Positivistic, Interpretivism and Pragmatism Paradigm in Research

The article discusses three research paradigms—Positivist, Interpretivist, and Pragmatic—within the context of Educational Research. It outlines their ontological, epistemological, and methodological features, emphasizing their implications for understanding human behavior. The paradigms include perspectives on reality, knowledge, and research methods. The article underscores the importance of selecting an appropriate paradigm based on the research context in educational studies.
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1.    Positivistic Paradigm in Research

As seen in Table 1, the Positivist paradigm assumes naive realist ontology, a belief that there is a single truth or reality which remains stable and can be measured (objectivist epistemology), and human understanding is gained through a process of experimentation to test hypotheses, provide explanations, make predictions or search for cause and effect relationships of variables (Fadhel, 2002; Searle, 2015). The research conducted under the Positivist paradigm thus often employs experimental, quasi-experimental, correlational, causal-comparative, and survey methodologies (experimental methodology). In this paradigm, context is not important, and the research purpose is to find laws or law-like generalizations, which elucidate observable human behavior. Positivism is thus called Scientific Method, Empirical Science and Quantitative Research (Guba & Lincoln, 2005). According to Mertens (2015), beneficent axiology refers to the requirement that all research should maximize good outcomes and avoid or minimize any risk and harm that could occur during the research.

 However, due to the fact that the social world where humans are involved is not value-free, and that it is not always possible to provide explanations of a causal nature, a derivative of this paradigm, known as the Post-positivist paradigm, is formed. This new paradigm accepts that reality is not absolute but probable, and it can never be fully understood. That means post-positivists acknowledge the influence of the researcher’s theories, background, knowledge and values on what is observed. As stated by previous researchers (Creswell, 2008; Ghiara, 2019; Kivunja & Kuyini, 2017; Taylor & Medina, 2013), the Post-positivist paradigm is the modified scientific method for the social sciences, to which ELT belongs.

2.    Interpretivist Paradigm

The assumption of a relativist ontology means that there is no single reality or truth, and reality is explored, created or reconstructed through human interactions between the researcher and the research subjects and among the research participants (Chalmers, Manley, & Wasserman, 2005). A subjectivist epistemology means that reality needs to be interpreted. That is the researcher makes meaning of their data through their own thinking and cognitive processing of data-informed by their interactions with participants. In holding a naturalist methodology, the researcher uses data collected through interviews, discourses, text messages and reflective sessions, with the researcher acting as a participant-observer. The frequent research methods utilized in the Interpretivist/Constructivist paradigms are case study, action research, grounded theory, ethnography, phenomenology, hermeneutics, phenomenography, heuristic inquiry, naturalist, narrative inquiry and discourse analysis. This paradigm is also called Constructivism, Social Constructivism or Qualitative Research paradigm (Guba & Lincoln, 2005). A balanced axiology believes that the values of the researcher will be reflected in the balanced reports of the research findings.

 Applied to ELT research, this paradigm enables researchers to build rich local understandings of the life experiences of teachers and students and of the cultures of classrooms, schools and the communities where they serve. Moreover, the interpretive inquiry engages teachers as reflective practitioners in developing enhanced understanding of the life-worlds of their students within their social, political, historic and economic settings (Taylor & Medina, 2013). Common themes which have been the focus of this research paradigm since 2000 are approaches to teaching, identity and socialization, narratives/lives and other developments like teacher beliefs, learner strategies and teacher reflection and learning (Richards, 2009).

3.    Pragmatic Paradigm

As stated by Kivunja and Kuyini (2017), this paradigm emerged from the argument among philosophers that a mono-paradigmatic orientation of research by employing a single scientific method was not sufficient to either access the truth about the real world by the Positivist paradigm or determine social reality under the Interpretivist paradigm. A worldview providing the most practical, appropriate and pluralistic research methods for studying the phenomenon at hand is thus needed (Patton, 2002). This has given rise to a paradigm that employs mixed methods as a pragmatic way (Pragmatic paradigm) to understand participants’ actual behaviors, their beliefs behind the behaviors and the consequences that are likely to follow from their different behaviors. Different from the Mixed Methods which emphasize the “how-to” aspects of research; however, Pragmatism places more importance on” why to do research” in a given way (Morgan, 2014). In other words, Pragmatism concentrates on beliefs that are more directly connected to actions. As seen in Table 1, this paradigm advocates a non-singular reality ontology (i.e., there is no single reality, and reality is constantly renegotiated, debated, interpreted in light of its usefulness in new unpredictable situations), a relational epistemology (i.e., relationships in research is best determined by what the researcher feels appropriate to that particular study), a mixed-methods methodology (i.e., a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods and design-based research), and a value-laden axiology (conducting research that benefits people).

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