This section provides the philosophical context of this research and seeks to give justification for the paradigm adopted. It begins with defining and explaining the concept of research philosophy and moves on to critically examine the major research traditions in social sciences. It also examines the concepts of epistemology and ontological beliefs, the different approaches to research and provides justification for the philosophical considerations adopted for this thesis.
Research philosophy is concerned with the process of knowledge development. It therefore guides every facet of the research, from the beginning to the end of knowledge creation (Saunders et al., 2009). The research philosophy adopted for any research indicates the underlining assumptions which underpin the selected research strategy and design.
Therefore, this section describes the various types of research philosophies, explains and provides justification for the chosen philosophy for this study. Research philosophy is examined in two ways: epistemology and ontology. These two concepts influence choice of research philosophy (Saunders et al., 2009).
Ontology is concerned with the make-up of reality, namely what constitutes reality, how to identify reality and the nature of existence (Saunders et al., 2009; Bryan and Bell, 2011).
The assumptions of reality influence how phenomena are studied. There are two major ontological considerations which are realism and relativity (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015).
Realism, which is an ontological assumption, emphasises that the world is true knowledge and it can only progress from objective observation of the entity under focus (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). In addition, realism stems from the belief that social sciences and physical sciences commit to the point of view that reality is external and different from personal belief (Bryman and Bell, 2015). Therefore, realism emphasises that researchers remain neutral throughout the research process (Saunders et al., 2016).
60 Relativist ontology, on the other hand, emphasises that there is no single reality (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). As Collins (1983) rightly espouses, the opinion of what constitutes reality has subjective context and it varies spatially (i.e. over time and space). Relativist ontology further emphasises that knowledge is dependent on the viewpoint of the researcher (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). Based on the above, this study adopts the assumption of realism ontology that knowledge is derived from observation which is devoid of researcher’s viewpoint. This study adopts a practical approach by analysing different numerical datasets and makes recommendations based entirely on the findings of the results, as opposed to the researcher’s point of view.
Epistemology is concerned with what is acceptable knowledge i.e. how things are done, how true reasoning is recognised from false reasoning or how is truth deduced (Bryman and Bell, 2011; Saunders et al., 2016;). In business management, because of its multi-disciplinary nature, different concepts of knowledge derived from various methods, such as numerical, text, narratives and stories, are valid (Saunders et al., 2016). Based on the above, there are three major research philosophical standpoints: positivist philosophy, interpretivist philosophy and pragmatist philosophy. These three major philosophies are explained in the subsequent sub-sections below.
Positivist philosophy adopts the natural scientists’ methods of social research. The positivist philosophy developed from the ontological standpoint that only one truth/reality exists and is derived objectively and independently of human perception (Nagel, 1986; Sale et al., 2002). It strives to propose a valid contribution to the body of research/knowledge. Evidence, rather than judgment or discourse, is required and the “end product of such research can be derivation of laws or law-like generalisations similar to those produced by the physical and natural scientists” (Remenyi et al., 1998, p. 32). From the epistemological perspective, the researcher and the phenomenon under observation are distinct entities, making it possible for the phenomenon to be studied without bias (Sale et al., 2002). Furthermore, the philosophy describes a research which is objective, and the results are devoid of the researcher’s viewpoint and based on empirical observation and analysis of reality. Put simply,
“there are independent causes that lead to the observed effects, but evidence is critical, that
61 parsimony is important and that it should be possible to generalise or to model, especially in the mathematical sense, the observed phenomena” (Remenyi et al., 1998, p. 33). Therefore, positivism largely emphasises finite observations that can be analysed using statistical methods (Remenyi et al., 1993; Saunders et al., 2009). Thus, highly structured methodologies are adopted for positivist philosophy in order to enable replication (Gill and Johnson, 2002).
However, several criticisms have been raised against this research philosophy. The notion that research should be carried out objectively and that results should not be influenced by the researcher’s viewpoint has been widely criticised because a researcher’s beliefs affects observation of the real world (Onwuegbuzie, 2002; Willmott, 2003), especially in the field of Social Science. Hence, “the conduct of full objective and value-free research is a myth, even though the regulatory ideal of objectivity can be a useful one” (Johnson and Onwuegbuzie, 2004, p.16). Another criticism levelled against positivism is that the world of business is too complex to be explained with laws, which is the norm in the natural sciences (Saunders et al., 2009). However, “the strength of positivism lies in the fact that it works with observable realities and the end product of such research can be law-like generalisation”
(Remenyi et al., 1982, p. 32).
This philosophy is associated with the idealism position and connotes diverse positions including phenomenology, hermeneutics and social constructivism. It explains that due to the complex nature of the world, the need arises for the business researcher to have a grasp of the dynamic influences of the human role in the environment i.e. there is the need to recognise the peculiarities in conducting research with people, as opposed to inanimate objects (Saunders et al., 2009; Bryman and Bell, 2011). The ontological position of this philosophy stems from the assumption that reality is socially constructed and, therefore, there are multiple realities and these realities are constantly changing (Berger and Luckmann, 1991; Sale et al., 2002). According to Remenyi et al. (1998) this philosophy “does not consider the world to consist of an objective reality, but instead focuses on the primacy of subjective consciousness” (p. 34). Thus, the circumstances of the individual players involved in each situation determine the observed realities. From this epistemological viewpoint, there is a relationship between the researcher and observed reality (Wheatley, 1992; Sale et al., 2002; Bryman and Bell, 2011) and the researcher and reality are not independent.
62 This philosophical standpoint attempts to understand the complexities in the real world, not in an objective manner, but rather with an accepted understanding that the observed world and the players (objects) within it are important contributors to its meaning (Collins, 2010).
Therefore “the interpretivist approach allows the focus of research to be on the understanding of what is happening in a given context. It includes consideration of multiple realities, different actors’ perspectives, researcher involvement, taking account of the contexts of the phenomena under study and the contextual understanding and interpretation of data” (Carson et al., 2001, p.5.).
Critics of this philosophical viewpoint claim that the results of interpretivist research cannot be used to make generalisations because prevailing realities might cease to exist over time (Remenyi et al, 1998) and, in addition, can vary between researchers, as each researcher’s judgment and life experiences influence perceived results. Interpretivists argue that because the world is complex, adopting the scientific context in research is only be narrow-minded, but also the complexity of the world is reduced and lost in “law-like generalisations”
(Saunders et al., 2009, p.116) 220.127.116.11 Pragmatism
Pragmatism as a philosophical research paradigm is an approach that seeks to understand the
“practical meaning of knowledge within specific contexts “(Saunders et al., 2016 p. 137).
More importantly proponents of pragmatism advocate that there are multiple ways of explaining observed reality and it is impossible for any one viewpoint fully to unravel all its complexities (Feilzer, 2010; Saunders et al., 2016). As a result, the focal point of a pragmatic investigation is purposeful inquiry and critical reasoning (Shield, 1998). More importantly, most pragmatists emphasis that rather than focus on examining reality from a metaphysical dialogue, a process-based approach to knowledge should be adopted, where inquiry is the defining process and the discussion of reality should encompass the contextual, social and emotional (Morgan, 2014). A pragmatic research starts with a conceptualised problem and the pragmatist seeks to provide a practical solution which would inform future practice. As such, in providing practical solutions, pragmatism philosophy adopts wide range of approaches, methods and realities driven by the nature of the research (Saunders et al., 2016).
A major criticism levelled against pragmatism is that antagonistic beliefs that knowledge needs to be objectively tested against reality and reality should be anchored in “certainty of
63 knowledge” but unfortunately pragmatism advocates some form of “make believe…virtually every idea is warranted, or every expedient idea is warranted.” (Blake, nd).
18.104.22.168 Justification of Research Philosophy
The review above explains the major research philosophies employed in business and management science research and outlines the strengths and limitations of each of the philosophical approaches. Hence, after careful consideration and based on the research questions, aim and objectives (see chapter 1), a pragmatic philosophy has been adopted. This philosophy is adopted because it is assumed that knowledge is derived from practical and rigorous investigation, taking into consideration the contextual effect. This study starts from the conceptualisation of a problem and seeks to provide practical solutions to inform policy.
For the ontological considerations, this study assumes that existing realities can be explained in multiple ways using multiple inquiry approaches. This study adopts a practical approach which utilises quantitative and statistical methods to explain spatial processes as against laws (Fotheringham, 2006). Although, the study adopts statistical approaches which unearth truth about existing realities, but for the problem investigated in this study, “ absolutism is extremely difficult to find in most instances …but hold to the more acceptable goal of simply acquiring sufficient evidence on which to base a judgement about reality that most reasonable people will find acceptable ” (Fotheringham, 2006, p. 241).