What is a Research Paradigm?
By Masoom Kassi, Salman Fasih Khan
|“He who does not research has nothing to teach”|
Research paradigms refer to the broad ‘approaches’ to research.
Paradigms refer to ‘our understanding of what one can know about something and how one can gather knowledge about it.’
Positivistic Research Paradigm:
If you are the sort of researcher or you are working in an area of research where for you the world is ‘knowable’ i.e. if you ask the right set of questions, you can discover and know whatever there is to know and discover all the required facts, then you probably are considering and working on the positivistic research paradigm.
The area of research where this holds particularly true are the ‘sciences’; and usually the methods that are used to prove the hypotheses are quantitative.
Thus for the positivistic researcher, the world is ‘definable, fixable, provable, and can be discovered and described.’ 1 Positivists seek ‘objectivity’ and ‘believe in the possibility of making causal statements’. More emphasis is on ‘explanation’ rather than ‘understanding’.
Positivistic research paradigm has emerged as the leading research paradigm in the last several decades.
Having understood the positivistic approach to research, the most important thing to realize about the other paradigms is the fact that they are ‘anti-positivist’.
Here, on the contrary if you are the sort of researcher or you are working in an area of research where for you the world is ‘indefinable’ i.e. you can interpret and ‘add meaning’ to this world depending on the person, setting and time, then you probably are using the anti-positivistic research methodology.
Such area of research involves ‘making theories and contributing to meaning rather than testing theory and meaning’; and usually the methods that are used to prove the hypotheses are qualitative.
Thus for the anti-positivistic researcher, the world is ‘indefinable’, and ‘he can ask questions but never gain absolutely final answers’ and the meanings and understanding he derives are all ‘relative’. 1
Here in contrast to the ositivist approach, the focus is on ‘understanding’ rather than ‘explanation’. Subjectivity and the way each researcher interprets the world he/she lives in cannot be ignored and this ultimately affects the meaning and conclusions we derive from the results of a study. Interpretivists, therefore, ‘do not try to establish causal relationships in the social world, as their emphasis is on understanding.2
Postpositivistic (Critical Realism) Research Paradigm
Post positivists lie in the spectrum from explanation (positivism) to understanding (interpretivism). Post-positivists and critical realists have tried to combine the ‘why’ and ‘how’ approaches to research. In simple terms, critical realists ‘see not only to understand but also to explain the social world.’ 2
Tasks for the Researcher:
ü Try to learn the meaning of research paradigm.
ü Try learning more about the major research paradigms quoted in this section.
ü Try to identify which research paradigm are you following and /or which area of your research relates to the paradigms mentioned.
References and Further Reading:
 Wisker, Gina. (2008). The Postgraduate Research Handbook: Second Edition (Chapter 6 :Research Methodologies , page65-75 ). Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, PALGRAVE Study Guides.
 Grix, Jonathan. (2004). The Foundations of Research. (Chapter 5: Introducing the Key Research Paradigms, pages 76-99 ) Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, PALGRAVE Study Skills.