Common Paradigms

Qualitative and Quantitative Methods

Qualitative and quantitative approaches are rooted in philosophical traditions with different epistemological and ontological assumptions.

Epistemology - is the theory of knowledge and the assumptions and beliefs that we have about the nature of knowledge.  How do we know the world? What is the relationship between the inquirer and the known?

Ontology - concerns the philosphy of existence and the assumptions and beliefs that we hold about the nature of being and existence.

Paradigms - models or frameworks that are derived from a worldview or belief system about the nature of knowledge and existence. Paradigms are shared by a scientific community and guide how a community of researchers act with regard to inquiry.

Methodology - how we gain knowledge about the world or "an articulated, theoretically informed approach to the production of data" (Ellen, 1984, p. 9).

Five Common Paradigms

Most qualitative research emerges from the 'interpretivist' paradigm. 

While we describe the epistemological, ontological and methodological underpinnings of a variety of paradigms, one need not identify with a paradigm when doing qualitative research.

As Bryman (2004) articulates (see chapter 1) the tension between interpretivist and positivist approaches in a political debate about the nature, importance and capacity of different research methods.

Up until the 1960s, the 'scientific method' was the predominant approach to social inquiry, with little attention given to qualitative approaches such as participant observation.

In response to this, a number of scholars across disciplines began to argue against the centrality of the scientific method.  They argued that quantitiative approaches might be appropriate for studying the physical and natural world, they were not appropriate when the object of study was people.  Qualitative approaches were better suited to social inquiry. 

To understand the tension between paradigms one must understand that this tension - the either or approach that emerged in the context of a debate about the capacity and importance of qualitative methods.  

Byrman and others, most recently Morgan (2007), argue for a more pragmatic approach; one that is disentrangled from the entrapments of this paradigm debate, one that recognizes the ties or themes that connect quantitative and qualitative research, and one that sees the benefits of blending quantitative and qualitative methods.

Assumptions and beliefs of the Interpretivist paradigm

Assumptions and beliefs of the Positivist paradigm

Assumptions of the Critical or Subtle Realist paradigm

Assumptions of Critical Theory paradigms

Assumptions of Feminist paradigms

Bryman, A. (2004). Quantity and Quality in Social Research.  London: Routledge.  First published in 1988.

Ellen, RF. (1984). Introduction. In RF Ellen (Ed.), Ethnographic Research: A guide to general conduct (research methods in social anthropology) (pp. 1-12). London: Academic Press.

Morgan, DL. (2007). Paradigms lost and paradigms regained. Journal of Mixed Methods Research. 1(1), 48-76.