches e.g. Kaupapa Māori. Each paradigm proposes a different ontology, epistemology and the indirect-power relations between the “researcher and researched relationship” (Grant & Giddings, 2002).

Reflections of my POE (research paradigm, ontology and epistemology) in related to my field of study

My field of study is international business management (IBM) specialising in Large Emerging Markets (LEM). It is dealing with multi-social realities and how it is formed by the way that people perceive social situations. Therefore, the type of information that is required for my research, should be subjective combined with inductive reasoning.

Dealing with different cultural contexts, personal values and situation interpretation by the researcher and the researched are between the mean issues that facing any researcher within IBM field. Accordingly, I think gaining knowledge could be achieved through participative analysis and by reducing the gap between the researcher and the researched.

My research will be focusing on SMEs from developed countries like New Zealand doing businesses in LEM such as China in attempt to find the best practice. It will be a challenging task to apply my research to only one of the paradigms because the boundaries that separate them are often fuzzy and there is no clear cut between them (Grant & Giddings, 2002, p.18).

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From my point of view, the paradigm that most closely aligns with my research is mainly post-positivist and to a certain level, interpretive. There are many reasons behind my paradigm choice in the process to find the best practice.

For example, I always believe that everyone has different points of view and values which are influenced by our social, cultural and political contexts. Guba and Lincoln (1994) explained that there were multiple views of truth. Therefore, when dealing with an international business, we are dealing with different cultural backgrounds. Accordingly there will be multiple points of view and truth based on “the best understanding that we have been able to produce thus far, not a statement of what is ultimately real”, which is the central point of the post-positivist way of thinking (Polkinghorne, 1983, p 2). On the other hand, this paradigm is taking the researched subject experience and background into account resulting that the researcher’s objectivity is impossible. Post-positivists Focuses on the participant’s experience and behaviour, including talk.

Secondly, there is a need to understand the reasons behind why some SMEs struggling to survive at the host countries. Gathering information, could be done within interpretive paradigm by listing to such enterprises’ manager to hear their interpretations for such struggle and what to do they perceive to be the major issues?

Cocks (1989) stated that part of the truth could be found by “self-understandings of [her/his] participants” and the truth “must be discovered by thought rather than by sensory observation” (p: 104). This paradigm framework will help me to apply the scientific methods to human behaviour by going back to “the things themselves” (Husserl, as cited by Farber, 2006, p.568). It will empower me to interpret the meaning and the importance of these managers’ self-understandings in ways that they may not have been able to see.

As an interpretive researcher the relationship between myself and these managers, will be intersubjective by becoming a listener and interpreter of the informations that have been supplied by them. Accordingly, this will give me a dominant position in making the interpretation and controlling the analysis process, therefore listening become the most critical part of the interpretive research.

Finally, from my point of view, Positivist, Radical, Post-structural and indigenous approach paradigms cannot fit with my research question because of the below reasons:

  1. Positivist paradigm: this paradigm is supporting the ‘scientific method’ which is highlighting the importance of objectivity, systematic and detailed observation. Knowledge could be discovered, explained and controlled by using different methodologies; and it confirms the finding as fact which is resulting a creation of specific ‘body of knowledge’. Accordingly, this will influences the professional decision- making (Grant & Giddings, 2002). In this paradigm, the researcher could be seen as the “expert” who retains an objective viewpoint to the researched. Therefore, feelings and thoughts of the researched are restructured in numerical forms and then statistical analysis will be applied for better understanding.

This paradigm has no considerations to the researched interpretation and point views. While in my research, the researched personal interpretations and views are playing a big part of better understanding. So, this paradigm is not functional with my research.

  1. Radical or Critical Paradigm: This paradigm is more concerns about “changing” not “explaining” and “understanding” the social reality; and it is embedded with a form of convectional research (Smith,1993, p.77). It believes that the world is unequal and unfair. So, discrimination based on gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and so on are shaping our societies. Cocks (1989) highlighted the confusion between importance of “truth” and its own subjects such as power and authority. It is resulting, within the social context, that the priority to meet the most dominating group’s interests could be seen as a normal practice. Such practice will have a noticeable impacts on the researchers’ position and the way of analysing the collected data. The researcher and the researched to some degree could be seen as a co-workers or co-researcher engaging in collective action to change the world and there is less power differences between them because of the shared point view.
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My research does not deal with the ideology of the unfairness paradigm that is aligned with radicalism; and is not aimed at changing the world but it is interested in understanding why SMEs struggling to survive in LEM. Accordingly, this paradigm will not serve my research purposes.

  1. Post-structural paradigm: Grant and Giddings (2002) stated that no-one can stand outside the traditions or discourses of their time” and there is no universal truths about the social. Accordingly, “the search for grand narratives will be replaced by more local, small-scale theories fitted to specific problems and specific situations” (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994, p. 11).

McCouat and Peile (1995) as cited by (Grant & Giddings, 2003, p.20) explained, that meanings are “multiple, unstable and open to interpretation”. Therefore, post-structuralism researches will always be subjective and supported by inter-related theories of discourse, power and the subject. “Understanding of the human being” that is underpinning this paradigm is different from other paradigms. It is based on self-understanding, of the researcher, to be embedded as a shared meaning formations with the researched. Therefore, a reflexive posture adoption is required for better awareness of that embedded nature. The researcher is not aiming to transform the possibilities for the researched but for others who will be influenced by the researched view.

Given that, this paradigm is focusing on particular problems and particular situations. It is more localised and covering a small-scaled issues, while my research is more universal. For that reason, Post-structural paradigm is not compatible with my research.

  1. Indigenous paradigm: This paradigm is related to postcolonial societies (such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States). Kaupapa Maori research is an example of the indigenous approach in New Zealand. Indigenous theory is a localised viewpoint which is based on the notions of critical theory but situates them within an indigenous worldview (Graham Hingangaroa Smith as cited by Linda Smith, 1999, p. 186). In indigenous research, the researcher becomes part of the researched community, which controls all decisions related to the research procedures and what should be done to the findings. It is cross disciplinary research and its methodologies are being taken up from every paradigm and reorganised within the indigenous worldview; and it is aiming “to make a positive difference for the researched” (Smith, 1999, p. 191).

As explained before, my research focuses on SMEs in general from developed countries like Australian and New Zealand, which are both considered postcolonial societies, venturing LEMs such as China; and it is not looking at SMEs from the indigenous approach. Therefore, it is very clear this paradigm is not applicable to my researched.

Conclusion

In summary, ontology, epistemology, methodology, and methods are the major research dimensions. There are different paradigms such as positivist, post-positivist, interpretative, radical or critical, post-structural and emergent research like indigenous approaches. Each paradigm proposes a different ontology, epistemology and the relationship between the researchers and researched. However, from my point view, post-positivist and interpretative paradigm’s approaches are the only paradigms that could be applicable to my research to answer my research question:

Among small to medium enterprises (SMEs) from developed countries that struggle to do business in in large emerging country markets (LECMs), what to do they perceive to be the major issues?

References:

Cocks, J (1989): The oppositional imagination: Feminism, critique and political theory, Routledge, London.

Crotty, M. (1998).The foundations of social research: Meaning and perspective in the research process. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Allen & Unwin

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1994).Handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

Farber, M. (2006).The foundation of phenomenology: Edmund husserl and the quest for a rigorous science of philosophy. Frankfurt, Germany: Aldine Transaction

Grant, B. M., & Giddings, L. S. (2002). Making sense of methodologies: A paradigm framework for the novice researcher.Contemporary Nurse,13(1), 10-28.

Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1994). Competing paradigms in qualitative research.Handbook of qualitative research,2, 163-194.

Hesse-Biber, S. N., & Leavy, P. (2010). The practice of qualitative research. Sage.

Kuhn, T. S. (1970).The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press

Orlikowski, W. J., & Baroudi, J. J. (1991). Studying information technology in organizations: Research approaches and assumptions.Information Systems Research,2(1), 1-28. doi:10.1287/isre.2.1.1

Polkinghorne, D. (1983).Methodology for the human sciences: Systems of inquiry. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Smith, L. T. (1999).Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Dunedin, N.Z: Zed Books

Smith, R. (1993). Potentials for empowerment in critical education research. The Australian Educational Researcher,20(2), 75-93.