When first given this assignment, I assumed the answer to the question: “I see myself as a positivist, interpretive or critical researcher” would be a natural response once I understood the underlying values of each of the different types of philosophies. As I delved into the meanings, historical backgrounds and examples of each method, I began to realize that I see myself in more than one area. To explain my rationale, I would like to expand upon my learnings of these three types of research.
Positivist is a form of research that is fact based. It is the most closely related form of the three to the scientific method. Positivists tend to use scientific tools, such as independent and dependent variables, to help shape their experiments and gather their data. Positivists believe that by controlling the independent variable this will reveal observable and known facts. Positivists are researchers studying an environment or situation at arm's length through a scientific lens. They are not part of the experience nor do they try to influence the outcome of the experiment based on their beliefs. Positivists tend to favor precision and objectivity. While this has lead to a deeper understanding of many natural laws of science and society, it can lead to a more rigid and formal process.
In contrast, interpretive is a form of research that is much more open to interpretation of the researcher. This method has the researcher as more of a part of the environment, impacting the outcomes of the final study. Using Giddens (1976) double hermeneutic explanation as the need to be subject-subject to its ‘field of study' helps explain how researchers are more than just researchers looking in from the outside. They are indeed a critical part of the study – interpreters of the situation as well. Interpretive research is left open to be interpreted based on societal norms, language, and the environment of the subjects being studied. Where positivists center on observable and known facts, interpretive researchers focus more on context and meaning.
The last form of research is critical research. This form is more similar to interpretive in that it also recognizes the need for double hermeneutic subject-to-subject approach in its field of study. However, there is a vast difference between the two methods as well. Critical research is based on an unyielding need to uncover truths and fight to challenge the beliefs of those being studied. Critical researchers tend to have a proactive stance and strong passion for a cause or social condition. Of course if they critique a social or political hot topic, they will also want to back up their concerns with valid suggestions for improvement. This method of research is more of that of a social crusader, an advocate for truth and justice.
After through research into the heart of their very definitions, I was quickly able to rule out one of the three methods in regards to how I see myself as a researcher. I do not align with the critical researcher's core values. I have never been a strong confronter of social issues unless said issues are glaringly unjust. I like to think I am a unique individual in my political views. I am republican in most financial situations, but tend towards the liberal side in social situations. I believe in freedom for all individuals no matter the cost; however, I am not the type of person to run to the nearest picket line proclaiming these views. When reading more about the critical researcher, I did not align with the basic foundation of this particular method.
The other two methods were not as easily decided. After researching and learning the core believes and foundations of both the positivist and interpretive, I realized I related to both methods. To help me further decide, I thought of a current situation I am facing today and how I would most likely handle it.
A local cancer foundation charity event called Cureageous held it's 10th annual gala this year and it was this biggest event to date. The committee would like to know if this is due to it's marketing efforts of being it's “10th year” or if they should expect another good event next year.
A positivist would form a hypothesis, gather the data from the past 10 years (number of attendees, amount of dollars raised, revenue streams, etc) and begin to test the data against the hypothesis. The conclusion should support the hypothesis.
An interpretive would survey the staff members, attendees, and sponsors to discuss their thoughts and feelings about the event and potential future events. Possible surveys may be sent out to obtain further information. If possible, the interpretive researcher would be present at the event or during committee meetings pre and/or post event.
Both methods would obtain useful information and would likely yield similar results. The difference is one looks at the data from an external view while the other dives internally for a more personal touch on the situation. This example compels me to realize that my tendencies for research lie in the positivist form. My need for order, data-driven results and observable facts outweigh my interest in interpreting the societal cues around me. Positivist was my initial thought as my background as a chemistry major for the first half of my undergraduate career has instilled a love of the scientific method. Facts are facts and they are unchanging. They are not gray, but black and white – right and wrong. As Carl Sagan said, “Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge”.
In conclusion, this assignment has been an enlightening introduction to qualitative research and the three underlying research epistemology. I, personally see myself as a positivist researcher based on my scientific background. I prefer facts and the use of the scientific method although with clear and concise data points. I can also relate, but not as closely, to the interpretive research epistemology. I understand this form of research as it requires a deeper level of understanding of the subject-to-subject bond and is open for interpretation. The final method, of which I do not relate to at all, is the critical method. I tend to shy away from more controversial topics and do not see myself as a seeker of social justice. When reviewing the three research epistemology, there are positive and negatives of all. However, when asked which of the three I most closely align to, I can without a doubt response that I see myself as a positivist researcher. I look forward to using this method in the coming years as I begin my academic research journey.
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