Academic journal article Management Dynamics

Theorising in Research in Industrial Psychology: Challenging an Exclusively Positivistic Explanatory Approach

Academic journal article Management Dynamics

Theorising in Research in Industrial Psychology: Challenging an Exclusively Positivistic Explanatory Approach

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In calling for further theorising in industrial psychology research, Theron (2019) opens with several points about the focus, purpose and methods of industrial psychology. Firstly, he identifies the focus of industrial psychology research, by arguing that industrial psychology makes its scholarly contribution through studying the performance and well-being of people, who in turn efficiently combine scarce resources of organisations to transform them into market-satisfying products and/or services. He further states that it is through this economic principle that organisations then contribute to society. Secondly, having assumed this position on the role of industrial psychology as a profession, he then proposes that the purpose of industrial psychology research should be to guide the optimisation of performance through identifying, researching and validating "an integrated and coordinated network of human resource management interventions". Thirdly, in discussing method, he states how this is achieved, namely through the development and testing of structural models consisting of a nomological network of latent variables. He concludes by arguing that "industrial psychology has, in my opinion, little choice but to embrace a deterministic position and to approach the study of the performance of working man from a positivistic interpretation of science", but qualifies the mode of determinism by stating that it is "not claimed that such a nomological network actually exist, but rather that it is fruitful to think as if such a network exists." In line with Popper (1972) he concludes "that hypotheses on the manner in which latent variables structurally combine in the nomological net can never be proven ... it can only be claimed that the model provides a permissible and plausible (i.e. valid) description of the psychological mechanism . positivistic explanatory is therefore an unattainable ideal".

Having adopted this position in relation to focus, purpose and method in industrial psychology, he then turns to methodological challenges of explanatory research, namely dealing with complexity and "the psychological interpretation of the objective reality" before noting several issues that students encounter in conducting their research, including confounding the research problem with the research objective (probably arising from the premature formulation of the research problem); and a lack of real theorising when studying the literature. He ends off by calling for "restoring theorising to its rightful place in the explanatory research process" through the adoption of innovative data collection designs that include a larger number of latent variables in the model being tested.

Internationally, the debate as to what industrial psychology constitutes and what its focus and purpose should be, has taken place intermittently for over 100 years (Augustyn and Cillie, 2008; Schreuder, 2001; Veldsman, 2001a). In South Africa, regular debates on its role and identity have occurred, particularly over the last 20 years or so (Augustyn and Cillie, 2008; Bakker, 1999; Mashegoane, 1998; Moalusi, 2001; Rothmann and Cilliers, 2007; Veldsman, 2001b). That industrial psychology should be so closely aligned to the agenda of organisational management (and human resource management particularly), in its focus and purpose, as is proposed by Theron (2019) has also been a matter of debate that cannot, and has not been ignored (Strümpfer, 2007; Van Vuuren, 2010; Van Zyl, Nel, Stander and Rothmann, 2016; Venter and Barkhuizen, 2005). However, this paper concerns itself primarily with the question of method in knowledge construction and theorising. In particular, Theron's (2019) assumption that the quantitative, positivistic, explanatory method can best serve the interests of industrial psychology is contested, because of the restrictions that such an approach imposes on theory development. Given that the purpose of industrial psychology research is to contribute to the creation of new theory and the development of existing theory, this paper next discusses what theory is, and explores how theorising occurs. …

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