The Ontology And Epistemology Psychology Essay

Research has been perceived at different angles ranging from utilitarian, technical and professional views, while some see it as a mere gathering of information or ordinary fact – finding exercise, others see it as a process of moving facts from one form to another. However, according to Cohen and Manion, 1994 (in Nicholas Walliman, 2001 pg 10), ‘Research is a combination of both experience and reasoning and must be regarded as the most successful approach to the discovery of truth.’

Meanwhile, in order to carry out a successful research, a researcher needs to plan and devise a suitable methodology and design a proper research instrument by properly considering various research approaches, paradigm, processes, values as well as matter of ontology and epistemology as all these suggest the framework for the research project. Richard Fellows and Anita Liu (2008) state that ‘theory provides the framework for the research project rather like a structural steel or reinforced concrete frame is used in a building’. It will also determine the data that should be collected and further theory will determine appropriate methods and techniques of data collection and analysis.

Therefore, this essay looks into various research theories, approaches and paradigm, critically analyze them to decide which and which is congruent to a desired nature of research in the field of architecture and finally itemize substantial research plan a researcher must put in place in order to achieve the desired aim and objectives in the field of architecture by itemizing how the data about a chosen phenomenon is to be collected, analyzed and used with a proof of practicability of the research methodology since only feasible methodology gives birth to a feasible research.


Before a research is embarked upon, three questions has to be kept in mind, the motivation for the research; relevant interest, experience or expertise one bring to bear in the subject and finally the desired product – which should be a thesis that is defendable or useful research report within a particular period of time, all these will suggest the type of approach researcher should embark upon since there is no generally acceptable single correct approach to enquiry (Nicholas Walliman, 2001). A researcher therefore needs to analyze the terms described in this section and determine their relevance or otherwise to his research objectives.

Ontology and Epistemology

Ontology is described as the study of being, the nature of reality or existence, as well as the structure of reality (Michael Crotty, 2005). Researcher’s position regarding ontology will determine how answers questions about the nature both social and political reality to be investigated (Jonathan Grix, 2002), this means that a researcher’s ontological view of the task ahead of him goes a long way to determine the focus of his study, the chosen methods and how data is gathered, interpreted or analysed.

According to Blaikie, 2007, ontological claims are ‘claims and assumptions that are made about the nature of social reality, claims about what exists, what it looks like, what units make it up and how these units interact with each other. In short, ontological assumptions are concerned with what we believe constitutes social reality’ (Blaikie, 2007,). Ontological positions can be expressed in terms of objectivism and constructivism also known as subjectivism; the objectivism is of the opinion that social phenomena and their meanings exist in a way that is independent of social actors while subjectivism is the other ontological argument affirming that social phenomena and their meanings are determined by social actors.( Jonathan Grix, 2002).

Blaike (2007) suggests that while carrying out a research, a researcher has to choose from being a shallow realist, conceptual realist, cautious realist, depth realist, idealist realist or subtle realist which are the six categories of ontological assumptions that are available for him. A researcher who is subjective in his ontological assumption believes that awareness of our social condition can be achieved through experience and interaction with the environment and as such tends to gather qualitative information for his research, meanwhile, a researcher with objective assumption believes that there are certain principles that guide the occurrence of events and as such, they can only be tested through quantitative approach; by using data, measurement, statistics and calculation to test the theory and hypothesis governing the principle.

On the other hand, Epistemology is a ‘branch of philosophy that concerns the origins, nature, methods and limit of human knowledge’ (Richard Fellow et al, 2008). It is the theory of knowledge, and is interested in the origins and nature of knowing and the construction of knowledge, and the assumptions that are used about what made the nature of knowledge (Longino 1990; Dalmiya and Alcoff 1993) in Goodson et al,2004. According to Blaike, 2007, epistemology which is a core branch of philosophy that deals with the theory of knowledge, validation of the knowledge and likely ways of gaining knowledge of social reality and whatever it is understood to be. In short, ‘epistemology is concerned with how what is assumed to exist can be known’ (Blaikie, 2007).

Two contrasting epistemological positions contained within the perspectives, ‘positivism and interpretivism’, it is clear that choosing one of these epistemological positions will lead the researcher to employ a different methodology than what he would have employed, were he to choose the other. It is also clear that a researcher’s ontological and epistemological positions can lead to different views and opinion about the same social phenomena.

‘Put simply, knowledge production relies heavily upon the ontology of the researcher – their definition of reality; their epistemology – ‘what they count as knowledge’ depends on what they want knowledge about, while the kind of knowledge that they seek determines their methodology’ (Jones 1993, in Goodson et al, 2004). Jonathan Grix(2002, ) established a further relationship between ontology and epistemology by claiming that ontology is ‘what is out there to know’ while epistemology deals with ‘what and how can we know about it’.

Research Paradigm

Research paradigm can be described in terms of how researcher thinks about the development of knowledge. According to Nicholas Walliman and Bosmaha Baiche 2001, ‘paradigm is a term not only to describe a particular type of theoretical statement, but rather to indicate the overall effect of the acceptance of a particular general theoretical approach often expressed as law or theory’

Cohen, Manion and Morrison, (2000) describe research paradigm as a broad framework which entails perception, understanding and belief of several theories and practices that are applied to conduction of research. It is also described as a precise procedure, which comprises of various steps through which a researcher establishes a relationship between the research questions and research objectives. Although many researchers have used them interchangeably, research philosophy on can be described as the development of the research background, research knowledge and the nature of research (Saunders and Thornhill, 2007).

The importance of paradigms is that they determine the views to be adopted, as well as the approach to questioning and discovery of truth (Richard Fellow, Anita Liu, 2008).There are several major types of research paradigm catalogued by different writers as they differ on how they categorize them, Norman Blaikie, 2010 suggests ten, Goodson et al, 2010 state that four major paradigm structure research: positivist, post-positivist, critical and interpretive, each providing flexible guidelines that connect theory with method and help to determine the structure and shape of any enquiry. However, for the purpose of this study, three major research paradigms are critically evaluated: positivism, critical realism and interpretivism.


A positivist approach argues that the properties of the world can be measured through empirical, scientific observation, any research results will be presented as facts and truths(Claire Taylor et al, 2006). Positivist argues that the methods and procedures of natural science may be applied to a research and its result can therefore be generalized as an expression similar to those that are developed for natural science, as such, a clear interpretation and analysis can therefore be achieved based on testable and verifiable data (Nicholas Walliman, Bousmaha Baiche, 2001). Positivism is of the opinion that human behaviour can be codified into law when underlying regularities is identified, as such that society can therefore be studied from an impartial viewpoint of the researcher.

Positivism stands upon values of reason, validity and truth, it focuses purely on facts, gathered through observation and experience, measured empirically using quantitative methods -surveys and experiments – and statistical analysis (Blaikie, 2007). Alan Bryman and Emma Bell, 2007 emphasize that positivism stress beyond testing of data, it also believes that knowledge confirmed by sense can genuinely be warranted as knowledge (phenomenology), the purpose of theory is to generate hypothesis that will allow explanation of the law(deductivism), science must be value free (objective), all these are categorized as distinctive features of positivism. (Alan Bryman and Emma Bell, 2007 )

The positivist approach has brought with it a useful legacy of sound experimental design and an insistence upon quantifiable, empirical enquiry, this means that a positivist tends to gathering of quantitative data capable of logical or mathematical proof rather than from human or moral consideration, in short, a positivist approach will tend a research towards collection and analysis of quantitative data.

Meanwhile, various authors have also considered the concept of post positivism which is believe to share most of the views of a realist that is later discussed in this section.


In this paradigm, researchers acknowledge that there is no single objective reality and that different versions of events are inevitable, its focus is on natural settings, with theory developing from data after research has begun, not as the result of a predetermined hypothesis (Claire Taylor et al, 2006). Interpretivist believes there is a fundamental difference between the subject matters of the natural and social sciences and that the methods of the natural sciences cannot be used in the social sciences, due to this, they assert that the study of social phenomena requires an understanding of the social worlds that people inhabit, which definitely they have already interpreted by the meanings they produce and reproduce as a necessary part of their everyday together activities.

The interpretive paradigm is more likely to be employed in qualitative research (Richard Fellow, Anita Liu, 2003), and ‘it is wholly anti-positivist and argues that the world is interpreted by those engaged with it, the perspective is aligned with a qualitative approach, with researchers concerned to understand individuals’ perceptions of the world’ (Claire Taylor et al, 2006). It believes that all knowledge is relative to the knower and as such interpretivists work along with others as they make sense and meaning from events and create their realities in order to understand their points of view, and to interprete these experiences based on the researchers’ academic experience (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2006).

In summary, interpretivist paradigm sees human action and involvement meaningful in a research, its truth is social construct, ‘believes that there is no single objective reality'(ClaireTaylor et al, 2006) that is, subjective, tends toward qualitative and theory building/inductive in nature and hence ‘it is contextual and not easily generalisable’ (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2007).

Induction and Deduction Induction and deduction are theory that are paramount in research projects, while induction is otherwise known as research then theory approach, deduction is known as theory then research approach. It is possible to investigate the authenticity of a theory, which is a speculative answer to a perceived problem by investigation and experiment, this is known as deduction; if our experience makes us to arrive at a conclusion which we later tend to generalize, this is referred to as induction. (Nicholas Walliman and Bousmaha Baiche,2001).

According to Bill Taylor et al, 2006 deduction is a reasoning process starting with a self evident principle towards a particular case, it starts with theory, hypothesis or concept usually drawn from scholarly literature and proceed to test its applicability or otherwise in a context; induction starts with empirical data and proceedings in order to arrive at a generally acceptable conclusion from such data. For instance if a researcher is interested in a particular theory or model and wish to test its practicability or otherwise in an organization, he tends towards deduction; if a researcher is interested in a particular exploratory research programme concerned with things like ‘motivation’, he may form data and attempt to form a working hypothesis on the factors that affect motivation, in that instance, he is using the induction process (Bill Taylor et al, 2006).

Although, the concept of induction and deduction seems opposite in the sense that while we use deduction to test theory and hypothesis or explain some future phenomenon induction is used to generate theory, one is ‘general to particular’ and the other is ‘particular to general’ (Rajendra K. Sharma, 2008); yet they are both important in research as the choice of induction or deduction will greatly depend on the nature of research and hence they complement each others. The choice between the two methods is greatly important in research, this is because of the fact that it helps to analyze and decide on strategy to use and as well prepare for likely constraints during research process. (Hilary Collins, 2010).In the words of Bergman and Manfred Max, 2008, neither qualitative nor qualitative method is totally known to be better than the other, the nature of research problems and what the researcher intend to find out determine appropriate data to be collected as well as tools and technique for data analysis (Nicholas Walliman and Bousmaha Baiche 2005). Reliability, validity and applicability of result and conclusion is the most important in research work irrespective of the method employed; qualitative, quantitative or even mixed method (Richard Fellow, Anita Liu, 2008). Approach to research can be expressed in terms of research strategies cataloguing experiment, survey, archival analysis, historical and case study research (Nicholas Walliman, 2005), and in some other texts, problem solving and observational; or in terms of the method employed, that is, qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods, hence, the type of data collected partly determine the method to be employed in a research project in order to provide suitable answer to research problems. The three methods are analysed and critically evaluated in this study.Quantitative and Qualitative methods. Qualitative and quantitative research are not only differ in their methods, they also differ in terms of problem perception, data requirement, collection and analysis of data. Quantitative research involves application of measurement or numerical approach to an issue under consideration, data gathering and analysis. (Julia Brannen et al, 1992). It is an objective method of research that relates to positivism philosophy and seek together factual data which is further analysed to produce quantified result and conclusion testing theories and findings of a previously conducted research. (Richard Fellows and Anita Liu, 2008). Theory is used at the beginning of research not to develop the theory but to test its originality, ‘the theory thus serves as a framework for the entire study, an organizing model for the research question or hypothesis and for data collection procedure’. (Creswell, 1994 in S.G Naoum, 2007). Qualitative research on the other hand is the method of research that seek to understand people’s behavior, attitude and experience (Bergman and Manfred Max, 2006), through the use of ‘back and forth’ approach between each stage without necessarily having a pre-defined step by step approach, ‘it involves interaction and interconnection among different design component’. (Joseph A. Maxwell, 2005). It is a subjective research method that allows the researcher to change definition of general concept during research process towards diagnosing a situation and discovery of new idea or evaluation of people’s opinion about a particular factor; this is possible because qualitative researchers use themselves as research instrument in addition to obtained data; hence, it is a theoretical and ‘participant observation method’ rather than the opposing descriptive theory testing, method (Julian Brannen et al, 1992).

Qualitative research is less structured and makes use of such approach like interview or focus group with the aim of getting in-depth opinion from participants. Unlike the quantitative method, qualitative research does not place theory at the beginning of research process, although theory may be used during the research process as a tool for comparison with other theory, meanwhile, a quantitative research generates theory that can further be tested with the use of quantitative method (S.G Naoum, 2007).

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