Posted by: katieaoreilly | April 6, 2015

Hey baby, what’s your paradigm?

Week one exercise, based on exercise 3.2 in Qualitative Research Methods

We all have our own ways of understanding the world around us. We each have our own sets of rules and norms that help us build our own knowledge base and interpret the world around us, ultimately creating our own reality. In short, we all live in our own little paradigms.

So when it comes to qualitative research, it is no surprise that our personal paradigms head into the field with us. As researchers, we approach each study with a set of beliefs already ingrained. Perhaps we believe the “big-T Truth” is out there waiting to be discovered, or maybe we start research on a subject and just hope to see where it takes us. Each approach is equally valid, and simply yields different results. I most often approach qualitative research through a critical or interpretive paradigm. For me, the most appealing aspect of qualitative research is the ability to discover, understand, and process stories. The critical paradigm tells us that reality and thought are inextricably linked with inherent power relations and often oppression. In that same vein, the interpretive paradigm asserts that both reality and knowledge are socially constructed though experience.

To me, these two paradigms are complimentary. Power structures and oppression are typically the result of socially constructed realities perpetuated through tradition, communication and culture, without which there would be no need for the critical paradigm. I believe there is not a positivist “Truth” out there in the social world waiting to be discovered. Every individual has a story and a reality unique to their own experience that should not be lumped into a larger “trend” for the sake of a clean report.

I see the difference between quantitative research and qualitative research as the divide between the “hard sciences” (like biology, chemistry, etc.) and the “social sciences.” Quantitative researchers want to know if A causes B, whereas qualitative researchers want to understand how A and B influence each other and why. The positivist paradigm, in my opinion, does not leave enough room to answer the “why” question. Personal biases should be acknowledged rather than ignored, and it feels disrespectful to participants to view their personal stories as a piece of evidence that leads to the “Truth” rather than a truth of its own.

My preference toward a critical/interpretive paradigm is what guides my research interests from beginning to end. Issues of feminism and systemic oppression are topics that I am very passionate about, and these paradigms allow me to explore them further. Most importantly, they allow for the possibility of action at the end of a study, based on carefully researched experiences. Taking the time to listen to a subject or fully understand a culture or a group could lead to social justice and positive changes for entire populations.

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