Exploring Research Methodologies Positivism and Interpretivism

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on November 26, 2017

Human beings rely on the results or the outcomes of any research being undertaken for understanding various phenomenas, to take various decisions or to gather new information or new knowledge as these researches might lead to the generation of new discoveries. The human history has seen the discoveries and there have been results given by various researchers that have led to the betterment of the social status of human beings and various businesses of life on this planet.

The process of a research begins with loads of confusions for a researcher. The researcher has to understand the problem and has to plan accordingly for whole of the project. There has to be gathering of knowledge that is existing on the concerned subject, various perspectives for the issue or research might be there and the issue of methodology selection for conducting the research which might be the most effective producer of the desired results. It’s always the researcher’s decision how he or she will approach or perceive his or her research and how to use any particular methodology for the research project.

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In subjects of natural sciences such as Biology, Physics etc. there are certain rules, methodologies or formulae which can clearly pave a path for any research. But when it comes to understanding the human behavior, the social culture then there have been researchers who have followed or said that just like natural sciences there can be techniques, rules or formulae through which the subject can be studied and the research could be taken to its final stage. Then on the other hand there have been researches and researchers who follow or support an opposite approach and for them there cannot be any hard and fast rules or quantitative techniques that can lead to give a clear viewpoint of human behavior.

The followers of first of the two methodologies of Sociology are the positivists and the methodology is known as Positivism. This methodology is the most widely used one. This approach takes the researcher to a unique truth. The reality of the study related to any human behavioral aspect is considered to be objective and there exists only single reality. Highly reliable tools such as surveys, questionnaires or statistics are the main part of research conducting process of the researcher. All these tools are very good in giving the trends of human society towards the subject or the topic on which the research is being done. So, the focus of the researcher is more towards the patterns prevailing in the human society which are discovered by studying a particular sample representing the whole population. The researcher uses various variables or items that can be key factors influencing the subject on which research is to be done and then finds the relationships or correlations between those variables by studying them on a wide sample which give the final unique results that are to be generalized for the entire population. The data collected is churned or processed using various statistical or other tools and a result is obtained. The researchers tend to collect a data that is mostly numerical in nature and just like natural sciences various techniques or formulae can be applied on those numbers to obtain a new discovery or result in context to human behavior.

But this methodology has seen a huge amount of criticism too. The human beings are not just a system. They have their thinking, their perception, their behavior which is not stable and can change from time to time. So, generalizing any result for the behavioral and social aspects of human beings is a complex thing. There are various aspects in the behaviors of human beings that cannot be defined or measured in numerical form which positivist researchers depend or rely on. In natural sciences, there is repetition of a particular phenomenon and there is uniformity in the results obtained for a particular research but for Sociology there can be various incidents or subjects for which results might vary and study of such subjects with this approach might lead to false results.

The researchers who oppose the first methodology of research and are the followers of second approach are the interpretivists and the methodology used for the research is known as Interpretivism. Whenever a research requires an approach that is opposite to the first one or there is a belief that the criticism of the positivism is right and positivism cannot give correct results then Interpretivism is used. Rather than using tools such as questionnaires or surveys this method depends upon interviews or observation of the individuals or the participants for studying their behavior. There cannot be a single truth or reality. The results cannot be generalized as the behavior of each participant is different and keeps on varying from time to time. The researcher gets deeply connected with the respondent and tries to see the world through his eyes. There is no numerical data collection as in previous approach. This approach is more towards understanding the view point

Of individuals or respondents rather than to measure them. The researchers have a belief that Sociology or behavioral aspects of human beings cannot be studied as the phenomenon of natural sciences where fixed rules, methods or formulae are present. Social interaction is the basis for deep understanding and obtaining results.

This approach also comes with various weaknesses. It is very complex to study the individual behavior qualitatively. There is high level of reliability present in the tools used in positivism such as n questionnaires which might be missing in this method. Deep understanding of human behaviors, social interactions, deep interests towards any particular subject or respondent requires long time. All these steps might even produce a huge amount of information which is unnecessary and not required. So huge amount of effort is wasted. If quick results are required then researchers go for questionnaires and surveys. Even the privacy of individuals considered for the research purpose are on the stake in Interpretivism methodology.

There are pros and cons of each technique of research. It solely depends upon what researcher wants from his or her research project and according to which the methodology is used. Each methodology might lead to a different corner or a different result for the same research problem. Though the quantitative methods have been widely used but there have been scientists who have considered using a combination of both the methodologies for getting the best results. Whatever is feasible and whatever seems to give the best results for any research project these scientists believe in using that methodology accordingly rather than relying on a single methodology.

So, a best research might be obtained by using any of the above discussed methodologies or a combination of the two can be used according to the requirements.

This article has been authored by Sumansh Vashisth from UBS Panjab university


• Exploring Research Methodologies: Positivism and... | Bartleby. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2017, from https://www.bartleby.com/essay/Exploring-Research-Methodologies-Positivism-and-Interpretivism-FKJU8L4ZVJ

• Positivism and Interpretivism in Social Research | ReviseSociology. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2017, from https://revisesociology.com/2015/05/18/positivism-interpretivism-sociology/

• Exploring Research Methodologies Positivism And Interpretivism essay topic example. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2017, from http://essaypride.com/essays.php?free_essay=1417338&title=Exploring-Research-Methodologies-Positivism-And-Interpretivism

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