Mod 4 Week 2 Initial Post

The structure of the taught part of the UoLiverpool doctoral programme is intelligent: Module 1 introduced students to the basic notions in research; Module 4 continues that study while requiring students to begin the process of identifying their own biases and worldviews; which leads to Module 7 (i.e. just before commencing the thesis stage) in which very similar issues are re-visited, honed and sharpened with each student’s own research project at prime object of study. The timed spacing is useful as it gives students space to grow as doctoral candidates in the interim periods grappling with other topics before returning to the core theme of how to do research.

This week saw us tackle our own methodological biases and interests. The 500-word limit on initial posts is never enough. But nevertheless, I attempted to break down the notion of ‘time’ as a main difference between qualitative and quantitative research designs. I couldn’t express my point so well. In layman’s terms, I wanted to argue that everything begins inductively, goes through a deductive phase and all research fields that have that history are in the adductive phase. Looking back a few weeks, I think that this view is weak as it doesn’t attempt to address issues of emergence and complexity. However, it is a start.

Interviewer: As an anthropologist, you’re usually classified as a social scientist, is that how you see yourself?
Janet Carsten: … I have to say that I don’t consider what I do myself a science, we don’t do the kind of controlled experiments that scientists do or hard scientists do. So it’s a very different kind of exercise” (Edmunds & Warburton, 2016, p. 7).

“Until the phenomena of any branch of knowledge have been subjected to measurement and number, it cannot assume the status and dignity of a science” (Galton [1879] cited in Boumans, 2015, p. 26).

Time is, I will argue, the crucial difference between quantitative and qualitative research. Once this is understood, educational researchers can position their work within these frameworks more positively and still avoid espoused contradictions between the undergirding philosophical stances. In a very real sense, ultimately the notion of value in educational research may be disadvantaged by discussions that focus on ontological and, to some extent, epistemological issues if the notion of time is disregarded.[1] By ‘time’ I mean the recognition of the temporal space between a researcher discovering a problem, a hypothesis generated about that problem and that hypothesis tested (Lund, 2012).

Smeyer (2008) states that “the starting-point is a particular educational reality that is unsatisfactory to the parties involved” (p. 692). An Ed.D. candidate needs to defend a thesis that has practical application. Yet if the thesis needed to be scientifically correct according to a strict definition of a traditional monist technical rational scheme (see Kellert, Longino, Helen, & Waters, 2006, p. x for 5 tenets of monism), validation of the research would only be possible for a very limited number of research designs. Furthermore, until the issue of status of “antifoundational” perspectives (Guba & Lincoln, 2008, p. 270) of science is settled, many will continue to question the ultimate value of versions of qualitative research (Denzin, 2010). At the heart of this debate are the recognitions that mixed methods research is positivistic in its ontology (Hesse-Biber, 2010); that many qualitative methods are predicated on anti-positivistic principles (Guba & Lincoln, 2008); and that the model of empirical testing, i.e. the ‘scientific method‘ (e.g. such as outlined in Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2011), does not describe the research acts of social scientists (see the Carsten quotation above).

Why do I insist that these issues can be resolved by time? My current theoretical perspective is that if such a being as Laplace’s Demon existed, that is, an all-knowing entity that can understand every single aspect of the physical universe and all of the laws governing it (Hawking, 1999), much if not all of what is currently qualitative research could be comprehended. Lund (2005) contends that “The critical-realist position is universally accepted in modern quantitative methodology” (p. 118) and attempts to eliminate distinctions between qualitative and quantitative beliefs. I argue that Lund is probably correct because many of the espoused differences between these positions can and will be minimised through the time-consuming process of hypothesis validation. The point here being that typically a single researcher (especially an Ed.D. candidate) does not have that time in a single study. Myrdal’s view that the social scientist’s “study of facts and relationships between facts in the social field must concern much more complex, shifting and fluid matters than facts and relationships in our physical universe” (Myrdal, 1973, p. 32) fails to acknowledge the reality that once a social phenomenon is described, eventually researchers will attempt to rationalise the more detailed aspects of the phenomenon. In such ways, construct modelling along post-positivistic lines becomes more possible. The laws of parsimony work to discriminate between variables and refine the relationship between constructs (Hammond & Wellington, 2013). However, this takes time, time that most researchers do not have.


[1] I would not attempt argue against research students learning about research philosophy; such training is essential if actual contradictions are to be avoided (Gray, 2009; Moses & Knutsen, 2012).


Boumans, M. (2015). Introduction: International migration and global governance. In Science Outside the Laboratory: Measurement in Field Science and EconomicsLaboratory: Measurement in Field Science and Economics (pp. 26–55). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2011). Research Methods in Education (7th ed.). London: Routledge.

Denzin, N. K. (2010). Moments, Mixed Methods, and Paradigm Dialogs. Qualitative Inquiry, 16(6), 419–427.

Edmunds, D., & Warburton, N. (2016). Janet Carsten on the Kinship of Anthropology. U.K.: Social Science Bites.

Gray, D. E. (2009). Theoretical perspectives and research methodologies. In Doing research in the real world. Los Angeles: Sage.

Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2008). Paradigmic controversies, contradictions and emerging confluences. The Landscape of Qualitative Research.

Hammond, M., & Wellington, J. (2013). Research Methods. London and New York: Routledge.

Hawking, S. (1999). Does God play Dice? [webpage]. Retrieved January 15, 2016, from

Hesse-Biber, S. (2010). Qualitative Approaches to Mixed Methods Practice. Qualitative Inquiry, 16(6), 455–468.

Kellert, S. H., Longino, Helen, E., & Waters, C. K. (2006). Scientific Pluralism (Minnesota studies in the philosophy of science Vol XIX). Scientific Pluralism. Minneapolis: MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Lund, T. (2005). The Qualitative–Quantitative Distinction: Some comments. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 49(2), 115–132.

Lund, T. (2012). Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches: Some Arguments for Mixed Methods Research. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 56(2), 155–165.

Moses, J. W., & Knutsen, T. L. (2012). Ways of knowing: Competing methodologies in social and political research (2nd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Myrdal, G. (1973). How Scientific Are the Social Sciences? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, (January), 31–37.

Smeyers, P. (2008). Qualitative and quantitative research methods: old wine in new bottles? On understanding and interpreting educational phenomena. Paedagogica Historica, 44(6), 691–705.


About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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