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Selection of methodological approach

In document Empirical evidence from Sri Lanka (Page 82-87)

Research methodology and methods

3.2. Selection of methodological approach

The distinction between positivistic and interpretivist paradigms generally arises because of differences in their philosophical assumptions, especially in epistemological and ontological assumptions. Table 3.2-1 shows the philosophical and methodological differences between positivistic and interpretivist research paradigms.

Table 3.2-1: Differences in positivistic and interpretivist research paradigm

Positivistic paradigm Interpretivist paradigm Epistemological


As in natural science: Research-er is independent to what is being researched/Knower and known are independent

Interpretivism: Researcher is not independent, but interacts with what is being researched/Knower and known are interactive and inseparable Ontological orientation Objectivism: Knowledge is

objective and unique/singular.

Social facts produce objective reality

Constructionism: Knowledge is sub-jective as individuals interpret their social world that leads to multiple realities

Methodological orien-tation

Deductive approach: Testing of theory

Inductive approach: Generation of theory

Purpose Generalisability, prediction and causal explanations

Interpretation, contextualisation, un-derstanding social actors’ perspectives Source: Adopted from (Bryman, 2012) and (Collis & Hussey, 2009)

Selection of methodological approach


In positivism, epistemologically it is assumed that the researcher is independent of what is being researched, or knower and known are independent. Ontologically it is assumed that there is a unique reality out there waiting to be discovered; without having an idea of what is to be discovered, the researcher will not be able to examine it. Therefore, in positivism the researcher establishes hypotheses or possible truth, mostly derived from relevant theories and/or prior empirical studies. Using quantitative data and various statistical methods and tools the researcher tests the hypotheses in positivistic research.

Since, positivistic researchers use quantitative data, some scholars tend to use positivistic and quantitative terms interchangeably (Bryman, 2012; Collis & Hussey, 2009).

Collis and Hussey (2009) contend that positivistic research studies tend to: utilise relatively large samples; use statistical analysis in order to test hypotheses; make assumptions about the context and establish artificial locations; generate quantifiable findings using quantitative data analysis; create findings with high reliability, but with low validity; and, generalise findings to the population. On the other hand, interpretivist research studies tend to: utilise relatively small samples; generate theories; use the research context as a natural location; generate qualitative and rich, but subjective, findings; arrive at findings with high validity, but low reliability;

and, generalise findings from one setting to another similar setting.

The above discussion clearly indicates that positivistic and interpretivist paradigms are usually seen as incompatible with regard to philosophical and methodological orientations. However, a considerable number of researchers have attempted to mix positivism and interpretivism by triangulating these two paradigms as well as research methods, broadly quantitative and qualitative approaches. The mixed methods researchers believe in the freedom to select the research paradigm, either by selecting a single paradigm or mixture of paradigms. This approach is known as pragmatism, and it was introduced as a solution to the paradigm debate (Collis &

Hussey, 2009). In recent years, interest in the mixed methods methodology approach has grown to become increasingly common and unexceptional (Bryman, 2006, 2012).

Selection of methodological approach


The mixed methods methodology approach is adopted in this thesis. Referring to Creswell (2005), Migiro and Magangi (2011) define mixed method research as the

“research in which the researcher uses the qualitative research paradigm for one phase of a research study and the quantitative research paradigm for another in order to understand a research problem[s] more completely” (p. 3757). This thesis consists of two phases. The first phase of this thesis employs the positivistic/

quantitative research approach and the second phase utilises the interpretivist/

qualitative research approach.

According to Bryman (2012), a mixed methods research study can be classified along two criteria. The first refers to the priority decision which indicates “how far is a qualitative or quantitative method the principal data-gathering tool or do they have equal weight?” The second relates to the sequence decision which emphasises “which method precedes which? In other words, does the qualitative method precede the quantitative one or vice versa?”(p. 632). Accordingly, in this thesis and based on priority, qualitative methods are given primacy over quantitative methods, because quantitative methods are used here to address the initial two basic research questions only, in order to reveal the basic contextual and factual knowledge (See section 1.6 in Chapter One.), whereas qualitative methods are used in this thesis to address the rest of four research questions, in order to explain deeply rooted reasons for factual knowledge. With regard to sequence, the study starts with the quantitative phase and proceeds to the qualitative phase. In summary, the first phase answers the questions of “what”

rather than “why” and offered a descriptive account of the status quo through descriptive statistics with some statistical inferences. The second phase, on the other hand, explains reasons for the status quo and mainly answered the questions of “why”. The remainder of the chapter discusses philosophical concerns and methods of research underpinning the mixed methods adopted in this thesis.

Philosophical framework

69 3.3. Philosophical framework

This section explains the philosophical assumptions made by the researcher in conducting the research project. The first set of assumptions is comprised of ontological assumptions which refer to the form and nature of social reality (Guba

& Lincoln, 1994). The researcher takes the realist perspective in conducting the first phase of the study, then the nominalist perspective for the second phase.

According to the nominalist perspective, social reality is constructed by values, beliefs, norms, concepts, and perceptions of individuals or society (Belbase, 2007), in this case, corporate managers. So there can be multiple realities in the nominalist perspective, whereas in the realist perspective there is one reality that exists external to the knower. In the realist perspective there is a single reality or universal truth.

Ontologically, the researcher believes, in conducting the second phase of the thesis, that there is no clear split between the researched and the researcher, as opposed to the realist assumption of “truth out there” which is waiting to be discovered independent of the researcher.

The second set of assumptions relates to epistemological assumptions, which refer to the construction of knowledge and the nature of the relationship between the knower and what can be known (Belbase, 2007; Guba & Lincoln, 1994). According to Belbase (2007), epistemological assumptions can be divided into the positivistic and antipositivistic stances. The former argues that the findings are objective, true, and can be generalised, while the latter argues that the findings are subjective, as the knower and known are interdependent; and, that created truth and findings can be generalised only to the sample (Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Williamson, 2006). In the first phase of the study the researcher holds a positivistic stance, whereas in the second phase he adopts an antipositivistic stance. Epistemologically, the second phase of this thesis broadly aligns itself with the subjective interpretation of the social world or the antipositivist stance. In other words, it aligns itself with the interpretive school of thought and that approach rejects the notion of universal laws or truth (Gregor, 2009).

Philosophical framework


Philosophically, the researcher, in conducting the second phase of the thesis, takes the views of both interpretivist and constructivist paradigms. Interpretivism and constructivism are two terms that share many similar features (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). According to Williamson (2006), the constructivist approach comes under the interpretivist umbrella. Interpretivism, fundamentally, is concerned with meanings, experiences, and explanations of the social world (Williamson, 2006). The main ideology of interpretivism is that people are continuously interpreting their ever-changing social world. Based on this ideology, interpretive research investigates how people define or describe their understanding about a particular situation or an issue (Schutz & Luckmann, 1973; Schwandt, 1994). Interpretivists assume that knowledge and meaning are the results of human interpretation; hence, there is no objective knowledge that is independent of individuals’ thinking. Interpretivism addresses the essentials of shared meaning and understanding.

Constructivism is partly a subsection of interpretivism, but at the same time it extends the ideology of interpretivism by adhering to the conception that knowledge and truth are the results of human perspectives (Schwandt, 1994). The main focus of constructivist inquiry is to understand and reconstruct the constructions that people initially hold, in contrast to postpositivism’s inquiry aim: prediction and control of phenomena, either physical or human (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). Constructivist ideology rejects the idea of universal truth, but accepts subjectivism which believes people have knowledge of what they experience directly. A social constructivist approach seeks to understand the social dialectic which involves subjective and intersubjective knowledge which takes place through language, social interactions, and written text (Bryman, 2012; Silverman, 1997). Thus, a key form of interpretive research is social constructivism.

In collecting questionnaire survey data and analysing those data, the researcher accepts positivism , whereas in collecting primary data through interviews and in the process of analysing those data the researcher accepts constructivism. In

Philosophical justification of the mixed methods methodology


this study, in-depth interviews are utilised in line with the constructivist approach.

Constructivists argue that the knowledge of the social world is accessible through in-depth interviewing (Harding, 1987; Latour, 1993), something which this study basically depends upon.

The central reason behind the selection of interpretivist and constructivist approaches for the second phase of the thesis is to understand the meanings and explanations of research participants’ responses. Interpretivists and constructivists consider research participants’ responses as part of research (Belbase, 2007).

The constructivist approach enables the researcher to study the meanings and perspectives of participants in depth, and some of the participants’ own wording can be used to convey their meanings directly to the reader. When the constructivist approach is being employed, the research participants’ “ways of thinking about issues, which may not have occurred to the researchers, are often revealed. Thus, the complexities of the real world have some chance of emerging” (Williamson, 2006, p. 98).

Thus, the second phase, the main part, of this thesis adopts the interpretivist and constructivist approaches in an attempt to understand CSR practices of corporations in the context of a developing country, mainly through the perceptions, values, and beliefs of corporate managers and the “meanings” they construct around the issues of CSR practices. The second phase of this research concerns individual constructs or subjective meanings, as well as social constructs or shared meanings.

In document Empirical evidence from Sri Lanka (Page 82-87)