Research philosophy is a vast topic and here we will not be discussing this topic in great details. In business and economics dissertations at Bachelor’s level, you are not expected to discuss research philosophy in a great level of depth, and about one page in methodology chapter devoted to research philosophy usually suffices. For a business dissertation at Master’s level you may need to provide more discussion of the philosophy of your study, but even there, about two pages of discussions has to be accepted as sufficient by your supervisor.
The research philosophy will reflect the author’s important assumptions and these assumptions are base for the research strategy. Generally, research philosophy has many branches related to a wide range of disciplines. Within the scope of business studies in particular there are two main contrasting research philosophies – positivism and phenomenology.
The following table best illustrates the differences between these two approaches:
|Positivist Paradigm||Phenomenology paradigm|
|Basic notions||The world is perceived as external and objective
Independency of the observer
Value-free approach to science
|The world is perceived to be socially constructed and subjective
Observer is considered a part of the object of observation
Human interests drives science
|Responsibilities of researcher||Focusing on facts
Causalities and fundamental laws are searched
Phenomenon are reduced to the simplest elements
Hypotheses formulation and testing them
|To be focusing on meanings
Aiming to understand the meaning of events
Exploring the totality of each individual case
Ideas are developed by induction from data
|Most suitable research methods||Concepts have to be operationalized||Using several methods in order to different aspects of phenomena|
|Samples have to be large||Small samples are analyzed in a greater depth or over longer period of time|
Main differences between positivism and phenomenology
Source: Easterby-Smith et al. (2008)
The choice between positivism and phenomenology approaches depend on the research area, and the stance of the researcher in relation to the study. However, the majority of business studies can be classified as positivist because the researcher intends to be objective by being separate from the research and facts serve as the main points of focus.
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