Question: What would I do if asked to conduct a research study using a positivist epistemology worldview and theoretical model if I am a hardcore constructivist? Good question.
Let’s begin with basic definitions.
Constructivist Worldview and Research Perspective
Criswell and Criswell (2018) explain constructivists, including social constructivists, worldview seeks subjective meaning in our attempt to understand and interpret the world in which we live. We draw upon our personal, historical, and social experiences, tacit knowledge, and understandings about the way things work on our approach to determining what represents truth to us based upon the context in which things are observed, said, or done.
As researchers, constructivist tend to find multiple and varied meanings resulting in a complexity of views and try to rely as much as possible on the participants’ view of the observed phenomena. When interviewing participants, we tend to ask open-ended questions that allow the participants to share their views. We also try to immerse ourselves into the participants’ natural settings to seek to understand the underlying cultural context of participant observations. It is only after we feel that we have gained an understanding of the specific context in which people live, and work are we ready to try to make sense of their situations.
Because constructivist enter research studies knowing that their personal biases might influence research findings, positivist researchers confess to being a “tool” during the research process and leave it up to the reader to determine if what the researcher describes truly represents the topic of inquiry constructs and findings (Criswell & Criswell, 2019)
Positivists Worldview and Research Perspectives
By contrast, Ravitch and Carl (2016) explain positivists see the world in which we live as an unchangeable paradigm based on sets of universally applicable laws and beliefs and that these universal truths can explain everything that happens in the world. As opposed to studying people as constructivists would do, positivists study situations and events in systematic ways.
Positivists believe that they, as the “knowers,” can define the underlying principles of all truth using objective knowledge and judgments. During research studies, positivist look for immutable truths (p. 7). Criswell & Criswell contend that positivists make claims using data, evidence, and rational considerations.
During research, positivists seek to develop relevant, true statements to explain situations of concern to identify causal relationships to reject or fail to reject hypotheses. Because positivist researchers make concerted efforts to remain objective and impartial during research studies, they tend to rely on the evidence to tell their tale regardless of how flawed or inadequate their research instructions and methods tend to be (Criswell & Criswell, 2019).
And, of course, epistemology concerns the nature of knowledge, and how knowledge is constructed, and how it can be acquired (Ravitch & Carl, 2016)
So. Back to the question. What would I do if asked to conduct a research study using a positivist epistemology worldview and theoretical model if I am a hardcore constructivist?
Personally, I would jump at the chance to work with a group of positivists researchers on a study if asked. I feel one of the biggest challenges facing the research body of knowledge is that we do not communicate effectively with each other. I think, if researchers came together often to talk shop, trade theories, and hash out the truth using both qualitative (constructivists) and quantitative (positivists) terminology, findings, and truths, we might genuinely be able to describe what is happening in our world today and work collectively to solve some of society’s most perplexing and disturbing socioeconomic phenomena.
But, …no. We can’t do that. That other guy doesn’t know what the heck he’s talking about!
Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Method Approaches.
Ravitch, S. M., & Carl, N. M. (2015). Qualitative Research: Bridging the Conceptual, Theoretical, and Methodological. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.