CHOOSING A RESEARCH PHILOSOPHY FOR YOUR DISSERTATION

An important part of being a student is the ability to produce presentable research in the form of a thesis or a dissertation. It is crucial to understand however that the writing phase is the last milestone in a long and often painstaking road in the production of quality research. The student has to go through a number of phases in order to reach the final thesis form: choosing a subject, methodological considerations, planning, reading relevant literature, collecting research materials and data analysis. It is obvious then that much of the work takes place on the mental level. This is where research philosophy comes in; choosing a philosophy, a mental construct on which researchers frame their research will help define the author’s research goals and methods.

There is no best philosophy for the academic field of Business studies, mainly because it wouldn’t always match with a researcher’s set of beliefs. However, Saunders, Lewis, Thornhill and Bristow (2016) expertly present and analyse the 5 major philosophies in Business: critical realism, interpretivism, positivism, postmodernism and pragmatism.

1.) Critical realism: The supporters of this philosophy hold that reality is much more than what our senses (empirical data) allow us to see. If you, as a researcher, think that we need to see the bigger picture (e.g. underlying causes and social mechanisms of the everyday organisational life) rather than the small data that is in front of us, you are thinking like a critical realist. Critical realists are also researchers who devote much of their research in historical analyses of social and organisational structures.

2) Interpretivism: Interpretivism emphasises that humans are different from physical phenomena because they create meanings. Interpretivists study these meanings. The purpose of interpretivist research is to create new, richer understandings and interpretations of social worlds and contexts. For business and management researchers, this means looking at organisations from the perspectives of different groups of people.

3) Positivism: Positivism relates to the philosophical stance of the natural scientist and entails working with an observable social reality to produce law-like generalisations. As a positivist, you would look for causal relationships in your data to create law-like generalisations like those produced by scientists. You would use these rules and laws to help you to explain and predict behaviour and events in organisations. Positivists also try to remain neutral and detached from research and data in order to avoid influencing their findings.

4) Postmodernism: Postmodernism emphasises the role of language and of power relations, seeking to question accepted ways of thinking and give voice to alternative marginalised views. A postmodernist considers a dominant theory the product of language and power relations, which he seeks to expose. The goal of the postmodern research is to radically challenge the established ways of thinking and to give voice to the suppressed and marginalised ways of knowing that have been previously excluded.

5) Pragmatism: A pragmatist considers the beliefs of the above philosophies irrelevant and focuses on making progress on their field of study. A pragmatist begins with a research question and tries to answer it with the most methodologically sound way, focusing on practical outcomes and adopting different research methods should they provide reliable data.

Having read all of the above which philosophy would you adopt for your thesis?

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