Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Philosophy of Science and Leisure Research

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Philosophy of Science and Leisure Research

Article excerpt

Ten years before the millennium, the, journal of Leisure Research published a special issue devoted to a discussion of the philosophy of science. While acknowledging those in leisure research who have seriously grappled with these issues, Sylvester (1990) noted that "we are largely uninformed about the philosophy of science or, even worse, we choose to ignore it" (pp. 281282). Weissinger (1990) voiced a similar perspective, suggesting that leisure researchers need to engage in a process of learning how to intelligently discuss alternative paradigms.

As we enter the new millennium, it is worthwhile to ask how far the leisure discipline has progressed in the last 10 years. A mid-decade evaluation by Weissinger, Henderson, and Bowling (1997) suggests a dramatic increase in publication of research using qualitative approaches in comparison to the 19'70's and 80's when such approaches were practically absent from leading leisure journals. However, one of the most recent papers in Leisure Sciences expresses a qualitative researcher's increasing discomfort with the nature of this qualitative research (Dupius, 1999). And at conferences I find that some colleagues continue to ask why I spend so much time talking about the philosophy of science. Seemingly like the Nike generation we have become at the end of this millennium, they urge me (and presumably their students) to "just do it." I believe that this "just do it" mentality is still the heart of the problem. It traces back to the tendency to equate science with methodology rather than philosophy. It is tempting to point the finger here just at "old school" rationalists who maintain a belief in a single approach to science of the sort labelled "the scientific method" in biology 101, falsificationism by some social science contemporaries, and positivism by some of its critics. But Weissinger et al.'s (1997) documentation of the increase in publication of qualitative approaches suggests this explanation is not adequate. We also need to point a finger to the "new" generation that continues to perpetuate a methodological conception of science by framing alternatives as a discussion about qualitative methods. As a basis for understanding the philosophy of science, a reference to qualitative methods is largely meaningless. Methodologies are merely machinery, it is the underlying philosophy that guides the operation of that machinery that should be the focus of discussion. This point has been made previously in leisure research (Weissinger et al., 1997; Dupius, 1999), but it seems to get swept away all too frequently by discussions that frame the "how to" of science chiefly in methodological terms.

We need a language and set of concepts capable of lifting us out of this methodological mentality, and like Sylvester I believe the leisure discipline needs to turn to the philosophy of science. In fact, it is with respect to this issue that Thomas Kuhn made one of his most significant contributions, defining the appropriate unit of analysis in the study of different approaches to science as the macrostructure (Anderson, 1986). Patterson and Williams (1998) introduce a model describing the macrostructure suitable for discussions in leisure research. It characterizes the macro-structure of science as consisting of three levels: world views (broad philosophical debates concerning the nature of science and the concept of validity); paradigms (debates concerning the normative philosophical commitments underlying specific approaches to science), and research programs (empirically centered debates concerning theory and the specific methods of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data). This model portrays science as pluralistic, not in the sense of a collection of different methodologies, but instead as a collection of paradigms each consisting of a core set of inter-dependent normative philosophical commitments that guide the practice of science. Conceiving of science in this way allows leisure researchers to incorporate contemporary concepts from the philosophy of science and move beyond an understanding and discussion of science as merely method. …

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