Research Paradigms 1: Positivism, Post-Positivsm, Critical Theory & Constructivism

Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1994). Competing paradigms in qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 105-117). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Today I am going to write a brief recap on paradigms and critical realism. The basis for this is an article written by Guba and Lincoln, however, there are several versions of it and I am not sure if THIS is the right source. The version that I read looks primarily at 4 different paradigms; positivist, post-positivist, critical theory and constructivist. I know, though, that there are I think newer versions of this article, which for example also talk about axiology and a participatory paradigm.

I was already quite familiar with this perspective or this particular distinction of paradigms, so it was not that much new for me. Nevertheless, the article (and the discussions I had afterwards) clarified a couple of things:

  1. Middle-range theories are a concept, used as a reaction to “grand” theories. Grand theories, such as Marxism, apply to all situations, and generate middle range, meaning: how grand theories apply to a local circumstance. Most theories in social science are middle range theories. A characteristic of middle-range theory: transferability.
  2. It is critical theory and not a critical paradigm because critical theory groups a couple of theories under an umbrella term.
  3. Constructivism vs. interpretivism: slightly different levels cannot be used interchangeably (but it depends). Interpretivism refers to how people analyze data, constructivism is a most offten in reference to how people make knowledge, constructivism as an epistemological stance. Also, education/learning sciences is often not taking it as an ontological stance, but an epistemological stance
  4. Value-mediated findings: findings are not neutral! In a positivistic view, results have/are truth, their value is irrelevant because they are true, the values that people might attach to them do not matter. In critical theory, however, all data generations are value-laden, all findings are value-laden since they are based on the values and positions of the researcher. When findings are produced researchers “decide” what to highlight, what to omit and that in turn creates value. Therefore, it is a value-laden decision, you as a researcher are producing discourse, you make meaning, you’re adding to the discourse, which produces certain effects in the world.
  5. Dialectic methodology: In the positivist paradigm, one APPLIES, whereas in “after” positivist paradigms one “creates” methodology. Here, the methodology is also not just applying methods but it is a conversation between the stance you take, the questions you ask, the theories you use. Dialectic here means something is creating, the combination of the methods chosen create something, there is a synthesis (there are a thesis and antithesis and you create something new).
  6. “Both qualitative and quantitative methods may be used appropriately with any research paradigm”- examples?  Constructivist paradigm with quantified content analysis (e.g.  Mayring Content analysis)
  7. Social-constructivism can count towards critical realism if constructivism is understood in a more radical sense, as it is done in the article. This is also a critique of the article. Understandably it is difficult to map paradigms, as they overlap and a table always leads to reductionism. Nevertheless, I think the article creates an artificial division between positivism/ post-positivism vs. critical theory and constructivism. Critical Realism is partially inadequately represented, imo.

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