Positivism • Based on the philosophical ideas of the French philosopher August Comte, • He emphasized observation and reason as means of understanding human behavior. • According to him, true knowledge is based on experience of senses and can be obtained by observation and experiment. • Positivistic thinkers adopt his scientific method as a means of knowledge generation.
Hence, it has to be understood within the framework of the principles and assumptions of science. • These assumptions, as Conen et al (2000) noted, are • Determinism, • Empiricism, • Parsimony, and • Generality.
‘Determinism’ means that events are caused by other circumstances; and hence, understanding such casual links are necessary for prediction and control. • ‘Empiricism’ means collection of verifiable empirical evidences in support of theories or hypotheses. • ‘Parsimony’ refers to the explanation of the phenomena in the most economic way possible. • ‘Generality’ is the process of generalizing the observation of the particular phenomenon to the world at large.
Summary Positivistic paradigm thus systematizes the knowledge generation process with the help of quantification, which is essentially to enhance precision in the description of parameters and the discernment of the relationship among them.
Anti-positivism (Naturalistic Inquiry) • Anti-positivism emphasizes that social reality is viewed and interpreted by the individual herself according to the ideological positions she possesses. • Therefore, knowledge is personally experienced rather than acquired from or imposed from outside. • The anti-positivists believe that reality is multi-layered and complex (Cohen et al, 2000) and a single phenomenon is having multiple interpretations.
They emphasize that the verification of a phenomenon is adopted when the level of understanding of a phenomenon is such that the concern is to probe into the various unexplored dimensions of a phenomenon rather than establishing specific relationship among the components, as it happens in the case of positivism.
Critical Theory • Critical theories share some ideas of the anti-positivists paradigm, but what makes it different is that critical paradigm focuses on oppression. • Critical social scientists believe it necessary to understand the lived experience of real people in context. • Persons can perceive reality outside them and represent that reality with language. Also, reality is defined by the interaction between the knower and the known. • Critical approaches examine social conditions and uncover oppressive power arrangements.
The theories found in this paradigm critique the known structure of social arrangement, and deny the existence of any true enduring one. • They suggest, instead, a certain group has an explicit political agenda, which struggles with culture and other groups’ interests.