Education & Pedagogy

Positivism, Interpretivism, and Pragmatism Research Paradigm and Its Examples

Positivism, Interpretivist, and Pragmatism Research Paradigm
Written by Arshad Yousafzai

In this article, we will discuss the research paradigms, but first let’s discuss what the research philosophy and research paradigms specifically will unpack the three most popular research paradigms Positivism, Interpretivism, and pragmatism. 

So that you first understand them and then apply them to your research project this particular post is based on an extract from our course research methodology series in the course we walk you through the basics of research methodology from the philosophical fluffy conceptual stuff through to the Practical and tactical aspects such as data collection and Analysis methods if you’re new to research methodology you’ll want to check that out as a thank you for reading this article.

The research philosophy is one of those things that students tend to either gloss over or become utterly perplexed by when undertaking a dissertation or any sort of formal academic research for the first time and understandably. So it’s rather fluffy conceptual and up in the air but that said understanding and making intentional decisions regarding the philosophical underpinnings of your research is genuinely important, especially within the social sciences.

Research Philosophy and Research Paradigms 

Research Philosophy and Research Paradigms are terms that tend to be used pretty Loosely sometimes even interchangeably broadly speaking they both refer to the set of beliefs assumptions and principles that underlie the way that you approach your study whether that’s a dissertation or a thesis or any other sort of academic research project, for example, one philosophical assumption could be that there is an external reality that exists independently of the observer, in other words, a completely objective reality whereas an alternative assumption could be that reality is constructed by the observer, in other words, a pretty subjective reality 

naturally, these two assumptions would have quite a big impact on how you approach your study and we’ll explain more about that a little bit later 

the research philosophy and research Paradigm also encapsulates the nature of the knowledge that you seek to or expect to obtain by undertaking your study in other words your philosophy reflects what sort of knowledge and insight you believe.

You can realistically gain by undertaking your research for example you might expect that you could find a concrete absolute type of answer to your research question or you might anticipate that things will turn out to be a bit more new and directly calculable and measurable but another way it’s about whether you expect hard teen answers or softer more opaque ones

The Difference Between Research Philosophy And Research Paradigm depends on who you ask. Different textbooks will present different definitions with some saying that philosophy is all about the researcher themselves while the Paradigm is about the approach to the study others will use the two terms interchangeably and others will say that research philosophy is the top-level category and their paradigms are the pre-packaged combinations of philosophical assumptions and expectations to keep things simple they both involve the set of beliefs and assumptions that underlie the way that you approach your study 

After the definition, the next logical question is what are the options what are the paradigms well, to be honest, it’s a bit of a rabbit hole as you would expect with pretty much anything for the soccer key-related and there is are many many different approaches you can take each with their perspective on the nature of reality and what can be achieved in terms of knowledge gain so to keep things simple we’re going to focus on the big three these are positivism interpretivism and pragmatism 

Understanding these three is a solid starting point and in many cases if not most cases they’ll be all that you need so let’s unpack each member of this Dynamic trio first let’s look at positivism

 Positivism Research Paradigm

When you think positivism think hard Sciences physicsbiology astronomy that sort of things imply put positivism is rooted in the belief that knowledge can be obtained through objective observations and measurements. 

In other words, the positivist philosophy assumes that answers can be found by carefully measuring and analyzing data. particularly numerical data. As a research Paradigm, positivism typically manifests in methodologies that make use of quantitative data and oftentimes but not always adopt experimental and quasi-experimental research designs. 

With positivism, the focus is quite often on investigating causal relationships. in other words, understanding which variables affect other variables and in what way and to what extent. As a result studies with a positivist research philosophy typically aim for objectivity for generalizability and replicability of findings.

Let’s take a look at the example to make this more tangible. assuming you wanted to investigate the effect of social media on the reading comprehension of students

We wanted to find out whether the use of social media has a causal link to reading comprehension in this case you could design a randomized control trial and RCT where you assign participants to either a control group who don’t receive the supplement or to an intervention group who are exposed to the treatment.

With this design, you could measure each participant’s learning comprehension before and after the study and then use various quantitative analysis methods to assess whether there’s a statistically significant difference in reading comprehension between the two groups.

Positivist Paradigm

OntologyObjectivity and realism; there is an objective reality that can be studied and measured.
EpistemologyEmpiricism; knowledge is derived from observable and measurable phenomena.
MethodologyQuantitative methods, experiments, statistical analysis, and structured surveys.
Role of ResearcherThe Objective observer; aims for detachment from the subject to ensure unbiased findings.
View on SubjectivityMinimizes subjectivity; emphasizes the importance of measurable and replicable data.

As you can see in this example, the underlying assumptions and beliefs revolve around the viewpoint that knowledge and insight can be obtained by carefully controlling the environment, manipulating specific variables, and analyzing the resulting numerical data. therefore this sort of study would be considered to have a positivistic research philosophy this is particularly common for studies within the hard Sciences so much so that research philosophy is often just assumed to be positivistic and therefore isn’t even discussed within the methodology section of the paper.

Interpretivism Research Paradigm

Now if you can imagine aspects of research paradigms, interpretivism would sit more or less on the opposite side of the spectrum from positivism essentially interpretivism takes the position that reality is socially constructed. in other words, reality is subjective and it is constructed by the Observer through their experience as opposed to being independent of the Observer which if you recall is what positivism assumes.

The interpretivist Paradigm is typically adopted for studies in which the research aims involve attempting to understand the meanings and interpretations that people assign to their experiences as a result these studies often adopt a more qualitative methodology relying on data collection methods such as interviews, observations, and textual analysis.

These types of studies, commonly explore complex social phenomena and individual perspectives which are naturally more subjective and nuanced.

This probably sounds a bit fluffy. 

so let’s take a look at an example of the interpretivist approach in action. 

let’s assume you’re interested in understanding the experiences of individuals suffering from chronic pain, in this case, you might conduct in-depth interviews with a group of participants and ask pretty open-ended questions about their pain, and its impact on their lives, their coping strategies, and their overall experience of living with pain. 

You would then transcribe those interviews and analyze the transcripts perhaps using something like thematic analysis to identify recurring themes and patterns in the responses. 

As you can see in this example the underlying assumptions and beliefs revolve around the Viewpoint that Insight can be obtained through engaging in conversation and exploring the subjective experiences of people as opposed to collecting numerical data and trying to measure and calculate all of it as a result. this sort of study would be said to adopt an interpretivistic research Paradigm or philosophy.

Interpretivist Paradigm

OntologyMultiple subjective realities; reality is constructed by individuals based on experiences.
EpistemologySubjective understanding; knowledge is context-dependent and emerges from social interactions.
MethodologyQualitative methods, interviews, participant observation, and content analysis.
Role of ResearcherThe Subjective participant; aims for immersion and understanding of the subject’s perspective.
View on SubjectivityEmbraces subjectivity; values the richness and depth of individual experiences.

Naturally, this makes sense because if you’re looking to understand people’s lived experiences you have to operate on the assumption that knowledge can be generated by exploring people’s viewpoints as subjective as they might be 

now that we’ve looked at the two opposing ends of the research philosophy spectrum that is positivism on the one side and interpretivism on the other side. Both of these positions have their merits and they both function as different tools for different jobs more specifically they lend themselves to different types of research aims objectives and research questions. 

Pragmatism Research Paradigm

What happens when your study doesn’t fall into a clear-cut category in other words when it involves exploring both hard and soft phenomena well that’s where pragmatism comes in as the name suggests pragmatism takes a more practical and flexible approach focusing on the usefulness and applicability of research findings rather than focusing on an oral thing mutually exclusive philosophical position.

This allows you as the researcher to explore research aims that cross philosophical boundaries using different perspectives for different aspects of this study 

With a pragmatic research philosophy both qualitative and quantitative methods can play a part depending on the research questions and the context of the study this often manifests in studies that opt for a mixed methods approach utilizing a mix of different data types and Analysis methods ultimately the pragmatist adopts a problem-solving mindset seeking practical ways to achieve diverse research aims so let’s look at an example of pragmatism in action 

Imagine that you want to investigate how well a new teaching method performs in terms of improving student engagement and of course learning outcomes. in this case, you might adopt a mixed methods approach that makes use of both quantitative and qualitative techniques. 

One part of your project could involve comparing standardized test results from an intervention group in other words students who received the new teaching method, and a control group in other words students who didn’t receive that method but just received the traditional teaching method.

Additionally, you might conduct in-person interviews with students from both groups to gather qualitative data on their perceptions of the respective teaching methods

as you can see in this example the pragmatic approach incorporates both quantitative and qualitative data which allows the researcher to develop a much more holistic comprehensive understanding of the teaching methods efficacy and the Practical implications by drawing on a synthesis of both types of data.

Naturally, this type of insight is incredibly valuable. in this case, as it’s essential to understand not just the impact of the teaching method on test results but also whether the students enjoy the process.

Pragmatist Paradigm

OntologyReality is what works; truth is relative and depends on the practical consequences of beliefs.
EpistemologyPractical and problem-solving; knowledge is what is useful for solving real-world problems.
MethodologyMixed methods; combine both qualitative and quantitative approaches for a holistic view.
Role of ResearcherProblem solver; seeks practical solutions and values the applicability of research outcomes.
View on SubjectivityAcknowledges subjectivity; emphasizes the importance of practical utility and applicability.

Now that we’ve unpacked The Big Three research paradigms and to recap that was positivism on the one side interpretivism on the other side and pragmatism sitting somewhere in the hopefully you can see that the research philosophy underlies all of the methodological decisions you’ll make in your study. 

so it’s quite foundational and therefore important to understand in many ways it’s less a case of you choosing your research philosophy and more a case of it choosing you or at least being revealed to you based on your worldview combined with the nature of your research aims and your research questions.

Now we’ve covered a lot of ground in this article so let’s do a quick recap of research philosophy which encapsulates the set of beliefs assumptions and principles that guide the way that you as a researcher approach your study and develop your methodology. 

positivism is rooted in the belief that reality is independent of the observer and consequently, that knowledge can be obtained through objective observations and measurements. 

On the other hand, interpretivism takes the opposing position that reality is subjectively constructed by The observers through their experience of it rather than being an independent thing. 

Pragmatism attempts to find some sort of Middle Ground focusing on the usefulness and applicability of the research findings rather than an all-or-nothing philosophical position.

If you want to learn more about research philosophy and research methodology be sure to check out Arshad Yousafzai’s Blog 

Alternatively, if you’d like Hands-On help with your research methodology, contact us and you might want to consider our service where we guide you through each step of the research Journey. 

If you’re currently working on a research project such as a dissertation or thesis we are here to help you just Click Here. 

You’ll also definitely want to subscribe to the channel for loads of practical tips and tricks to help you fast-track your research Journey 

If you got value from this article please subscribe to our YouTube Channel and share this article so that more people can find this content 

Thanks for reading this article.


Leave a Comment