This essay analyses the key viewpoints underpinning the theory and ‘critically evaluate the suitability of quantitative and qualitative methodologies to undertake an empirical research into procurement practice’ through a literature review. However the way in which research is conducted may be conceived of in terms of the research philosophy subscribed to, the research strategy employed and so the research instruments utilised in the pursuit of a goal – the research objectives – and the quest for the solution of a problem – the research question.
The purpose of this essay is to discuss the research philosophy in relation to other philosophies; expound the research strategy, including the research methodologies and techniques that suits the proposed research aim (Jankowicz 2003a; Stevenson and Cooper 1997)
The essay discusses the research philosophies; set out the approaches to research – positivist and interpretivist; quantitative and qualitative studies, and how they are mixed.
Denzin and Lincoln (1998) state that a research philosophy is a belief about the way in which data about a phenomenon should be gathered, analysed and used. The term epistemology (what is known to be true) as opposed to doxology (what is believed to be true) encompasses the various philosophies of research approach. Holden and Lynch (2004) argue that depending where the researcher sits on the continuum of these two extremes, their ontological stance will influence their core assumptions concerning the epistemology and human nature (Holden and Lynch 2004).
However, Guyer and Wood (1998) argue that the purpose of science, then, is the process of transforming things believed into known: doxa to episteme.
Creswell (2007) argue that before any type of research methodology or strategy is chosen, there should be a definition of what information is needed to respond to the research question. It is important to make explicit why one choose to collect information on a certain subject and not on another, and why choose to treat this case in the study and not the other (Creswell 2007).
The research paradigm provides accepted methods of collecting data. ‘The term paradigm refers to the progress of scientific practice based on people’s philosophies and assumptions about the world and the nature of knowledge’ (Collis and Hussey 2003, p:46)
However, Jankowicz (2005) pointed out that the researcher must understand their own ontological position because it will determine what evidence is collected and what evidence is set aside in building the research argument, which is to do with one’s epistemology.
In the field of social science where the proposed research aim ‘Supplier Relationship Management’ fits into, there has been increasing debate regarding the research methods and theory construction. Bryman et al (2008).
Fish (1990) focused on the distinctions between and relative merits of the traditional “objective” or positivist approach and the alleged “subjective” approaches variously described as naturalistic, qualitative, phenomenological, and most recently interpretive. (Fish and Dorris 1990).
Giorgi (1971) characterised traditional scientific approach as reductionistic, in reducing phenomena to operational definitions; deterministic, in that all phenomena are believed to have causes which can be duplicated; predictive, in that the goal is to predict behaviour; observer independent, in that the researcher tries not to influence the data; empirical, in that only observable data are to be examined; repeatable, so that the research can be replicated by other investigators; quantitative, in that the phenomena should be described in a measurable terms. So, traditional research examines variables in order to predict behaviour. (Giorgi, 1971)
Giorgi (1971:21) posits that the essential question for the human science is not “how do we measure phonomena?” but rather, “what do the phenomena mean?”
Hirschheim et al. (1985) state that both research traditions start in Classical Greek times with Plato and Aristotle (positivists) on the one hand, and the sophists (anti-positivists) on the other. After long, dark periods in European scientific thought, the renaissance of the discipline came in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (Hirschheim and Klein 1985).
Sandberg (2004) as referred to in Weber (2004), state that the alleged differences between positivist and interpretive research approaches can be characterised in a number of ways. One could argue whether Sandberg characterisation would be accepted widely. However, before the two different approaches are analysed their differences needs to be explored (Weber 2004).
Weber (2004) describes how positivism and interpretivism supposedly differ in terms of their various metatheoretical assumptions.
Morgan and Smircich (1980) argues that the subjectivist ontological position maintains that reality does not exist outside oneself, that ones’ mind is ones’ world, hence reality is all imagination. The polemic position to that of the subjectivist is the objectivist ontological position, which is one of realism (Morgan and Smircich 1980)
Weber (2004) asserts this argument and stated that positivist supposedly believe that reality is separate from the individual who observes it. They apparently consider subject (the researcher) and object (the phenomena in the world that are their focus) to be two separate, independent things. In short, positivistic ontology is alleged to be dualistic in nature.
In contrast, interpretivists believe that reality and the individual who observes it cannot be separate (Weber 2004). In a nutshell, that the perceptions about the world are inextricably bound to a stream of experiences that one has had throughout our lives. The life-world has both subjective an objective characteristics.
According to Holden and Lynch (2004) objectivists contend “the world will still exist as an empirical entity, made up of hard tangible and relatively immutable structures, independent of the cognitive efforts of individuals”. The objective characteristics reflect what one constantly negotiates this meaning with others with whom people interact. In other words, it is objective in the sense that it reflects an intersubjective reality (Holden and Lynch 2004).
Kuhn (1970) added, for positivists the objects they research have qualities that exists independent of the researcher. However, interpretivists believe that the qualities they ascribe to the objects they research are socially constructed – they are product of their life-worlds. (Kuhn, T. S. (1970)
Lee (1989) and Dubé et al (2003) assert this argument and state that positivists tend to use laboratory experiments, field experiments, and surveys as their preferred research methods. They seek large amount of empirical data that they can analyze statistically to detect underlying regularities. In the other hand, interpretivists tend to use case studies, ethnographic studies, phenomenographic studies, and ethnomethodological studies as their preferred research methods (Weber 2004).
Easterby-Smith et al (1991) argue that objectivist content that the relationship between man and society is deterministic, “we are born into a world in which there are causal laws that explain patterns of our social behaviour”. Alternatively, Dubé (2003) argues that a statement made by a researcher is true when it has a one-to-one mapping to the reality that exists beyond the human mind (a correspondence theory of truth). On the other hand, interpretivists subscribe to a notion of truth whereby a researcher’s initial interpretation of some phenomenon conforms to the meaning given to the phenomenon through the researcher’s lived experience of it (Weber 2004).
Searle (1999) find the alleged differences between positivist and interpretivist in relation to ontology to be vacuous. He admits that some kind of reality exists “beyond our perception of it!”
Kuhn (1970) recognises the inherent limitations of the knowledge they seek to build. Positivists understand fully that their culture, experience, history, and so on impact the research work they undertake and thus the results of their work. In Kuhn’s (19970) view, irrespective of whether researchers believe in an objective reality that exists beyond the human mind or a socially constructed reality, all accept that the artefacts’ they build to understand the world (theories, frameworks, constructs, etc) are socially constructed. Kuhn (1970) goes on to argue that research is a continuous journey to find improved ways to understand this reality.
It is apparent from Lee (1989) and Dubé (2003) argument that positivists researchers fully understand that we have no way of knowing the world as it really is, at least for the moment. In this light, pragmatically they can place little value on a theory of truth that relies on the level of correspondence between research statements they make and an unknowable thing (Weber 2004).
Dubé (2003) added, there are no differences between positivist notions of validity and interpretivist notions of validity. The position of the Author in this debate leans toward notion that tries to measure reality in a research. There is no way of knowing reality, so how can one know whether his measure of reality, whatever reality might be, is valid? What is believed to be a reality at one particular point in time, may change, for example, with new knowledge, at a later point in time, therefore it was never a true reality originally then!
Fundamentally, the Author sees little difference in positivist and interpretivist notions of reliability. Both groups of researches are concerned ultimately with the idea of replicability. In the case of positivists, the strategies and methods for achieving replicability are more straightforward because the research methods they tend to use are well-defined and routinized. Weber (2004) argue that in the case of interpretivists, replicability is a more-difficult goal to achieve because the research methods they tend to use are less well-defined and the subjective nature of interpretation is acknowledged explicitly. For these reasons, interpretivists try to lay out clearly their research methods and ways in which they have achieved certain kinds of interpretations. (Weber, 2004).
Klein and Myers (1999) questioned whether there is any difference between positivism and interpretivism. The Author believes that the differences lie more in the choice of the research methods rather than any substantive differences at a methatheoretical level. In this regard, researchers who labelled themselves as positivists tend to use certain kinds of research methods in their work – experiments, surveys, and field studies. Interpretivists, on the other hand, tend to use other kinds of research methods in their work – case studies, ethnographic studies, phenomenographic studies, and ethnomethodological studies (Klein and Myers 1999).
The researcher believes that there are large-scale social forces affecting and influencing individuals’ interpretations and behaviour (Collis and Hussey 2003).
Although there are a number of variations in terminology, the majority of literature appear to use the terminology ‘positivist’ to describe the quantitative approach, which is objective in nature as mentioned in this essay, and employs inductive research methods; and ‘interpretivist’ to describe the quantitative approach which is subjective in nature and employs deductive research methods. (Davies, 1968).
The issue of quality and quality criteria in social science research is a topic that has become increasingly prominent in methodological discussions in recent years.
Gurtler and Huber (2006) argue that qualitative and quantitative methodology textbooks as well as research reports often use ambiguous language in the sense that many formulations cannot be assigned unequivocally to one of the main methodological orientations (Gurtler and Huber 2006).
However, Gilmore and Carson (1996) argue that the adaptability and flexibility of qualitative research methods and techniques throughout the entire research process have many advantages. For example, at an early exploratory stage of research, qualitative methods allow the researcher to become familiar with the area(s) of interest, explore the fields and consider the dimensions involved because of their open-ended, non-pre-ordained nature (Gilmore and Carson 1996).
Cohen and Manion (1994) as referred in Milliken (2001), who identified two competing views of the social sciences, modify this perspective. One view posits that social sciences are essentially the same as natural sciences and are therefore concerned with discovering natural and universal laws regulating and determining individual and social behaviour (Milliken 2001).
The other view emphasises how people differ from inanimate natural phenomena and from each other, while sharing the rigour of the natural sciences and the same concern of traditional social science to describe and explain human behaviour. Hunt (1994) supported by Van Eijkelenburg (1995) argued that it is time for the advocates of both qualitative and qualitative methods to declare a “â€¦rhetorical cease-fire” (Van Eijkelenburg 1995).
Kirk and Miller (1986) advocated that qualitative research is implicitly orientated to the question of validity.
The polemic approach to quantitative research is qualitative research. Medawar (1969) argues “It is no use looking to scientific ‘papers’ for they not only merely conceal but actively misrepresent the reasoning that goes into the work they describe” (Medawar 1969).
However, Crescentini and Mainnardi (2009) state that what makes a research question a qualitative one is precisely the nature of this combination: qualitative goals are different from quantitative ones, and qualitative questions are asked in a particular way and refer to qualitative contents. The peculiarities of qualitative goals reside in the way the question is framed – a need to describe, verify or understand. A qualitative research question must explore a qualitative argument in a qualitative way. The question has to be grounded in a qualitative argument. (Crescentini and Mainnardi 2009)
Some literatures suggest that there is quite often a mismatch between the rationale for combining quantitative and qualitative research and how it is used in practice. (Bryman 2009).
Fisher (2004) makes an interesting observation on the subject of mixing methods. “If you take a realist stance, then aspects of an interpretivist approach could be brought in as useful adjunct to the research”. But they also claim that the reverse is not true. “If you are doing interpretivist research, then there is no way that an element of realism (or more seriously an element of positivism) can add to it”. This is because of the positivist’s view of the world i.e. things are real and can be measured, which would totally contradict the interpretivist perspective of the world. Robson (1993) argues that triangulation in its various forms, or multiple methods, of obtaining information can be valuable if two sources give the same message, then to some extent they cross-validate each other and provide a means of testing one source of information against other sources which results in more credible results.
According to Denzin (1978:291) triangulation as a form of combination of methodologies in the study of the same phenomenon has become more widely accepted now as a means of ensuring validity. There is a distinct tradition in the literature on social science research methods that advocates the use of multiple methods. This form of research strategy is usually described as one of convergent methodology, multimethod/multitrait (Campbell and Fiske, 1959).
Jick (1979) argue that these various notions share the conception that qualitative and quantitative methods should be viewed as complementary rather than as rival camps. In fact, most textbooks underscore the desirability of mixing methods given the strengths and weaknesses found in single method designs.
Yet those who most strongly advocate triangulation (e.g., Webb et al., 1966; Smith, 1975; Denzin 1978) fail to indicate how this prescribed triangulation is actually performed and accomplished.
However, Gill and Johnson (2002) claim that multi methods are infrequently applied mainly due to the fact that multi methods are extremely time consuming and can be costly. Indeed, they argue that where methods are well separated from one another, this approach would be impracticable (op cit). Despite this view, Easterby-Smith et at (1991) argue that in recent decades there has been a move towards researchers developing methods and approaches (triangulation) that provide a middle ground and some bridging between the two extreme viewpoints. Triangulation of methods certainly appears to be gaining support and as Hussey and Hussey (1997) point out, triangulation can overcome the potential bias and sterility of single method approaches.
Rohner (1977) argue that in all various triangulations designs one basic assumption is buried. The effectiveness of triangulation rests on the premise that the weaknesses in each single method will be compensated by the counter-balancing strengths of another.
The proposed research aim, as mentioned early in this essay, is the ‘Supplier Relationship Management’. As the research will require use of e-survey, semi-structured and structured interview the mixed method approach revealed to be the most suitable.
There are both quantitative and qualitative research elements in the research. There are quantitative data deriving from the e-survey and there are qualitative data deriving from answers to open questions in the e-survey and the semi-structured interviews. The chief rational for using this combination of sources of data is that it was felt from the literature review for this essay, that a complete picture could not be generated by any one method alone. Each source of data represents an important piece in a jigsaw. (Bryman, et al 2008).
Cite This Work
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below: