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Even if research evidence is objective and reliable, it may still be of questionable validity.


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Here we are concerned with whether the research results can be generalized. This question refers to the way research is reported. Vagueness over methods and failure to provide crucial methodological information may indicate lack of rigour or even an attempt to disguise a poor piece of research. At best, a study lacking those details should be regarded as incapable of being judged and therefore as suspect.

Good research is reported in such a way that its quality, in terms of its objectivity, reliability, validity and generalizability, can be assessed by its readers. It is important to appreciate that most of these criteria are continua in that they are usually met in various degrees but never completely. They are ideals that researchers strive to achieve but in the knowledge that they can never be attained in full.

During the rest of this book we travel through the research process following the map provided in Figure 2. This journey should give you a good overall 32 What is research? Learning this vocabulary is an important part of the task of becoming an effective researcher. Key points 1 2 3 4 There are many types of research but the fundamental research processes are those of describing and explaining. Research strategies and methods tend to be linked in distinct combinations but this does not mean that all research must fall into these established patterns. Different research projects tend to pass through the same stages but not necessarily with the same intensity at each stage, or in the same sequence.

Researchers should always keep in mind the Five Key Questions pp. Key reading Punch, K. Van de Ven, A. Further reading Bailey, K. Hakim, C. Shipman, M. Wallace, W. Bynner and K. Research aims to add to knowledge by applying various strategies and methods, but these entail assumptions about what is being investigated and how it can be known.

Can we attempt to understand everything by using the same methods of inquiry, or must different kinds of reality be approached in different ways? Can any of them guarantee certain knowledge or absolute truth?

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Is science such a way and, if so, what is science? These fundamental questions are the province of the branches of philosophy known as ontology, epistemology and the philosophy of science. It is important for research students to have some understanding of the philosophical debates that have surrounded the quest for knowledge.

This is not because they need to choose an epistemological position before embarking on a research project.


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  6. They do not so much choose their epistemological position as discover it after the event. But the Box 3. These methodologies and methods are not usually laid out in a highly organised fashion and may appear more as a maze than as pathways to orderly research. There is much talk of their philosophical underpinnings, but how the methodologies and methods relate to more theoretical elements is often left unclear. To add to the confusion, the terminology is far from consistent in research literature and social science texts.

    Crotty, , p. Conclusive answers of this kind are not to be expected in management research. Unfortunately, a good deal of philosophical writing on these matters has done more to confuse the issues than illuminate them for any but professional philosophers. If researchers often display an ambivalent attitude towards such writings, this is understandable, particularly because the methodological implications of different epistemologies are often unclear.

    At the very least, this can help us to get our research work into perspective and ensure that we avoid making unsustainable claims for it, overestimating what research can achieve by way of truth, certainty and universality. How do you know? Scientists say more and more about less and less: philosophers say less and less about more and more. If we claim to know something, then we must be prepared to answer the question of how we know it. It seems reasonable, then, to be concerned with the basic issues of how knowledge can be created and of how we can distinguish knowledge from opinion, belief or falsehood.

    These are philosophical questions. Philosophy is one of the oldest academic disciplines, perhaps the oldest. For the Greeks, philosophy was a general term equated with all systematic knowledge, and only much later in Western thought did it become separated and specialized as a branch of the humanities.


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    Philosophy concerns itself with the most basic questions about knowledge, reality and existence. So, for example, the branches of philosophy include ethics concerned with problems of what is good, right or moral , metaphysics concerned with problems of existence and, especially important from our point of view, epistemology or the philosophy of knowledge concerned with ways of knowing. Ontology is a central element of metaphysics. Ontologists are philosophers whose central interest is in what exists.

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    Ontological claims attempt to specify the sorts of entities which exist and which can therefore be known. Some ontologists, for example, have claimed that an ultimate reality exists which we can never fully know because of the limitations of our perceptual equipment. This reality exists but we can have no 36 Ways of knowing complete knowledge of it. Others have argued that some things we commonly believe to exist, such as mental states, do not.

    On this view, only publicly observable phenomena are to be considered real, and mental states are held not to qualify. Still others have attempted to prove or to disprove the existence of God, without, it must be said, too much success. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that asks such questions as How can we know anything with certainty?

    How is knowledge to be distinguished from belief or opinion? For example, empiricists argue that the only certain knowledge we can have of the world is that based on our sensory observations of it.

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    Rationalists, on the other hand, believe that our senses are unreliable and that true knowledge is acquired through philosophical reasoning. But I can illustrate the interrelation between assumptions about being and knowing by reference to a very ancient scheme of thought, the chain of being Schumacher, This ontological scheme proposes that the world contains four distinct but overlapping levels of being: the material, the vegetable, the animal and the human.

    The material level consists of all inanimate objects: stones, sand, water, and so on. This level of being is dead and is marked out by its lack of the mysterious quality we recognize as life. The animal level consists of entities that are alive but that also possess consciousness, being able to respond to their environments and move within them.

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    The highest level is that of the human. Human beings are material objects comprising atoms and molecules, are alive, and possess consciousness in that they respond to their environment. But humans also possess a further attribute: self-awareness. Humans, uniquely in the world, are aware of their existence and know both that they are alive and that they will die. Humans can reason about their existence and exchange meanings with others through the medium of language whereas animals cannot.

    Humans can produce art, literature and music; animals, at best, can only grunt and squawk. These levels are arranged in a hierarchy so that the higher levels of being contain those below.

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    Beings at each higher level possess a greater number of attributes — material existence, life, consciousness, self-awareness — than those below. The levels are thus linked together as a chain. A human has a material body composed of the same sorts of atoms as a stone; is alive just as a tree is; possesses consciousness as a cat or an ape does; but is uniquely distinguished from all other classes of entity by his or her capacity for self-awareness.

    Ways of knowing 37 Box 3. Each level of being can be known but only by methods that are appropriate to that level. Most obviously, the ways of knowing the material level cannot be adequate for an understanding of the human level. Indeed, each level of being requires its own way of knowing. We cannot know the inner life of stones or plants because, so far as we know, they do not have any; they lack consciousness and self-awareness. They can be known through observation but not, of course, through questioning.

    We may, perhaps, glimpse the inner world of animals, for they are closer to us ontologically than plants or stones.

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    But the consciousness of humans is accessible to us by virtue of our shared humanity. We can know others — but only if we know ourselves. According to this scheme, the methods of the natural sciences, although appropriate to the study of entities at the three lower levels of being, are wholly inappropriate for the study of humans. Inanimate objects lack the capacity for self-determination and are governed by purely external forces. Humans, on the other hand, are self-aware, so their behaviour can never be understood simply as a product of external stimuli.

    This does not imply, however, that humans cannot be studied as natural objects. On the contrary, one of the distinguishing ontological features of humans is that they are at one and the same time natural objects and socio-psychological persons. So, for example, if someone jumps off a ladder, their rate of fall will be analysable according to the laws of physics in the same way as that of the fall of a stone.

    For this reason, knowledge of human beings is one of the most complex forms of knowledge to which we can aspire.