Paradigms of Inquiry, versus Techniques of Data-collection & Analysis
|This framework distinguishes
between quantitative and qualitative techniques of data-collection
and analysis, on the one hand, and empirical-analytic and interpretive
paradigms of inquiry, on the other.
Generally speaking, empirical-analytic inquiry seeks objective metric or categorical descriptions of phenomena, and aims to provide causal explanations of their interrelationship in the form of formal laws tested through statistical measures of association among variables. Interpretive inquiry aims to characterize how people experience the world, the ways they interact together, and the settings in which these interactions take place.
By and large empirical-analytic inquiry employs quantitative techniques and interpretive inquiry employs qualitative techniques, but the exceptions to this rule of thumb are illuminating. For example, techniques like open-ended interviews or ethnographic observation may be used in empirical-analytic research as a "hypothesis-generating" phase, while interpretive inquiry may use statistical data to obtain a "sense of the whole." These are ways in which both paradigms of inquiry integrate different kinds of data and types of data analysis.
But integration is possible at another level: that of a third paradigm of critical inquiry. Critical inquiry entails critique of the roles of force and power in social phenomena, and in doing so provides a space for both causal and interpretive explanation.
These were the broad terms in which the course was conceived. Students were introduced to an ensemble of qualitative and quantitative techniques for data-collection and analysis, set within a progressive elaboration of the interpretive and empirical-analytic paradigms, moving towards an integration in the form of a paradigm of critical inquiry. The interpretive and empirical-analytic paradigms were taken up and elaborated in a sequence of seven Blocks.
Blocks 1, 3 and 5 were empirical-analytic, Blocks 2, 4 and 6 were interpretive.
Blocks 1 and 2 focused on description of social phenomena, first in terms of an empirical-analytic emphasis on measurement, and then in terms of an interpretive emphasis on extended discourse.
Blocks 3 and 4 focused on explanation of social phenomena, first in terms of an empirical-analytic conception of experimental design, then in terms of an interpretive attention to the social accomplishments of social interaction.
Blocks 5 and 6 also dealt with explanation, introducing the empirical-analytic use of statistical techniques for control of initial differences between treatment groups, then the interpretive concept of constitutive causality.
Critical inquiry was taken up in Block 7, which focused on ways to integrate empirical-analytic and interpretive research paradigms into a comprehensive research approach. See Syllabus Diagram, and diagram of the Interpretive Blocks.
The course ran for both winter and spring semesters of the academic year: a total of twenty-eight weeks. Students met each week with one of the two instructors for a three-hour class and with a teaching assistant for a lab. Homework was assigned each week. There was emphasis throughout on collaborative work, practical exercises, computer-based data analysis, and written interpretation. Students practiced analytical approaches by handling real data amenable to both statistical and interpretive analyses in a "Block Project" for each of the seven Blocks. In addition, students worked in teams on a "Collaborative Research Project," a small-scale study of their own design, using both statistical and interpretive methods, that was planned during the first semester and carried out during the second. A detailed syllabus was prepared for each Block describing readings, homework assignments, and details about the Block Project.
|Comments on the
Principles Behind Design of the Blocks' Organization
n.b. Each of these Design Principles could merit a long discussion. Some is provided in the text....
|Some comments first about how these Blocks were organized:
First, I designed the three interpretive Blocks to build upon each other, as well as to link with the empirical-analytic Blocks. The same pedagogic strategy was followed in each Block: students initially grappled with the material -- an interview transcript, for example -- then learned a specific technique for its analysis, and finally obtained their own material to work with.
Second, each of the three interpretive Blocks dealt with a specific kind of qualitative material and a technique for obtaining it: initially (Block 2) the kind of extended discourse that can be elicited in semi-structured interviews; then (Block 4) everyday conversation or interaction between two or more participants, as might be recorded in naturalistic observations; and finally (Block 6) social situations (contexts; social fields), that can be experienced and described in ethnographic fieldwork.
Third, at the same time, each Block introduced a specific technique for analysis of qualitative material: initially (B2) narrative and argument analysis; then (B4) conversation analysis; and finally (B6) social setting analysis. These techniques were, of course, placed in the broader context of the paradigm of interpretive inquiry.
Fourth, in addition, each Block addressed a distinct level of human agency: initially (B2) the active organization of first person accounts; then (B4) the accomplishments of social interaction; and finally (B6) the "constitutive causality" of social fields.
And fifth, each Block examined the researcher's role, understood initially (B2) as unprejudiced reader of texts (evidently only a provisional and incomplete understanding); then (B4) as active interpreter guided by tacit assumptions and interests; and finally (B6) as participant-observer in the culture of those studied.
Sixth and finally, each Block introduced students to some pertinent theoretical considerations, drawn initially (B2) from phenomenology, then (B4) hermeneutics, and finally (B6) from critical theory.
In short, the course's organization was as follows (and you can click on any of these titles to jump directly to the description of that Block):
Week 1: Introduction and Overview
Block 1: Empirical-Analytic Description: Psychometrics (5 weeks).
Block 2: Interpretive Description: First-Person Accounts (4 weeks).
Block 3: Empirical-Analytic Explanation: Direct Manipulation (4 weeks).
Block 4: Interpretive Explanation: Practical Accomplishments (5 weeks).
Block 5: Empirical-Analytic Explanation: Statistical Control (3 weeks).
Block 6: Interpretive Explanation: Constitutive Causality (3 weeks).
Now, more detail:
The first class of the semester provided an introduction to the course and an overview of its organization. The concept of a paradigm of scientific inquiry was introduced, using Thomas Kuhn's account of its significance and role from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970):
"Effective research scarcely begins before a scientific community thinks it has acquired firm answers to questions like the following: What are the fundamental entities of which the universe is composed? How do these interact with each other and with the senses? What questions may legitimately be asked about such entities and what techniques employed in seeking solutions? At least in the mature sciences, answers (or full substitutes for answers) to questions like these are firmly embedded in the educational initiation that prepares and licenses the student for professional practice. Because that education is both rigorous and rigid, these answers come to exert a deep hold on the scientific mind. That they can do so does much to account both for the peculiar efficiency of the normal research activity and for the direction in which it proceeds at any given time" (Kuhn, 1970 p. 4-5).
In 1970 Margaret Masterman wrote a critique of Kuhn, saying he'd used the term "paradigm" in a dozen different ways. Kuhn replied (1977), and he drew an important distinction between paradigm as "disciplinary matrix" (the shared practices of a scientific community) and as "exemplar." Exemplars are concrete problem solutions, and they are one kind of element found in the disciplinary matrix. Also in the matrix are "symbolic generalizations," the formal expressions of a science, and "models" (p. 297). Models--of electricity as a fluid; of a gas a tiny billiard balls; of fields, and forces--"provide the group [of researchers] with preferred analogies or, when deeply held, an ontology." This ontological level -- the way work within a paradigm involves assumptions about the kinds of entity that exist -- is something we returned to throughout the course.
In this introductory meeting we also considered Richard Bernstein's (1976) extension of Kuhn's analysis to the social sciences. Bernstein argued that the social sciences too have a level, generally unexamined, of common assumptions, attitudes and expectations, a framework within which inquiry operates, one which provides even the terms of disagreements. It is a shared sense of what scientific inquiry is, and of what inquiry ought to be, a sense of what kind of reality is being investigated, and a sense of the proper objects of inquiry and their character.
Now we were able to introduce three paradigms of research in education (and the social sciences more broadly): empirical-analytic, interpretive, and critical inquiry. These paradigms were compared in terms of their assumptions about methodology (techniques of data-collection and analysis), epistemology (what counts as knowledge) and ontology (what is real; what entities exist).
Three kinds of Underlying Assumption:
|Briefly stated, when it comes to methodology, the empirical-analytic paradigm presumes that the researcher should have an objective stance (neutral and detached), and that research proceeds through hypothesis and testing. The interpretive paradigm assumes that the researcher should have a participatory stance, and that research requires the description of specific cases (persons and communities), through narrative articulation and interpretation. The critical paradigm asserts that the researcher should have a critical stance, alternately participating and objectifying, that research involves both measurement and narrative, and that research leads to suggestions for action.
In terms of epistemology, the empirical-analytic paradigm assumes that knowledge amounts to general statements of regularities among objective properties, that these are internally consistent, and (arguably) correspond to the way things really are. The interpretive paradigm assumes that people employ interpretive schemes which must be understood, and that the character of the local context must be articulated. The critical paradigm assumes that knowledge involves a general understanding of society in addition to a description of specific cases, that people's interpretive schemes are vulnerable to systematic distortion, and that the local context must be seen in its relation to the larger social system.
In terms of ontology, the empirical-analytic paradigm assumes a Cartesian dualism of subjective states and objective events. The interpretive paradigm locates subjects and objects within intersubjective social fields which structure and constrain activity. Subjects are actively involved in the reproduction of these fields. And the critical paradigm sees, in addition, relations of force and conflict, and systematic differences in power and opportunity.
(There's always a danger of oversimplifying or seeming to set up straw targets in such a summary overview. But here again, detailed accounts would require more space and time than is available.)
© Martin Packer, 1999