Research Methods: Positivism v.s. Post-positivism

Part 1

Before we go into discussing Positivism v.s. Postpositivism we need to define the meaning of positivism. Simply put, positivism refers to an evidence-based reality that can be mathematically interpreted. However, scientists have come to the realisation that all observation, including objective reality, is fallible which led to the postpositivist paradigm.

Some believe that if something cannot be mathematically verified then it falls outside of an objective reality.   Positivist and post-positivist designs are on a continuum between the quantitative and qualitative paradigms (paradigm can be described as a worldview that underlies theory). Positivism is still the dominant quantitative paradigm (Hunter, & Leahey, 2008), but there seems to be a shift towards post-positivist thinking.

Post-positivism is also known as methodological pluralism (Morris, McNaughton, Mullins & Osmond, 2009). According to Krauss (2005), the paradigm the researcher selects determines the research methodology.

The post-positivist paradigm evolved from the positivist paradigm. It is concerned with the subjectivity of reality and moves away from the purely objective stance adopted by the logical positivists (Ryan, 2006).

There are three paradigmatic determinants:

•  ontology – the reality studied;
•  the epistemology – the knowledge of the reality,
•  and lastly, the methodology or strategy used to seek the truth.

The post-positivist perspective is that not everything is completely knowable (Krauss, 2005).
According to Waismann (2011), positivist generalisations are based on ‘real’ causes which are perceived as the true source of behaviour and are based on unchangeable, sound foundations.

This true reality is attainable and can be identified and measured. Positivism sets out to predict and control reality. It strongly focuses on the deterministic view of cause and effect (causality) which derives from deductive reasoning that research is guided by theory (Kinsler, 2011).

When the theory does not correspond to reality, it is revised to better predict outcomes. This causation should only be based on empirical evidence (the core of empiricism is measurement and observation) on how reality is perceived or understood (Waismann, 2011). Also called the natural sciences model, as positivism originated from natural sciences, this knowledge is measured against empirical evidence (Goodwin, 2005).

Here is part 2: Positivism v.s. Postpositivism | Perspectives, where we will discuss various positivist perspectives.

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References (Part 1-3)

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