Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Defining Terms in Research
Defining the Terms
The terms philosophy of science, paradigm, epistemology, and ontology are often used interchangeably to describe fundamental systems utilized as guidelines or parameters of scientific exploration (Creswell, 2009). Each, however, has a distinct definition as well. Epistemology is concerned with the philosophical foundations, such as determining the conditions of knowledge and meaning. For researchers, it may include their subjective perspective and how their personal experiences contribute to their perspective into scientific inquiry - understanding how they know what they know (Laureate Education, Inc., 2009). Epistemology is concerned with how people attain knowledge, what constitutes genuine knowledge, and how reliable scientific knowledge is gained (Blaikie, 2004c). Alternatively, ontology is similar to epistemology although concerns itself with the study of reality and existence, how reality exists both independent of and according to human perspective. Ontology takes into account how the perception of reality changes according to cultural and contextual affect (Laureate Education, Inc., 2009). Further, it is the philosophical study of existence as it pertains to knowing (Blaikie, 2004b).
Blaikie (2004d) claimed Philosophy of science evades precise definition, although it is safe to say it is a philosophy that concerns itself with the nature of science, how it is explored, and generally perceived. Philosophy of science examines researcher's ontologies and epistemologies, their justifications, and foundational methods of expanding knowledge as well as its implications (Blaikie, 2004d). Paradigms are systems or models utilized to establish protocol or procedure, although they provide the structure for a researcher's perceptions as well (Blaikie, 2004c). Paradigms are a particular way of examination, in this case, scientific, that vary according to the fundamental ontology or epistemology of the researcher. For example, Freudian psychologists will likely perceive and treat their clients according to the psychoanalytic paradigm.
In effect, ontologies and epistemologies are foundational systems of scientific theory and inquiry that underlie the development and utilization of system-appropriate paradigms by which scientists explore and explain science. They are conceptualization sets that serve as a means of sharing and building upon scientific information. Philosophy of science examines the ontologies and epistemologies by which scientists explore (Blaikie, 2004d). By nature, researchers, and scientists must be skeptical and open-minded. It is my opinion that the ontologies and epistemologies upon which we choose to base our work, helps us to differentiate and consider theory and data without blindly accepting them as fact.
Importance of Concepts
These terms and concepts are important for researchers because they contribute to the researcher's standpoint, personal perspectives, theories, and beliefs that inform the research and the type of research in which the researcher engages. Understanding these terms provides a framework upon which research and professional communication are built (Creswell, 2009). Further, grasping these concepts helps researchers understand the work of other researchers and their scientific perspective (Laureate Education, Inc., 2009a). In terms of personal awareness, one's epistemological and ontological perspectives contributes to self-understanding in terms of potential bias. For example, my world view as an American will always color my perspective and consequently, my research. A researcher's responsibility includes maintaining a keen perspective of personal perspective as it informs, and perhaps biases, one's research (Laureate Education, Inc., 2009b).
Blaikie, N. (2004a). Epistemology. In M. Lewis-Beck, A. Bryman, & T. Liao (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social science research methods. (pp. 310-311). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412950589.n281
Blaikie, N. (2004b). Ontology, ontological. In M. Lewis-Beck, A. Bryman, & T. Liao (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social science research methods. (p. 768). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412950589.n663
Blaikie, N. (2004c). Paradigm. In M. Lewis-Beck, A. Bryman, & T. Liao (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social science research methods. (pp. 786-788). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412950589.n685
Blaikie, N. (2004d). Philosophy of social science. In M. Lewis-Beck, A. Bryman, & T. Liao (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social science research methods. (pp. 821-822). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412950589.n711
Creswell, J. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2009a). Introduction to Research Design. Baltimore: Author.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2009b). Doctoral Research: Advice. Baltimore: Author.