Research on Positivism and Post positivism

The previous two chapters presented the literature review pertinent to this study. This chapter describes the methodology that guided this study. Methodology refers to a basic set of beliefs that guide the research methods of data collection and analysis (Guba, 1990; Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). It is imperative that the ontological and epistemological stance of a study have the capacity to facilitate the achievement of a study’s objectives. This chapter establishes the context of the study from a philosophical and methodological perspective. The chapter consist of two sections. First section justifies use of a qualitative approach followed by discussion of various research paradigms used in health and social care research. The next section explores ontological, epistemological, methodological and ethical concepts related to the chosen research paradigm in more detail.

Selection of a particular perspective is heavily influenced and shaped by who the researcher is and what their beliefs are about the world and how it can be explored. It is also influenced by the specific purpose of the research. The purpose of this research was to generate a theory to explain the meaning of IPV from the perspective of Pakistani men and women. The objective warranted use of a qualitative approach. Selection of this methodological approach was influenced by various factors. Firstly, I believe that the issue of IPV occurs in the context of a particular society and culture and in order to understand the definitions of IPV from the perspective of a particular population, it is important to consider cultural and social influences. Secondly, I believe that individuals vary and that each individual perceives, experiences, represents and recreates reality differently. Thirdly, in-depth exploration of individuals’ perceptions and perspectives requires a considerable amount of researcher’s involvement. The researcher themselves brings their own perceptions, values, beliefs, and experiences related to the area of investigation to the research and thus has an influence on the conduct and findings of a research study. A qualitative approach was congruent with these requirements, as a qualitative approach emphasises process and meanings, the socially constructed nature of reality, and an intimate relationship between the researcher and the area under study (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998). There are various methodological stances that can be adopted within a qualitative approach. Therefore, the next step was selection of a research paradigm which could guide this study.

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4.1 Research Paradigm

Research paradigm refers to a set of beliefs and feelings about the world and how it should be explored and studied (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003). It “aˆ¦is a philosophical model or framework originating in a worldview and belief system based on a particular ontology and epistemology and shared by a scientific community” (Holloway, 1997, p. 114). The research paradigm acts as a lens that the researcher uses to view the world; therefore, it reflects the worldview of the researcher. Various research paradigms that direct public health and social research include positivism, post positivism, critical theory and interpretivism or constructivism (Guba & Lincoln, 1998). A brief explanation of each paradigm and justification of its selection or rejection for this study is provided in the following section.

4.1. i Positivism and Post positivism

Positivism argues for the existence of a true and objective reality that can be studied through applying the methods and principles of natural sciences and scientific inquiry. It maintains that “the object of study is independent of researchers; knowledge is discovered and verified through direct observations or measurements of phenomena; facts are established by taking apart a phenomenon to examine its component parts” (Krauss, 2005, p. 759). According to this paradigm, the role of the researcher is to provide material for the development of laws by testing theories (Bryman, 2008). Positivists believe in five principles which include phenomenalism (knowledge confirmed by the senses can be regarded as knowledge), deductivism (the purpose of theory is to generate hypotheses that can be tested to make laws), inductivism (the gathering of facts provides the basis for laws and knowledge), objectivism (science should be value-free) and scientific statements (Bryman, 2008).

Post positivism is considered a contemporary paradigm that developed as a result of the criticism of positivism. Like positivists, post positivists also believe in the existence of a single reality, however, they acknowledge that reality can never be fully known and efforts to understand reality are limited owing to the human beings’ sensory and intellectual limitations (Guba, 1990). The aim of post positivist research is also prediction and explanation. Like positivists, post positivists also strive to be objective, neutral and ensure that the findings fit with the existing knowledge base. However, unlike positivists, they acknowledge and spell out any predispositions that may affect the objectivity (Doucet et al., 2010).

Positivism and post positivism were precluded from use in this study for several reasons. Firstly, research conducted under both of these paradigms is usually quantitative where a hypothesis is tested while the researcher remains objective and separate from the area of investigation. However, as a researcher, I was embedded within the research area as I belong to the same population and thus may hold the same values and beliefs as research participants. I belief that this could be a source of bias within a post positivist paradigm given that I could not be objective and detached from the substantive topic of the study and participants. Secondly, the focus of the research was to better understand the phenomenon of IPV in the Pakistani population. The purpose of the study was not to test a theory, but to ascertain if a more complete picture of the phenomenon of IPV from the perspectives of participants could be developed. This required exploring the perceptions and perspective of different people, all of whom may have a different version and perception of reality. Thirdly, both of these paradigms assume that experiences and perceptions can be reduced to objective measurements and that standardised questionnaires (such as the conflict tactic scale) should be used. However, if one believes that definitions and interpretations develop from experiences, observations, perceptions, and that experience and perceptions are subjective in nature, using standardised questionnaires and objective outcome measurements as a proxy of experiences and perceptions can only provide limited information. It cannot capture participants’ conceptualisation of IPV or improve understanding of what IPV means to them. Finally, both of these paradigms believe in the existence of a reality independent of social, cultural, political, economical factors, and therefore assume that the questionnaire developed in one culture can be applied in another culture or setting without alterations. However, I believe that people’s perceptions and perspectives about a phenomenon are shaped and influenced by the familial, emotional, psychological, social, cultural, political, and economical dimensions of their surroundings and it is important to take in to account the above mentioned factors and the context in which a certain phenomenon occurs. Owing to these reasons, positivism and post positivism were considered unsuitable for the present study.

4.1.ii Critical Theory:

The third research paradigm of critical theory evolved in Germany in the early 1920s (Carroll, 2004). It is also known as the transformative (Mertens, 2005) and critical-ideological paradigm (Ponterotto, 2005). Critical theory uses historical realism to define reality and maintains that realities are shaped by social, political, economic, cultural, ethnic and gender factors, and that these factors are responsible for oppression (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). Research based on this paradigm not only aims to understand society but to critique, change and create a new reality (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). Critical researchers believe that participants are experts in their knowledge and that the role of the researcher is to facilitate and stimulate change. It maintains that a true reality exists (Guba, 1990), researcher and participants both influence inquiry (Guba & Lincoln, 1994) and that the interaction with the researcher facilitates empowerment and liberation from oppression of the participants (Ponterotto, 2005). Some researchers also argue that reality is constructed though the interactive nature of the relationship between researcher and participants (Ford-Gilboe et al., 1995).

The critical theory paradigm was also not considered appropriate for this study. Firstly, the aim of the research conducted under a critical theory paradigm would be to bring about change. Secondly, the critical theory paradigm assumes that the knowledge about what needs to change exists and that the aim of a study should be to facilitate empowerment and emancipation of the participants. The purpose of the present study was not to bring about change but to better understand the phenomenon of IPV. It aimed to understand the meaning and definitions of IPV. Therefore, I did not consider critical theory to be an appropriate paradigm for this research.

4.1.iii Interpretivism/ Constructivism:

The fourth paradigm I considered was constructivism. It is also known as the interpretive, humanistic, and naturalistic paradigm. The origin of constructivism can be traced back to Berger and Luckmann’s (1967) The Social Construction of Reality and Lincoln and Guba’s (1985) Naturalistic Inquiry (Doucet et al., 2010). This paradigm maintains that social subjects and problems cannot be studied through positivism. Constructivists believe that the world is multifaceted and that there are multiple realities which are constructed, experienced and interpreted differently by different people. People give meaning to their experiences based on their experience of interaction with others, and the community and social system in which they live. Constructivism places “aˆ¦ emphasis and value of human, interpretative aspects of knowing about the social world, and the significance of the investigator’s own interpretations and understanding of the phenomenon being studied” (Snap & Spencer, 2003, p. 7). Constructivists assume that reality is not a fixed entity, rather individuals construct their own reality that may change as the individual becomes more informed. The paradigm maintains that knowledge is contrasted, and is based not only on observable facts, but also on individual values, beliefs, and understanding. Constructivist research aims to present multiple, holistic, competing, and often conflicting realities of involved parties including researchers and participants (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). The researcher’s role and effect is acknowledged and together the researcher and the participants reach new constructions which are more informed, sophisticated and real to those individuals who created it. The constructed knowledge can then be transferred to other settings and contexts to enable others to examine if the constructions fit with their experiences in their own environment and contexts (Guba & Lincoln, 1998).

This paradigm was considered to be most appropriate for the present research, as it has the capacity to capture people’s individual subjective perceptions and experiences of IPV. It also acknowledges the role of the researcher who brings their own experiences and perceptions related to the area under investigation. Finally it accepts that perceptions and experiences of reality are influenced by the surrounding context, culture and socio-political environment in which people live.

4.2 Conceptual Components of the Research Paradigm

The underpinning assumptions that define a research paradigm can be ascertained through the ontological (form and nature of reality), epistemological (the basic belief about knowledge, what can be known), methodological (the method used to know the unknown) and ethical questions (how to be a moral person within the world and research paradigm) (Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Denzin & Lincoln, 2003). The following section provides a more detailed account of these four conceptual components in relation to this study.

4.2.i Ontology

The term ontology refers to the underlying belief of the researcher about the nature of reality and what can be known. It is important to have a congruency and fit between the ontology and the research purpose. The purpose of this study was to develop a theory to define and explain IPV from the perspective of Pakistani men and women. The aim of the study implicitly maintains that exploring individual experiences and perceptions can help understand the meaning and concepts related to a particular social issue such as IPV. According to Snape and Spencer (2003) social phenomena are believed to exist independently of people’s representations of them but are only accessible through those representations” (p. 13). This refers to the critical realist viewpoint, which lies between realism and idealism.

Realism maintains that a reality exists independently regardless of people’s awareness or interest in it (Smith, 1983). For realists, the purpose of research is to explore and examine theories in an attempt to establish the truth. Idealism, on the other hand, discards the notion of independent reality and maintains that “there exist multiple, socially constructed realities ungoverned by laws, natural or otherwise aˆ¦ these constructions are devised by individuals as they attempt to make sense of their experiences” (Guba & Lincoln, 1989, p. 86). For idealists, the aim of research is to uncover various perspectives about a phenomenon of interest, thus to reveal realities and not truths (Charmaz, 2000). For idealists, multiple realities, that are context bound, exist side-by-side. However, the question arises that if there are multiple realities and if the purpose of qualitative research is to reveal another reality then what is the practical use of it? Findings identified by the researcher just become another reality among realities that already exist (Murphy et al., 1998). In order to resolve this dilemma, a third position of “critical realism” or “subtle realism” is suggested. This position maintains that individual experiences, interpretations and societal and cultural contexts influence the ways a reality is experienced, perceived, represented and described. Critical realism maintains that there are multiple realities, which are represented in multiple ways and that such representations are socially constructed and mediated (constructivism). This study is based on the ontological stance of critical realism.

The perspectives of Pakistani men and women about IPV are explored and it is acknowledged that socio-cultural factors of Pakistani society have an impact on these perspectives. There may be individual differences between people’s perceptions, but at the same time, there could be a shared or collective representation of IPV as defined by the study participants. Critical realist ontology supports this notion and, therefore, is adopted for this study.

4.2.ii Epistemology

The term epistemology comes from the Greek word “episteme” which refers to knowledge. It can be defined as a philosophy of knowledge and is concerned with various questions such as: “What is the relationship between the knower and what is known? How do we know what we know? What counts as knowledge?” (Krauss, 2005, p. 759). The epistemology of a study develops the theoretical framework of a study and clarifies how a researcher knows about the world generally and about the research subject particularly. The theoretical perspective of symbolic interactionism forms the underpinning epistemological basis of this research.

Symbolic interactionism is a sociological perspective which emphasises the importance of micro-scale social interactions. It is derived from pragmatism and especially the work of the social psychologist George Herbert Mead (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Mead believed that social interaction and the social context in which a person lives has an influence on a person’s sense of self and that the individual mind can exist only in relation to other minds who hold similar meaning. Symbolic interactionism postulates that people build their realities through social interactions in which shared symbols such as words, clothing, and gestures are used to communicate meaning (Fassinger, 2005). Herbert Blumer, a student and an interpreter of Mead, took his thoughts further. He came up with the term symbolic interactionism and developed a comprehensive and influential summary of this perspective. Blumer (1969) set up three important premises of the perspective that were:

Human beings act toward things according to the meanings they ascribe to them.

The meanings of such things are derived from social interactions.

Meanings constantly modify through an interpretative process within the person in dealing with the things they encounter.

Based on these premises, research studies are conducted to explore social issues and people in the social context they live in. Constructivism, itself, is a type of symbolic interactionism. Symbolic interactionism is one of the earliest theories that influenced qualitative research. Early research based on this perspective is criticised for being too descriptive and lacking in interpretation and explanation of the actions (Gerhardt, 1990). However, the development of grounded theory attempted to address this criticism to a certain extent by providing a qualitative, yet, systematic, inductive, iterative and rigorous approach to interpret data to develop a theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Charmaz, 2000). Symbolic interactionism and grounded theory are strongly compatible. “Both the theoretical perspective and the method assume an agentic actor, the significance of studying processes, the emphasis on building useful theory from empirical observations, and the development of conditional theories, that address specific realities” (Bryant & Charmaz, 2007, p. 21). Grounded theorists examine the meanings created in social relationships and try to discern how groups of people define their realities on the basis of their experiences and understandings of interpersonal interactions (Fassinger, 2005). Symbolic interactionism seemed to be an appropriate theoretical perspective for this research study. Firstly, the study aimed to explain the meaning and perspective of Pakistani men and women about IPV. It aimed to focus on how people define IPV in marital relationships. Secondly, the study acknowledges the influence of society and culture on people’s perception about phenomenon of interest. Thirdly, experiencing IPV can have an effect on how the person views him/herself and the world surrounding them. Based on these grounds, the symbolic interactionism was identified as an appropriate theoretical perspective to guide this study.

4.2.iii Methodology

Methodology refers to theories of social reality and the procedures, methods, and techniques to aggregate and analyze data. It acts as a bridge between the ontological and epistemological grounds of a study and the methods used to conduct the research (described in next chapter). For this study, a qualitative methodology was used to address the research question. It facilitates understanding of a social problem and to develop a complex but holistic picture of the problem under investigation with subjective experiences, feelings and views of the participants (Creswell, 1994). As the study sought to ascertain the views of Pakistani men and women on IPV within marital relationships, the grounded theory approach was thought to be suitable to achieve the objective. Other approaches that were considered for this research study included Phenomenology, Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) and Framework Analysis Approach reference these. A brief description of these approaches, and the reasons for not using each approach, are discussed here:


Phenomenology has roots in European Philosophy and was developed by Hurssel (1970) while he was studying consciousness as experienced by the participant. Phenomenological research aims to explore the lived experience of individuals to understand the construction of meaning through embodied perceptions (Sokolowski, 2000).

Phenomenological statements, like philosophical statements, state the obvious and the necessary. They tell us what we already know. They are not new information, but even if not new, they can still be important and illuminating, because we often are very confused about just such trivialities and necessities (Sokolowski, 2000, p. 57).

The approach helps understanding of lived experiences of people about a particular phenomenon of interest from the perspective of participants. The researcher using phenomenology is required to approach the data without any prejudices and pre-conceived ideas (Baker et al., 1992). Phenomenological research explores participant’s personal experiences, however, the approach fails to take psychosocial and cultural influences into account and for this reason the approach was not appropriate for the present study.

Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis:

The second approach considered was interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA). It is a relatively new approach that is inductive in nature. It has its roots in psychology and is developed and described by Smith (1996). The approach is “phenomenological in that it seeks an insider perspective on the lived experiences of individuals, and interpretative in that it acknowledges the researcher’s personal beliefs and standpoint and embraces the view that understanding requires interpretation” (Fade, 2004, p. 648). Research studies based on IPA aims to explore people’s personal perceptions and views about a phenomenon of interest. Like grounded theory, the approach is not based on prior assumptions and does not test hypotheses. However, the method focuses on the personal experiences and views of the participants and their psychological world (Reid et al., 2005). It does not take into account the societal and cultural influence, context and process in which the phenomenon of interests occurs, whereas, the grounded theory approach focuses on exploration of social context and processes surrounding the phenomenon of interest. For this reason this approach was not considered suitable for the present study.

Framework Analysis Approach:

The framework analysis approach is a relatively recent approach proposed by Jane Ritchie and Liz Spencer (1994). The approach was specifically developed for applied or policy related qualitative research. It is considered a generic and flexible method of qualitative data analysis rather than a highly specific technique. The method can be applied with a wide variety of qualitative data collection methods. The method is better suited to the policy related research “…that has specific question, a limited time frame, a pre-designed sample (e.g. professional participants) and a priori issue (e.g. organizational and integration issue) that need to be dealt with” (Srivastava & Thompson, 2009, p. 73). Although data analysis is conducted deductively from pre-set aims and objectives and is informed by a priori reasoning (Pope et al., 2000), this approach facilitates description and interpretation of what is occurring in a particular setting.

The approach was not considered suitable for this study as the aim and research question was very broad. In addition, the study intended to explore how people make sense of IPV. Exploration of socio-cultural and contextual factors was important in this regard as one’s definition and sense of reality is based on these factors. The study required an approach which allows comparison and contrast and needed an inductive analytical approach with little a priori reasoning. In addition, the purpose of the study was to develop a theory of IPV in marital relationships in the Pakistani population. Owing to all these reasons a grounded theory approach was considered more suitable. The section below introduces the grounded theory approach, describes its various forms and discusses reasons for opting for this approach.

Grounded theory

Grounded theory is an inductive approach, based on systematic procedure to develop theory that is grounded in data (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The focus of grounded theory is incidents and not the people. The approach tries to identify the main concern of the participants in the incidents mentioned, what concerns them, what they mean for them, and how they approach them. It is an approach that examines the process surrounding the area of interest. The approach helps build middle-range theoretical frameworks based on the collected data (Charmaz, 2000). Grounded theory was considered the most suitable approach for this study as it focuses on the social process regarding the phenomenon of interest and could help in building a theory of IPV by considering the similarities and differences in individual perspectives of the participants.

Grounded theory was developed by two sociologists, Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss (1967), when both of them collaboratively researched dying patients and later published their book called “Awareness of Dying” (1965). They developed the method of constant comparison, which is also known as grounded theory. It is a general method that can be used with quantitative or qualitative data (Charmaz, 2000). However, as the data used for this method is text based and not number or statistics based, it is frequently considered appropriate with qualitative research (Charmaz, 2000). Over time, both researchers have chosen different paths that have resulted in a split of grounded theory methodology into Glaserian grounded theory (grounded theory based on the ideas of Glaser), and Straussian grounded theory (Grounded theory based on Strauss’s concepts). Both of them have worked on many other books in the support of their own work and to promote their own version of grounded theory. The split was obvious after Strauss’s publication of Qualitative Analysis for Social Scientists (1987) followed by publication of Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques by Strauss and Juliet Corbin in 1990. Glaser responded to this with a publication titled Basics of Grounded Theory Analysis: Emergence vs. Forcing (1992), which was a chapter-by-chapter response to illuminate the difference between the two versions of grounded theory. Glaser (1992) claimed that whatever was written by Strauss was not grounded theory. Glaser believed in induction or emergence of theory, whereas Strauss was more concerned with a systematic and validating approach. Glaser also believed that the researcher should not conduct a prior literature review as it could result in preconceived ideas and would impinge the emergence of theory that is truly grounded in the data. On the other hand, Strauss advocated preliminary review of literature to improve theoretical sensitivity (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Strauss advocated use of a paradigm approach to facilitate the theory generation process in a systematic manner, whereas Glaser believed that Strauss’s approach was too prescriptive and could result in forcing categories and theory rather than facilitating emergence of theory.

Another variation of grounded theory is offered by social constructivists such as Charmaz (Charmaz, 1999, 2003, 2006) and Annells (1996). The constructivist grounded theory approach “aˆ¦ take[s] a reflexive stance on modes of knowing and representing studied life” (Charmaz, 2005, p. 509). This approach acknowledges the significance and effect of the researcher’s prior interpretive frame, their biography, research interest, research context, researcher’s relationship with research participants, “concrete field experiences, and modes of generating and recording empirical material” (Charmaz, 2005, p. 509). Charmaz identifies Glaser and Strauss as objectivist grounded theorists who believe in the existence of a single reality (Charmaz, 2000). In contrast, she proposes the constructivists believe that realities are constructed and reconstructed, as discussed earlier. According to Charmaz (2000), a constructivist approach differs from objectivist grounded theory in several ways. Firstly, unlike objectivist grounded theory, constructivist grounded theory aims to study participant’s individually constructed realities and therefore do not claim to be generalisable. Secondly, it does not consider conceptual diagrams as necessary. Charmaz (2000) believes that these can hinder the depiction of a comprehensive view of process or situation. Constructivist grounded theory also considers various specific procedures such as axial coding and use of conditional matrix (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) as unnecessary, too prescriptive and positivistic. Thirdly, unlike objectivist grounded theory, constructivist grounded theory considers the researchers as co producers and authors who play an important role in construction of shared reality with the participants (Charmaz, 2006). Unlike Glaser and Strauss, Charmaz (2003) considers grounded theory on a continuum from objectivist to constructivist and believes that future lies with both. The following table summarises the main difference between the objectivist and constructivist versions of grounded theory. Charmaz (2000)


Objectivist Grounded Theory………………………………….Constructivist Grounded Theory

Comparisons and Contrasts

Foundational assumptions

Assumes external reality

Assumes multiple realities

Assumes discovery of data

Assumes mutual construction of data through interaction

Assumes conceptualizations arise from data

Assumes researcher construct categories

Views representation of data as unproblematic

Views representation of data as problematic, relativistic, situational and partial

Assumes the neutrality, passivity and authority of the observer

Assumes the observer’s values, priorities, positions, and actions affect views


Aims to achieve context-free generalizations

Views generalizations as partial, conditional, and situated in time, space, positions, actions and interactions

Aims to parsimonious, abstract, conceptualizations that transcend historical and situational locations

Aims for interpretive understanding of historically situated data

Specifies variables

Specifies range of variation

Aims to create theory that fits, works, has relevance, and is modifiable

Aims to create theory that has credibility, originality, resonance, and usefulness

Implications for data analysis

Views data analysis as an objective process

Acknowledges subjectivity throughout data analysis

Sees emergent categories as forming the analysis

Recognises con-construction of data shapes analysis

Sees reflexivity as one possible data source

Engages in reflexivity

Gives priority to researcher’s analytic categories and voice

See and (re)represents participants’ views and voices as integral to analysis

Adopted from Morse et al. 2009, p. 141

maintains that grounded theory can be adapted to suit various epistemological stances. Constructivist grounded theory is a flexible approach that provides the researcher with guidelines, principles, and strategies rather than methodological rules, recipes, or a prescriptive package (Charmaz, 2006). She maintains that the grounded theory approach provides the researcher with a ‘s

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