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Research philosophies play a critical role in the research process. They describe the baseline assumptions, beliefs, and perceptions influencing the manner in which the research is conducted. Research philosophies influence research design and methodology as much as they do conclusions and recommendations. For this reason, it is important to discuss them in every research process with a view to ensure that there is congruence between the approaches used and aims of a specific inquiry. Moreover, discussing research philosophies is an excellent way of ensuring that research biases and subjectivities are properly understood, accurately highlighted, and optimally minimized.
Discourse on research philosophies should focus on certain essential components, specifically oncology and epistemology (Chung & Alagaratnam, 2001). Oncology is the “study of being”, meaning that it sets out to develop an in-depth description of claims about existence in terms of what it looks like, how different units interact with one another in existence, and what units ultimately make up existence. In other words, oncology enables researchers to describe their views on the meaning of reality in terms of both claims and assumptions. The objective is to determine whether an objective reality really exists or it is only a subjective reality created in the human mind that can exist. Finding answers to these questions is a particularly a noble endeavor in social sciences.
On the other hand, epistemology is the study of knowledge, its sources, and limits. In epistemology, the objective is to explore views regarding the most appropriate means of inquiring into knowledge. Insights drawn from epistemology enable researchers to establish criteria for discriminating good knowledge from heresy or bad knowledge as well as how reality should be described or represented (Chung & Alagaratnam, 2001). A crucial starting point in epistemology is the research method used, and this explains its importance in research work. The aim of this paper is to explore different research philosophies and their relevance in a research project. The paper is divided into three parts. The first part contains a description of the project, the second part explains interpretivism, while the third part examines positivism and realism.
This project is about the impact of emotional confidence on consumer behavior. It specifically delves into shopping centers and traditional retailing areas in Turkey. The study will be based on qualitative data as per the requirements of interpretivism. A single case, which is about shopping centers and retailing areas in Turkey, will be examined. The theme of emotional confidence will be examined based on this case. A broad research question that will act as the foundation for the study will be posed. The research question is: “how does emotional confidence affect consumer behavior in shopping centers and retailing areas in Turkey”.
Having identified the primary research question, the researcher will write the literature review, followed by the research methodology. These two areas will enable the research to gain conceptual and theoretical understanding of the topic understanding. It will also equip him with knowledge on research methods, and aspects of research philosophies. To obtain data, the study will combine documentary sources and interviews with participant observation in order to bring about reliability of research findings. The study will look into multiple data sources in order to establish an identifiable direction in the chain of evidence. In efforts to promote triangulation and to strengthen the validity of the research construct, the observations of key respondents will be reviewed.
The documentary sources that the researcher will depend on will be those that relate to the issue of emotional confidence and the purchase behavior of consumers. The researcher will explore literature on shopping centers and retailing areas in Turkey to gain insights into the purchase behavior of consumers. This information will be depended on to assess the emotional responses of different consumers being observed.
The study will also involve conducting interviews in order to enhance reliability of findings. The personal in-depth interviews to be carried out with frequent customers of shopping centers and retailing areas in Turkey in this research study will be based on pre-defined intervals. Protocol will be established and the interview schedule will keep on being revised on the basis of feedback from participants and researcher observation. Extensive notes will be taken during interviews and will be written up immediately after the meetings. The objective will be to document as accurately as possible all the practical contours of interactions in the varied situations in which they actually unfolded. It should be noted that since the rationale for the study is to examine the abstract concepts of emotional confidence and purchase behavior, it will be more important to record the meaning of what is said or done during interviews than the exact words that respondents use. To enhance these interviews, periodic face-to-face with each customer will be conducted in an informal environment.
In terms of participant observation, a horizontal approach will be used, whereby the purchase behavior of randomly selected participants will be observed and comparison made with their level of emotional confidence as perceived by the researcher. The researcher’s perception will be based on two factors: the respondents’ personality outside of the context in which purchase decisions need to be made and the respondents’ relative level of emotional confidence as judged on the basis of context and nature of shopping encounter, the researcher’s judgment regarding the appropriate purchase behavior as informed by documentary sources. Finally, throughout this research project, the research philosophy of interpretivism will be relied on to derive meanings based on social context and to generate findings at every step of the way in culmination of the final presentation of the research findings.
Interpretivism is a research philosophy in which reality is perceived to be multiple and relative. Reality is said to be dependent on multiple realities, which in turn are dependent on other systems for the derivation of meanings. This makes it exceedingly difficult for reality to be interpreted based on fixed realities. Knowledge that is acquired through a research process that was based on interpretivism is said to be socially constructed as opposed to objectively determined. Furthermore, unlike positivists, interpretivists set to avoid all rigid structural frameworks in their research processes (Szmigin & Foxall, 2000). Instead, they adopt flexible, personalized research structures that easily accommodate the process of capturing meanings through human interactions as well as making sense of whatever respondents perceive as reality (Szmigin & Foxall, 2000).
Interpretivists argue that an environment of mutual interaction and interdependence between the research and his respondents should always be maintained. Although the interpretivist researchers ventures into the field with prior insight into the research context, he assumes that this insight is not sufficient to enable him develop a fixed research design because of the complex and unpredictable nature of what different people perceive as reality. Thus, the interpretivist researcher must remain open to emerging knowledge throughout the duration of the study while at the same time letting develop with the assistance of respondents and informants. This collaborative and emergent approach to research is founded on the belief among interpretivists that human can adapt, and that nobody has the ability to gain prior knowledge of spatial-temporal context that is bound by social realities.
Leitch, Hill and Harrison (2010) emphasizes the need for the interpretive researcher to remain open to new knowledge by pointing out that the quality of research design as well as the data produced should be internalized within the research philosophy instead of being treated as something that needs to be tested upon completion. For this to happen, researchers must shift from the idea of the outcome known as validity to a process known as validation (Leitch, Hill & Harrison, 2010). The same line of argument should be extended to other aspects of research, including generalizability, communicability, reliability, objectivity of findings.
The goal of interpretivism is to facilitate an understanding and interpretation of the meanings inherent in human behavior rather than generalizing and predicting causes and effects (Szmigin & Foxall, 2000). Interpretivist researchers stress the importance of understanding meanings, reasons, motives, and all other subjective experiences that are bound by time and context. Knowledge claims and findings are created as the research investigation proceeds. In other words, the researcher arrives at findings through dialogue on conflicting interpretations with his informants. Any interpretation that is made in this research philosophy is situated in a particular moment and it is open to further negotiation and re-interpretation through conversation.
The interpretivist paradigm traces its origin in various disciplines within social sciences, notably sociology and anthropology, before spreading to other areas such as marketing and entrepreneurship. Proponents of this research philosophy spend a lot of time critiquing the use of positivism in social science research. Two dominant lines of thought that emerged during this critiquing process are relativist oncology and transactional epistemology. Relativist oncology is based on the assumption that reality is constructed through an intersubjective process, whereby understandings and meanings are developed using social and experiential processes. Transactional epistemology is based on the assumption that a researcher cannot separate himself from what he knows. That is, there is a link between the investigator and the object that he is investigating, meaning that who a person is and how he understands the world is of paramount importance in how he understands himself, others and indeed the world itself.
Proponents of the interpretivist paradigm argue that it is impossible to separate reality from one’s knowledge of it (Hill & Harrison, 2010). This explains why the values of the researcher are said to be of utmost importance throughout the research process (Hill & Harrison, 2010). Indeed, in the evaluation of interpretive science, moral and pragmatic concerns should be put in consideration. This is because researchers and respondents are required to foster a dialogue, thereby triggering a dialectical process on the basis of which a more informed understanding of the social world is created. The meaningful reality that is created during the dialogue between researchers and respondents must take into consideration the moral norms of the target community where the research is being carried out.
The idea of reality as a socially constructed element is worth emphasizing since it forms the central point of argument in interpretivism. This line of argument enables interpretivists to establish a link between people and the social contexts in which they derive their understanding of reality. On this basis, interpretivists understand how people perceive their activities and the impact that these perceptions have on their individual and social realities.
The research philosophy of interpretivism was chosen because of the effective way in which it enables the researcher to address three things: validity, reliability, and generalizability. The reliance on qualitative data in interpretivism is an important point that needs to be highlighted. Researchers who adopt this philosophical standpoint normally use the qualitative method to study a particular phenomenon in terms of its uniqueness and conceptual depth in order to determine its contribution to knowledge.
Reliability is the stability or consistency of a measure. Based on acceptable research practices, it is expected that multiple, independent research methods that reach the same conclusions will have greater reliability compared to those that depend on just one methodological approach. This element of triangulation is important in interpretivism, whereby researchers ideally begin with broad research questions before establishing a systematic process of data collection. Next, the researcher should put in place strong triangulation measures aimed at promoting the reliability of the findings. One ideal way of creating such measures is to combine documentary sources and interviews with participant observation.
Validity entails presenting solid descriptive data to enable the reader to understand the experience or phenomenon being studied. The validation process is important in interpretivism because facilitates an interpretive understanding in relation to truth and reality. In this context, triangulation is viewed as a viable alternative to the process of validation rather than a validation strategy. In a single case, it is particularly important to pay attention to accuracy in triangulation in order to make up for the lack of cross-case comparison. It is particularly important to rely on multiple sources of data to identify a definite direction in the chain of evidence. The validity of the construct can also be enhanced by having the views of key informants incorporated into a research draft for onward consideration in the final draft.
Generalizability is as important in interpretivism as reliability and validity. It examines the extent to which research findings can be applied outside of the specific situation being studied. One of the objectives of any research is to offer a description of a case in terms of methodology and data collection procedures in such a way as to allow readers to repeat the same process in other cases. Although studies focusing on one case may not offer sufficient evidence for the purpose of making robust statistical generalizations, it establishes the existence of specific phenomena, thereby setting up the foundation for a specific strand of exploratory research that is founded on analytical generalizations. This approach is compatible with the goals of interpretivism, which seeks to promote dialogue in the ongoing process of acquiring new knowledge.
The main problem with this approach is that the results that are yielded tend to be criticized in terms of research legitimization (Kelliher, 2005). Interpretivism is also disadvantageous because it allows or contextual factors and complexity, data collection is sometimes time-consuming and researchers are always uncertain of their findings because of the expectation that clear patterns may fail to emerge. These concerns may be amplified in situations where a researcher chooses to focus on a single case scenario. To deal with this problem, it may be necessary for interpretivists to assess the level of interdependence and interoperability between the phenomena under study. To cure this shortcoming, it is importance for researcher to combine different sources of data. For instance, interpretivist studies that combine documentary evidence with interviews, and participant observation are likely to raise fewer concerns regarding validity, reliability, and generalizability.
This philosophical approach was also selected because it enables the researcher to operate as a detective in the pursuit of subjective knowledge relating to emotional confidence and consumer confidence. This means that in as much as the phenomenon under study is overly abstract and potentially subjective, the quest for objectivity must not be neglected. In relation to this realization, interpretivism provides a platform where a critique that uses the natural-scientific approach can be used as a model of social science research, of which this project is an integral part. Moreover, interpretivism is compatible with a theory-building approach that is embedded on subjectivist oncology. It embraces the idea that “people are people” and their views, perceptions, worldviews, and social norms should be taken into consideration in elucidating meaning. In brief, interpretivism is beneficial because it facilitates an in-depth understanding of the “how” and “why” of research, it enables the researchers to remain alive to changes, and it is ideal for understanding social processes.
Positivism is based on belief in the existence of a single objective reality in any research situation regardless of the belief or perspective of the researcher. For this reason, positivist researchers are required to take a structural and controlled approach in the way they identify a research topic, construct appropriate hypothesis, and adopt an ideal research methodology. In positivism, researchers are required to remain detached from research participants by keeping some distance, which is considered important in the quest to distinguish between value judgment and personal experience (Dubé & Paré, 2003).
Positivist research also seeks objectivity through the use of consistently logical and rational approaches. This means that mathematical and statistical methods play a central role in research projects that are founded on this philosophy. The use of these methods goes hand in hand with structured research techniques whose objective is to uncover a single, objective reality. The positivist researchers’ ultimate goal is to end up with generalizations that are time- and context-free (Dubé & Paré, 2003). These researchers believe that this is a plausible undertaking because it is possible to explain all human actions as outcomes of specific causes that precede their behavior. Positivist researchers argue that to retain this plausibility, it is important for the researcher to operate independently of his research subjects in such a way that none influences the other. This explains why positivist researchers always endeavor to remain detached from their respondents.
The three core beliefs that guide the research activities of positivists include: prediction and control, empirical verification, and the value-free nature of research (Cupchik, 2001). In prediction and control, the core argument is that there are general cause-and-effect patterns that researchers can use to predict and control natural phenomena. Positivist researchers focus first and foremost on discovering these patterns. On the other hand, empirical verification entails the use of observations and measurements of different variables to derive accurate data. Moreover, positivists actualize the view of research as a value-free undertaking by following a strict methodological protocol, which is the most valuable requirement in the achievement of research findings that are free of subjective bias. Consequently, positivist approaches are heavily reliant on experimental approaches. This essentially means that the researcher’s role is limited to the collection and interpretation of data using an objective approach in order to arrive at observable and quantifiable findings.
In their quest for objective knowledge, positivist researchers use the theory-testing or deductive approach (Cupchik, 2001). They do this by adopting a realist or objectivist ontology, whereby an explanation on how things happen the way they do is done using measurement, statistical logic, correlation, and verification. Typical methods in this approach include questionnaires, random sampling, and surveys. The main benefit of this approach include economical collection of large volumes of data, ease of comparing data, and clear theoretical focus. However, this approach is disadvantageous and inappropriate for this research project because it does not fit in with the subjective nature of the phenomenon under study. Aspects of emotional confidence involve subjective feelings, which cannot be quantified and measured using statistical methods. In other words, it is impossible to achieve objectivity in studies involving abstract notions of consumer behavior and how it is impacted on by emotional confidence. To study this phenomenon appropriately, it is imperative to perceive reality in terms of multiplicity and relativity. It is impossible for such a view of reality to be actualized using positivism.
Research philosophy essentially revolves around ontology and epistemology. In ontology, focus is on developing a description outlining various claims about existence. On the other hand, epistemology entails studying knowledge, its sources, and limits. These two concepts are of utmost relevance in efforts to choose an ideal research philosophy for this project. In this regard, the choice is between interpretivism and positivism. Interpretivism emphasizes a subjective conception of knowledge while positivism advocates for an objective view. The phenomenon under study greatly determines the choice of research philosophy. In this project, the need for the researcher to engage actively with participants through interviews, participant observation, and the gathering of documentary evidence makes interpretivism the most appropriate research philosophy.
Interpretivist allows a researcher to engage with his respondents in the process of analyzing subjective experiences without being perceived to be tampering with research outcomes. The theme of this study is emotional confidence, and it is exceedingly difficult for realities relating to this theme to be interpreted based on fixed realities as required in positivism. It is only through interpretivism where such conceptualization is possible. In interpretivism, researchers are expected to derive knowledge through social construction as opposed to objective measurement and analysis. This research project requires the researcher to avoid all rigid structural frameworks that may hinder the step-by-step assessment of consumers’ experiences, perceptions, and realities, leading to the adoption of a flexible, personalized research. Such proximity is not allowed in positivism. For these reasons, the best choice for this project in terms of research philosophy is interpretivism.
Chung, E. & Alagaratnam, S. (2001). “Teach ten thousand stars how not to dance”: A survey of alternative ontologies in marketing research. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 4(4), 224 – 234.
Cupchik, G. (2001). Constructivist Realism: An Ontology That Encompasses Positivist and Constructivist Approaches to the Social Sciences. Qualitative Social Research, 2(1), 1-18.
Dubé, L. & Paré, G. (2003). Rigor in Information Systems Positivist Case Research: Current Practices, Trends, and Recommendations. MIS Quarterly, 27(4), 597-636.
Kelliher, F. (2005). Interpretivism and the Pursuit of Research Legitimization: An Integrated Approach to Single Case Design. The Electronic Journal of Business Research Methodology, 3(2), 123-132.
Leitch, C., Hill, F. & Harrison, R. (2010). The Philosophy and Practice of Interpretivist Research in Entrepreneurship: Quality, Validation, and Trust. Organizational Research Methods, 13(1), 67-84.
Szmigin, I. & Foxall, G. (2000). Interpretive consumer research: How far have we come? Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 3(4), 187 – 197.
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