Fundamental Assumptions In Conducting Scientific Inquiry


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Guest lecture prepared for Philosphy of Science: second year class, OGM, University of Aruba. Discusses my view on research in the past and now, and its implications for conducting social scientific research.

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Fundamental Assumptions In Conducting Scientific Inquiry

  1. 1. Edward M. Erasmus, MAUniversity of ArubaMarch 8, 2012
  2. 2. Have a conversation about…• Science• Portrayal of science in our modern society• My perception of science: then…• My view on science: now….• Implication for my approach to social-scientific research• Some after-thoughts
  3. 3. Let’s do some brain exercises….
  4. 4. Tricky Coin Triangle Puzzle Can you form a NEW triangle that points down?You can only move THREE of the pennies to do so
  5. 5. Find the man in the coffee beans
  6. 6. Find the 9 hidden people/faces in the picture
  7. 7. NEO: This isnt real?MORPHEUS: What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talkingabout your senses, what you feel, taste, smell, or see, then all you’retalking about are electrical signals interpreted by your brain [...]You have been living inside a dreamworld, Neo. As in Baudrillard’svision, your whole life has been spent inside the map, not theterritory [...] -THE MATRIX (1999)
  8. 8. Science and researchAll research is based on assumptions about how we perceive the world and how we can best come to understand it.Nobody really knows how we can best understand the world.Philosophers have been arguing about that veryquestion for a little more than two millennia now….
  9. 9. What is science?the systematic observation of natural events andconditions in order to discover facts about themand to formulate laws and principles based onthese facts….Source: Academic Press Dictionary of Science & Technology
  10. 10. What is science?the intellectual and practical activity encompassingthe systematic study of the structure and behaviorof the physical and natural world throughobservation and experiment…Source: Oxford Dictionaries
  11. 11. What is science?Portrayal of science and scientists in our modernworld….
  12. 12. What is science?
  13. 13. What is science?
  14. 14. Famous scientists…. Frequently mentioned by kids…. Mentioned by all ages…Frequently mentioned byadults my age... Frequently mentioned by youngsters
  15. 15. How about this guy?...
  16. 16. How about this lady?...
  17. 17. Is this a research area?....
  18. 18. How about this?....
  19. 19. Science….Many of us in the Western (pop) culture have beenbrought up with a somewhat popular view ofscience, or at least a fairly eminent view of science,as it should be done…..
  20. 20. Science…But is science really an independent, detached andobjective activity performed by highly developedintellectuals (super humans)?
  21. 21. Science under scrutiny….
  22. 22. Global warming debate (1990’s – to date)
  23. 23. Vaccination-autism hoax (2011)
  24. 24. Financial Crisis (2008)
  25. 25. BP oil spill (2010)
  26. 26. Fallacies in leadershipand managementtheories… (1980’s – today)
  27. 27. “To the man who only has a hammer, everythinghe encounters begins to look like a nail.” - Abraham H. Maslow
  28. 28. My view of science…. Then…..
  29. 29. My view of science….. Then….I have carried the idea that science (both natural and social) is driven by a certain type of objective ‘scientific method’.I think the origin of this conception of science has been influenced by many factors in my life. Although difficult to pinpoint and reflect on all of them, I think my view of science was formed (and was maintained) by the following: my educational background, my work relationship with academic colleagues and the commercial media.
  30. 30. Educational background (finance and accounting)I was taught that the system of acquiring knowledge should be completely objective and rational (i.e. through statistics and surveys).Focus on methods (and much less on methodology)Analyze and seek to find rational solutions based on figures.The idea that human thoughts and behavior are controllable and predictable.
  31. 31. Work relationship with academicsAcademics often try to portray their opinions (during meetings, through reports and memo’s, and so) to be derived from objective and coherent considerations of facts.Most of the times their points of view are not questioned by others, as they fear to contradict the objectivist status of these academics.
  32. 32. Commercial mediaJean Baudrillard: era of ‘hyperreality’ Our perception of reality is being dictated by conceptual models presented through the media. Science is promoted as an objectivist instrument. Increasing amount of authors who use the media to market their scientific ideas on a mass scale. The ‘pop era’ that initiated in the 1980s, which was a period that yielded a lot of functionalist works. ‘Scientific’ works with so-called ‘how-to’-approaches that provided executives ‘quick-fix’ are easier to sell.
  33. 33. Commercial media
  34. 34. Commercial media
  35. 35. Commercial media
  36. 36. Dominant view about science (paradigm)Science is based on the notion of ‘objectivity’ (= refers to the view that the truth of a thing is independent from the observing subject).Assumption that there is order and laws in the cosmos that reason can discover in order to represent and control nature and social conditions.Assumptions are applicable to both natural and social sciences…..
  37. 37. Dominant view about science This paradigm of modernist assertions about the existence of truth claims that stem from the European Enlightenment of the 18th century. The Enlightenment was about rationality; it was the ‘Age of reason’. Reason, rationality and science began to take over from religion to tell the truth about the world. Science could provide laws, i.e. unquestionable truths about the world, such as Newton and his law of gravity. Out of this came the idea of the ‘modern project’ towards progress. The world is progressing towards better things, such as the industrial revolution and medicine. Science and technology will solve all the problems of society. Throughout the 20th century and still today this project has been followed. Normative discourse (Deetz, 1996)
  38. 38. But there’s another side to the story………. Actually….there are more sides to the story……
  39. 39. Another view on science?Academic study in Organization, Culture and Management.Anthropological approach to understand organizations and the social world around them. Confrontational/contradictory views of science.Complete paradigm shift……
  40. 40. Key science questions…How do we know?What is knowing?Is science objective?Is everything reducible to physics and mathematics?Is everything reducible to a few rules?Should science serve society or should society serve science?
  41. 41. “At the simplest level, only people who knowthey do not know everything will be curiousenough to find things out.” -- Virginia Postrel, The Future and Its Enemies, p.88 [The Free Press, 1998]
  42. 42. Another view on science?Different scholars argue that when it comes to social science, different philosophical orientations may be applied.And there’s when the Science Wars started….‘As academic students we find ourselves tangled in ‘paradigmatic barbwires’located in the battlefields of these so-called ‘Science Wars’ and there seemsto be no easy way out.’(Edward Erasmus, 2001)
  43. 43. Another view on science?When it comes to social science, different philosophical orientations may be distinguished:Functionalist, Interpretive, Radical humanist, and radical structuralist (Burrell & Morgan, 1979)Modern, symbolic, critical and postmodern (Hatch, 1997)Normative, Interpretive, Critical and Dialogic (Deetz, 1996)
  44. 44. Another view on science?So what difference does it make?.....From a philosophical standpoint: each dimension or paradigm provide a different understanding of ontology (what is knowing?) and epistemology (how do we know?);Consequently…. How do we engage and conduct research?
  45. 45. Different paradigms – different ontology OBJECTIVISM SUBJECTIVISM POST-MODERNISMOntology “…the social world external to The truth of some class of There is no such thing as(the study of the individual cognition is a real statements depends on the universal truth or standard.assumptions on the world made up of hard, mental state or reactions of theJean-Francois Lyotard definesnature of reality). tangible and relatively person making the statement. postmodernism as “incredulity immutable structures” (Burrel towards metanarratives” and Morgan, 1979, p. 4) “…the social world external to (Fields, 1995, p. 5). Lyotard individual cognition is made up argues that “there are no of nothing more than names, metanarratives that define concepts and labels which are reality or history for all people used to structure reality” at all times” (Okholm, 1999, p. (Burrel and Morgan, 1979, p. 3). The postmodernists see 4). such assumption as oppressive. Instead, society should celebrate centerlessness, diversity and choice.
  46. 46. Different paradigms – different epistemology OBJECTIVISM SUBJECTIVISM POST-MODERNISMEpistemology characterized by explaining and knowledge is restricted to one’s “any attempt at universal(the study of ordinary predicting the occurrences in own perceptions. The knowledge or a theory ofknowledge in the social world “by searching epistemological stance in historical evolution iseveryday life). for regularities and causal subjectivism is labeled by illegitimate, as there is no relationships between its Burrel and Morgan (1979, p. 5) overall meaning to social life constituent elements” (Burrel as ‘anti-positivism’ and is that could render coherent and Morgan, 1979, p. 1). “firmly set against the utility of historical progress. Rather a search for laws or underlying social science should regularities in the world of investigate, and indeed social affairs”. The social world celebrate, diversity, as different from the view of the anti- eras and social groups develop positivist is fundamentally distinctive types of knowledge.” relativistic and it can only be (Tucker, 1998, p. 131) understood from the perspective of those who are participants in the activities that are being researched.
  47. 47. Different paradigms – different approach to research OBJECTIVISM SUBJECTIVISM POST-MODERNISMApproach to scientific Science (both natural and The study of “self-reflecting Postmodernism is in essenceresearch social) is driven by a certain humans” (Flyvbjerg, 2001, p. ‘anti-methodological’ (Alvesson type of objective ‘scientific 32). and Sköldberg, 2000, p. 184). method’. The belief in a socially Postmodernism favors the way Ignores human values, needs, constructed, subjectively-based of looking at the world in which motives, history, and cultural reality, one that is influenced “plurality of voices cry out for context in (social) research. by culture and history. their version of reality” (Fields, Only testable statements are Focus on meaning. 1995, p.). In doing research this relevant. Knowledge cannot be severed approach would imply that from the social context in which everyone has an equal voice it originates. and, more importantly, all voices are considered equally valid.
  48. 48. Another view on science?So in essence…..Your philosophical position/assumptions dictate how youview the world and how you can best attempt tounderstand it through scientific research….In scientific research: you are required to expose yourmethodological assumptions (=philosophical beliefs).
  49. 49. So what now?....Unlearn and learn again…. How to conduct research.During the course of my study I conducted research using different paradigmatic positions.Started to explore the differences in outcomes.Started to understand the differences…and similarities….Learn to view the world from different perspectives.Paradigm incommensurability (Burrell & Morgan, 1979) bothered me a lot.
  50. 50. Paradigm incommensurabilityParadigms have different world view.It is impossible to compare them.Not desirable to combine paradigms while conducting research.
  51. 51. Deetz (1996) provided the answer…
  52. 52. Deetz (1996) provided the answer…According to Deetz (1996), new dimensions of contrast between paradigms need to be defined that correspond to the reasons for conflict between paradigms in the 1990s.Deetz suggests a new grid for classifying worldviews for research without defining new paradigms.
  53. 53. Deetz (1996) provided the answer…In Deetz’s view:Paradigms or worldviews themselves are produced and reproduced through discursive practices and can shift partially in their meaning over time.Paradigm assumptions and boundaries are somewhat blurred or ill-defined, and individuals may implicitly or explicitly “buy into or borrow” aspects from several paradigms forming “hybrid” thinking.
  54. 54. The real voyage of discovery consists not inseeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. - Marcel Proust
  55. 55. Designing a new approach to scientific studyMy personal point of view:Conduct research using different paradigms.Discover what it means by experiencing it…..Don’t compromise with one position…Multiple perspectives provide new understandings of the social world…Hybrid-thinking is the key!!
  56. 56. Designing a new approach to scientific studyOver the years I developed my own method for research….Does not mean yours have to be the same…..One thing is certain: I no longer believe in such thing as an ‘objective’ scientific method.
  57. 57. Designing a new approach to scientific studyMy approach is positioned in a hybrid research model consisting of elements of theinterpretive and the dialogic discourse of Deetz (1996).I believe that research can be best approached by aiming to understand the socialworld through firsthand experience of the social actors themselves, and through myown immersion in the phenomena being explored. My methodological positiontherefore considers meaning and knowledge as being emergent and recursiveness,continuance and change are considered as fundamental attributes andopportunities in my exploration, my ‘reality’ construction, and in my personallearning.In the research I use the reflexive dialogue in a multi-layered way, placing my focustowards a consideration of a variety of analytical frames and perspectives.
  58. 58. ‘Research is a personal, political, and social process.’ - Reason & Marshall, 2001
  59. 59. Implications for my approach to research Emphasis on qualitative methods for data collection An open-ended, emergent design Grounded (inductive) generalizations/theory Sensemaking as primary focus Reflexivity Multivocality in reporting through multiperspective analysis Textual voices in reporting Contextuality
  60. 60. When Rafikki meets the now grown Simba, hesmacks Simba on the head with a stick. Simba, aftershaking it off says, “What’d you do that for”. Rafikkireplies, “Doesn’t matter - it was in the past!”. Rafikkiswings again. Simba ducks. Rafikki says, “...but youlearned.” - From The Lion King, Walt Disney Pictures, 1994
  61. 61. Some after thoughtsThings I have learned and still experience in every dayprofessional life: Management and organizational thinking in Aruba are profoundly dominated by the rationalistic (normative) paradigm. Other paradigms are still heavily questioned by different schools of science. Context plays a pivotal role in interpreting the research findings. Reality is layered and multiple…. Accept that. There are facts and things, but also visions and thoughts.
  62. 62. Some after thoughtsYou can look at reality in many ways. And if you do it in a way that is somewhat unusual for you, you see new things.And all the lines of approach together often turn up a complex picture, but also generate a better understanding of the social world….
  63. 63. “To the man who only has a hammer, everythinghe encounters begins to look like a nail.” - Abraham H. Maslow
  64. 64. Edward M. Erasmus, MAe.erasmus@fzanv.comerasmus.bpas@gmail.comFacebook:
  65. 65. QUESTIONS???