Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Exploring the Philosophical Underpinnings of Research: Relating Ontology and Epistemology to the Methodology and Methods of the Scientific, Interpretive, and Critical Research Paradigms

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Exploring the Philosophical Underpinnings of Research: Relating Ontology and Epistemology to the Methodology and Methods of the Scientific, Interpretive, and Critical Research Paradigms

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper explores the philosophical underpinnings of three major educational research paradigms: scientific, interpretive, and critical. The aim was to outline and explore the interrelationships between each paradigm's ontology, epistemology, methodology and methods. This paper reveals and then discusses some of the underlying assumptions of educational research. Consequently, this paper is relevant to every English language teacher who is a reader of research.

Keywords: critical paradigm, epistemology, interpretive paradigm, ontology, positivism, scientific paradigm

1. Introduction

What knowledge is, and the ways of discovering it, are subjective. This paper explores the subjectivity of educational research. It is important for English language teachers to understand the underlying ontological and epistemological assumptions behind each piece of research that they read. Teachers need to be able to recognize how these assumptions relate to the researcher's chosen methodology and methods, and how these assumptions connect to the findings which are presented in journal articles. This understanding will enable improved: comprehension of research, application of theory to classroom practice, engagement in academic debate, and presentation of their own research findings. This paper gives an overview of what a paradigm consists of, and then explores and discusses the assumptions behind the scientific, interpretive, and critical paradigms.

2. What Is a Paradigm?

A paradigm consists of the following components: ontology, epistemology, methodology, and, methods. Each component is explained, and then the relationships between them are explored.

Ontology is the study of being (Crotty, 1998, p. 10). Ontological assumptions are concerned with what constitutes reality, in other words what is. Researchers need to take a position regarding their perceptions of how things really are and how things really work.

Epistemology is concerned with the nature and forms of knowledge (Cohen et al., 2007, p. 7). Epistemological assumptions are concerned with how knowledge can be created, acquired and communicated, in other words what it means to know. Guba and Lincon (1994, p. 108) explain that epistemology asks the question, what is the nature of the relationship between the would-be knower and what can be known?

Every paradigm is based upon its own ontological and epistemological assumptions. Since all assumptions are conjecture, the philosophical underpinnings of each paradigm can never be empirically proven or disproven. Different paradigms inherently contain differing ontological and epistemological views; therefore, they have differing assumptions of reality and knowledge which underpin their particular research approach. This is reflected in their methodology and methods.

Methodology is the strategy or plan of action which lies behind the choice and use of particular methods (Crotty, 1998. p. 3). Thus, methodology is concerned with why, what, from where, when and how data is collected and analyzed. Guba and Lincon (1994, p. 108) explain that methodology asks the question: how can the inquirer go about finding out whatever they believe can be known?

Methods are the specific techniques and procedures used to collect and analyze data (Crotty, 1998, p. 3). The data collected will either be qualitative or quantitative. All paradigms can use both quantitative and qualitative data.

Research methods can be traced back, through methodology and epistemology, to an ontological position. It is impossible to engage in any form of research without committing (often implicitly) to ontological and epistemological positions. Researchers' differing ontological and epistemological positions often lead to different research approaches towards the same phenomenon (Grix, 2004, p. 64). This will become evident as the scientific, interpretive, and critical paradigms are explored.

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