Philosophy of Science: Alternative Approaches

Knowledge has traditionally been produced from the positivistic research tradition (Sandberg 2005). This research paradigm asserts that the rules governing social life can be studied through rational and objective scientific approaches (Babbie 2010). Rational scientific theory is grounded on the assumptions discussed in the previous post. In addition, it assumes that research objects and subjects can be separated, that there is such thing as an objective reality, and that language can mirror that reality (Sandberg 2005).

Alternative approaches to science have not gained wide acceptance. While Sandberg argues that in the past three decades focus on interpretive approach has increased in use, these papers still represent a vast minority of published research. The primary challenge is claiming that the knowledge they produce is valid and generalizable given that they reject the idea of objective reality. Sandberg further discusses several strategies to achieve validity and reliability. However, the established research community continues to expect rigorous measures of reliability, validity, and generalizability based on positivist traditions. Alternative approaches include: interpretive, postmodern, and hermeneutics.

Interpretive Approaches
In recent decades, however, interpretive approaches have emerged from the ideas of philosophical phenomenology (Sandberg 2005). The interpretive research strategy rejects positivist assumptions:

  • Subject and object are seen as constituting a single, inseparable relation.
  • Advocates of this approach argue that there is no objective reality:
    • Our lived experiences are always related to our descriptions of reality.
  • Language is not a mirror of reality:
    • Since our descriptions of reality are colored by our specific historical, cultural, and ideological view of reality, language cannot objectively mirror reality.

Postmodern Approaches
In addition, to interpretive approaches, the postmodern approach has also challenged rational science. This approach revolts against taken-for-granted assumptions, challenges conventional wisdom and transgresses established boundaries with bold conjectures and innovative methods.  It claims that:

  • The traditional scientific research approach in the organizational sciences has neglected intuition or subjective experience in research reports.
  • Researchers in the field assume too readily that their data represent the truth about an objectively measured world.

The postmodern approach advocates for an inclusive scientific approach that breaks down disciplinary boundaries, challenges conventional wisdom, and gives voice to viewpoints that have not been given much attention (i.e. feminist ideas).

And finally hermeneutics is a philosophy of understanding/interpreting texts. However, some of the assumptions and techniques can be applied to organizational science that goes beyond the rational science approach. Researchers should aim to understand more fully the organizational practices, institutions, economics and social structures, and cultural factors that influence the phenomena being studied (understand the phenomena in these contexts). Hermeneutics is an iterative approach, with continuous critique being the goal. The hermeneutic circle emphasizes the significance of context for purposes of interpretation.

(Adapted from group and course notes)
(Flashcards and other resources here)

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