Postgraduate and research students in applied social disciplines are often required to examine and explain their epistemological and ontological positions underpinning their research strategy. As a tutor, I have found myself working with students who have produced a whole range of responses to this requirement in the methodology chapter of dissertations and theses. Some of these responses are excellent, some are cursory, some are enquiring and some are conventional. There is a lot to think about in creating your own research outputs for the first time and many students find it easier to deal with the more concrete problems such as data collection and analysis. Generally, people find it hard to discuss ontology and epistemology and hard to make them relevant to their research process.
This chapter explores both value of such discussions and also seeks to make the task of discussing methodology at the theoretical level both easier and more productive.
In order to do this I intend to
- Highlight the role of theoretical thinking in the construction of research
- Clarify various uses of key terms such as ontology, epistemology and paradigm, and how these are described in the research methods literature
- Present a brief recent history of the use of these concepts in research, including some points where there is disagreement between different perspectives
- Identify some debates and anomalies that confound attempts to describe theoretical foundations effectively
The sections that follow are presented in this order.
In this chapter I make only brief mention of the meaning of different philosophical stances, doing so where it is necessary in order to progress the argument. General methodology texts such as those cited in this chapter, amply provide more specific guidance and, in turn, refer to more specialised texts that provide comprehensive treatment of the theories concerned.
Oxford Brookes Business School
Year of publication: 2020Date of RADAR deposit: 2020-06-24
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