We all occupy both of these positions at different times, when it suits us. E.g. to get here to day, it is best to be a realist when it comes to the relationship between train timetables and trains (even when we simultaneously know the relationship to be tenuous). But if our train is late, or we miss it, we can always relativise the importance of punctuality – ‘the important thing is that I DO get there!’ Important to note that these are ‘ways of thinking’ not ‘identities for life’!
Empiricism – emphasis on observable Idealism – emphasis on perception --- Detachment – involvement Value freedom – value relevance
· Many accept relativity of truth (1) – falsificationists, scientific realists, critical realists, and all relativists. · Few accept relativity of materiality – not even relativists at one level (‘experiential realism’ – Potter; ‘pragmatic relativism’ – Bruner; Burr). · Main argument is about relationship between essential properties/ structures and their constructions.
Empiricism: All ideas are derived from experience/observation. No proposition can be known to be true without reference to experience/observation. Naturalism: The assumptions and methods of natural sciences can and should be transferred to the study of social objects. Social constructionism: All observations and inferences are culturally and historically situated. Language is not a transparent medium for conveying thought, but a constitutive instrument of culture. Cultures provide frameworks for making sense of the world.
D821 beliefs and evidence presentation 2010 Martin Le Voi and Eileen Mansfield
D821/D822 Day School, London
In this session we will discuss the dominant views
in social research.
But our first question should be
◦ ‘What is social research for?’
As postgraduate students, many of you have done
However as a Social Science student you will
have some ideas about the way you think the
social sciences should be studied.
Knowledge and knowing questionnaire
Where do your biases lie?
Do you think that our view of the world will
influence our research?
When we look at the philosophy of research two
words emerge amongst the jargon:
Ontology and epistemology
The theory of being
◦ concerned with what we believe to exist (Hart, 1998:81)
Arguments about what there is, ‘out there,’ to know about.
Can be thought of as a spectrum:
is a REAL world
Epistemology refers to the theories of knowledge we devise to
help us to understand the real world.
They are often associated with specific assumptions
Arguments about what it is possible to know about something.
We really can get reliable,
factual knowledge about the
psycho-social world, if we use
objective methods of
But many aspects of the psycho-social
world aren’t even observable - and
anyway, our ‘objective’ knowledge is
always turning out to be subjective – they
are contingent upon all kinds of social,
cultural and historical contexts. Actually,
its rare to come across a real ‘fact’ in the
Positivism is an empiricist form of realism
which believes that we can know about the
causes and effects of behaviour.
[Critical] realism is a cautious form of realism
which believes that we can know about
Interactionism is an idealist form of relativism
which believes that we can know about shared
Three key ‘in between’ positions for
Studies closed systems e.g. tightly controlled
Knowledge is value-free
Uses empirical evidence(that which is gained
through the senses)
Objective; carries out observations using scientific
Uses quantitative methods
Aims to establish causal relationships and derive
Theories must be falsifiable
Social phenomena should be studied scientifically
by making them observable and breaking them into
Studies open systems e.g. many influences
Considers a range of factors important to
Values an integral part of research
Importance of understanding from an insider
Understanding is constructed via shared
constructs and traditions of thought
Acknowledges many ways of perceiving the world.
Uses qualitative methods
Aims to explore the range of factors which
contribute to understanding behaviour downplays
the role of explanation
Prediction may not be possible; social phenomena
are fragile, contingent and local.
Social phenomena are processes not entities, and
can only be studied by looking at meaningful
Studies open systems and acknowledges the
complexity of reality
Emancipatory: considers that we have the
potential to change structures.
Emphasises the importance of unobservable
phenomena, e.g. social structures such as class
Potential for us to be misled by appearances, but
there is a real world which is independent of this.
Open to varied range of methods
Argues that empirical regularities are not essential
Predictions are possible but not infallible. Theories
cannot be decisively tested.
Social science should study the deep structures
that underlie behaviour.
Three understandings of reality are invoked
Reality as truth – [vs falsehood]
Reality as materiality – [vs illusion]
Reality as essence – [vs construction]
[There is a lot of binary, oppositional thinking involved in
Which position do you usually take?
Epistemologically speaking …
Methodology is the study of methods
The word "method" has its roots in the ancient Greek
Methodos has been translated to have two meanings.
◦ A technical interpretation as "the path toward
◦ A philosophical interpretation as "reflections on the
quest for knowledge gathered".
Method is often held to follow from epistemology.
If we feel that individuals hold the key to understanding
social phenomenon whom will we study?
◦ – groups or
◦ - individuals?
ecological validity, are we testing what we think
we are testing?
◦ do laboratory tests generalise to the real world?
Research can establish a link between two factors
e.g. Job status and job satisfaction but that does
not necessarily imply causal relations between the
◦ A correlation does not imply causation
There are many unobservable factors involved in social
research, as researchers we infer meaning.
Meanings may change and are bound up with societal
We are all part of a society with it’s own culture,
therefore it is difficult to remain detached whilst
researching the society we are part of.
Therefore societal values do influence social
◦ How knowledge is shaped by historical and social norms,
values, constraints and pre-conceptions
Research is reflexive
Research is an iterative process
Researchers should be self-critical
◦ We learn as we go along
What parts of our last experiment worked well or not
Will we change our methods, procedures, stimuli etc.
We lay down markers for future researchers
Research involves a process of learning about
Observe behaviour, exclude values through
closure: measures outcomes.
Grant structures a real theoretical status &
explore their explanatory merit; values form part
of these structures.
Engage with meaning, reveal values through
reflexive practices: understand processes.
People have in-built preferred learning styles (like
These styles can be objectively measured and/or
Learning Material can be “tailored” such that a
match to the individual learning style results in
There exists a personality trait “learning styles”
More generally there exist a collection of
personality traits capable of measurement:
Learning Styles is hypothesised to be one of them
Realist and Positivist:
The learning style (personality trait) exists and can
be measured objectively
The idea of matching teaching to style is an
hypothesis for investigation
Measures of learning styles are notoriously
Matching students to style produces such a small
advantage (it may even be negative) that the effort
of producing tailored material outweighs any
Maybe they don’t exist at all
Consider how you would approach some of the
ECA topics with the various positions we have just
discussed in mind.