Paradigms

The word Paradigm is meant to be the fundamental frames of reference that underlie social theories and inquiry and provide ways of observing so that we are able to understand concepts and constructs. They are usually difficult to recognize since they are taken for granted and seem to be the way things “are”. Eventually, when the shortcoming of a paradigm becomes obvious, a new one usually emerges to supplant the old.

In Social Sciences, paradigms are rarely discarded, but are built upon. They lose or gain popularity, but each gives insights that others lack and ignores aspects of social life that others reveal. They are really either more or less useful.  Paradigms can help research by providing a solid framework to build upon. In a well-developed field, there usually is methodological standards and are constantly maintained and these are heavily tested. Paradigms can hinder research because there might not be consensus on the underlying methods, and because of the various numbers of ways research is being conducted, it is hard to test previous theories or other preceding works.

In developing a new paradigm, one of the most important components of a new paradigm or advancement of knowledge is consensus. According to Pfeffer (1993), there needs to be a minimum level of consensus about research questions and methods or fields cannot expect to produce knowledge in a cumulative, developmental process. One cannot build a new paradigm if there is not agreement on fundamentals and time will be wasted debating principles. Pfeffer says that disagreement needs to be distinguished over:

  • substantial research questions that are considered important
  • ways that relevant variables should be measured and modeled
  • methods used to collect and analyze relevant data
  • the theoretical models of behavior used to guide the measurement process and the
  • the rules for determining the approach to each of these four domains that are more or less fruitful

There needs to be this agreement in a field of study before a new paradigm can be developed. As time goes on and there is consensus on over fundamental goals there will be less contesting new research processes and methods, since these will be more standardized.

Fields in social science that very diverse and pull from multiple disciplines can be useful as long as the diversity can be resolved to a certain extent. The field needs to encourage resolution and agreement over methods and ideas. One way of doing this would be to develop consensus among academics or people in positions of power at annual meetings to discuss various views. With the unification or standardization by elite members of the field consensus could start to be established and new paradigms could start to take shape.

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