This section describes the issues explored, the assumptions made and the rationale that guided the final planning of the investigation. During this phase the preliminary research plan became a framework for ideas and thoughts. Notes from discussions, reviewed literature and other items concerning philosophies, methods, ideas, examples and links were considered and mapped to assist in the development of the final design.
This section concludes with the identification of a set of research methodologies and tools which were considered most appropriate to meet the requirements of the research plan.
This section outlines the theoretical views that influenced the design of the final research plan. As researcher I considered the research plan would benefit from the utilisation of a range of appropriate methodologies and associated research tools, increasing the perspectives in which research data could be viewed.
Cohen and Manion’s analysis (1994 p6-7), which was based on the work of Burrell and Morgan, identified four sets of assumptions with which to approach an understanding of social reality and research. They commence their commentary by stating that there are two views of social science representing strikingly different ways of considering social reality. These are constructed on correspondingly different methods of interpretation. The traditional view holds social and natural sciences as essentially the same, while a more recently emerging radical view emphasises how people differ from inanimate natural phenomena and indeed each other (Cohen and Manion 1994 p5). The four sets of assumptions are set out below.
The first set concerns the very nature of the social phenomena being investigated. Is social reality external to individuals, imposing itself on their consciousness from without, or is it the product of individual cognition? These questions spring directly from the nominalist (objects of thought are merely words) versus the realist (objects have an independent existence debate). (Cohen and Manion 1994 p6)
The second set of assumptions concerns the very bases of knowledge: its nature and forms; how it can be acquired; and how it can be communicated. Alignment in this debate profoundly affects the appropriate method of uncovering knowledge of social behaviour. The positivist view that knowledge is hard, objective and tangible will demand of researchers an observer role, together with an allegiance to the methods of natural science; to see knowledge in an anti-positivist way is personal, subjective and unique, and imposes on researchers an involvement with their subjects and a rejection of the approach of the natural scientist. (Cohen and Manion 1994)
The third set of assumptions concerns human nature and, in particular the relationship between human beings and their environment. Since the human being is both the subject and the object of the study, the consequences for research of assumptions of this type are extensive (Cohen and Manion 1994). Burrell and Morgan describe two images of the human being that can emerge from such assumptions:
Thus we can identify perspectives in social science which entail a view of human beings responding in a mechanistic or even deterministic fashion to the situations encountered in their external world. This view tends to be one in which human beings and their experiences are regarded as products of the environment; one in which humans are conditioned by their external circumstances. This extreme perspective can be contrasted with one which attributes to human beings a much more creative role: with a perspective where “free will” occupies the centre of the stage; where man is regarded as the creator of his environment, the controller as opposed to the controlled, the master rather than the marionette. In these two extreme views of the relationship between human beings and their environment, we are identifying a great philosophical debate between the advocates of determinism on the one hand and voluntarism on the other. Whilst there are social theories which adhere to each of these extremes, the assumptions of many social scientists are pitched somewhere in the range between. (Burrell et al 1979)
The fourth set of assumptions concerns itself with philosophy. The two initial ways of looking at social reality are the traditional, which holds social and natural sciences as essentially the same; and a more recently emerging radical view which emphasises how people differ from inanimate natural phenomena and indeed each other. (Cohen and Manion 1994 pp38-40)
A researcher selects the methodology which encapsulates the philosophy, principles and assumptions they hold about the nature of their research. It consists of the ideas underlying data collection and analysis (Holloway 1997 p105).
If a researcher intends to employ multiple methodological perspectives, the underlying assumptions are very important. As the researcher in this project, I considered that the inherent danger of adopting multiple methodologies is that I may also ‘muddle’ different research methods, tools and procedures (Baker et al 1992). As each methodology and its associated research tools imports a unique set of underlying principles and assumptions, it was decided that each research component should be kept separate during the data collection and analysis phases, as this would minimise confusion between the differing research purposes and procedures employed.
For example, grounded theory as an approach to data collection has as its aim the generation of theory from data collected by a researcher, whereas phenomenology is not a method as such but a philosophy, and it has an aim that through the data meanings are found which demonstrates the characteristics of a phenomenon. Both “methodologies” have origins linked to the symbolic interaction movement but each has a distinct research purpose.
An additional advantage of maintaining this segregation is that a researcher, informed by the methodology’s assumptions, can make informed judgements when tailoring specific data collection and analysis tools to a particular task.
As a researcher I consider that research methodologies are tools and each can be used to search for meaning and understanding. In reality, the various research approaches are by no means mutually exclusive and many educational studies today use, for example, both controlled experimentation and qualitative exploration.
As a researcher I agree with Gill (1996) that the significance of any research methodology is the relationship between the findings and the theorising, rather than what research methods were used. It is important to bear in mind that if the assumptions underlying the data collection and analysis are poorly articulated or ‘muddled’ then this relationship may not be well developed, leaving research findings open to criticism.