Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Research perspectives

Here's my justification for the perspective I'm taking. How does it read?

Research approaches require beliefs and perspectives of understanding how things are connected, and so the researcher’s ontological position determines what the researcher can claim to be valid evidence for the assertions the researcher makes about the world. The researcher needs to surface those assumptions about reality in order to understand the appropriate methods to acquire knowledge of the phenomenon being investigated. The best way to grasp that the researcher has an ontological position, to recognise it and its implications for the research, is to consider some different ontological perspectives (Mason, 2002: 14).

Ontology is the study of the nature of reality (Guba and Lincoln, 1989: 83), which means studying being; ontology informs the theoretical perspective for studying the nature of existence. Two ends of the ontological spectrum of ontological belief are represented by the positivist and the interpretivist perspectives. The positivist perspective has a conventional scientific belief system. Epistemologically, the approach assumes knowledge is only of significance if it is based on observation and reality.

IS research has been dominated by the realist perspective (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991). The realist perspective takes the stance that things exist independent of human consciousness. An advantage of a realist perspective is that it fits well with the reality of an applied discipline (Mingers and Willcocks, 2004). A disadvantage is that different people make meaning together and separately, realising different and subjective realities that realism cannot mirror or analyse; realism cannot begin to explain these human situations.

The interpretivist perspective sees people and their interpretations as primary data sources (Mason, 2002: 56). An epistemological approach within the interpretivist perspective is constructivism, which asserts that the only world we can study is “a semiotic world of meaning” with symbols such as language that people use to think and communicate (Potter, 2006: 79). Rather than recognising an objective reality, constructivism perspective believes that a person subjectively understands the world, and has mentally constructed meanings of reality. People have signs and symbols for understanding what each is doing and use rich forms of conversations that are adequate for dealing with the complexity of social relationships. Thus, the relativist ontological position of constructivism provides the warrant to consider the views of project participants, as legitimate emic constructions not biased perceptions (Guba and Lincoln, 1989: 185). The relativist position assumes different observers may have different viewpoints (Easterby-Smith M et al., 2002: 32). A variant of the realist position is critical realism, which starts with realist ontology and incorporates an interpretivist thread (Easterby-Smith M et al., 2002: 33), thus by combining realist ontology with interpretivist epistemology (Crotty, 1998: 11) provides a compromise between positivism and interpretivism.

Crotty, M. (1998) 'Introduction: The Research Process'. The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process, Sage, London.
Czarniawska, B. (2001) 'Is It Possible to Be a Constructionist Consultant?', Management Learning, 32 (2), pp. 253.
Easterby-Smith M, Thorpe R and Lowe A (2002) Management Research: An Introduction. , Sage.
Guba, E. G. and Lincoln, Y. S. (1989) Fourth Generation Evaluation, Sage, Newbury Park, CA; London.
Mason, J. (2002) Qualitative Researching, (2nd ed Edn), Sage, London.
Mingers, J. and Willcocks, L. P. (Eds.) (2004) Social Theory and Philosophy for Information Systems, John Wiley.
Orlikowski, W. J. and Baroudi, J. J. (1991) 'Studying Information Technology in Organizations: Research Approaches and Assumptions', Information Systems Research, 2 (1), pp. 1-28.
Potter, S. (2006) Doing Postgraduate Research, (2nd Edn), Open University in association with SAGE Publications, Milton Keynes.

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