Paradigm in Social Science Research: Definition?

Research is an objective, systematic and scientific method of investigating a phenomenon or a subject of interest, with a view to finding solutions to the research problem. The main aim of research is to produce new knowledge or add to the already existing knowledge. The way the researcher goes about the research process is highly influenced by the researchers’ paradigm. A paradigm is a set of belief that guides researchers’ action while conducting research/ or seeking answers to the research problem. According to Schwandt (2001), a paradigm is a shared world view that represents the beliefs and values guiding how problems are solved within a discipline. Generally, a paradigm is a way of viewing the world; in research we call this world empirical because it needs to be measurable and is observable among other characteristics.

The world view (paradigm) the researcher chooses affects the problem we choose to investigate and how we shall go about investigating the problem. This is because every researcher has an opinion about what is truth and knowledge, and this affects our thinking, beliefs and assumptions that we make about the world, the society and ourselves. For instance, our view on what is “quality education” will dictate the kind of schools we enroll our children in; our view on “good customer service” will dictate the type of supermarket we shop in. These two examples serve to show that as human beings, we hold on to some views (which may not be held by your neighbor) and these views affect our social life. In the same vein, the views researchers hold concerning the empirical world affects how they conduct research. These world views are what we call paradigms.

Components of a Paradigm

Research paradigms are characterized by their ontology, epistemology, axiology and methodology. These components make up the different paradigms and determine how a researcher views and addresses a research problem or a social phenomenon.

  1. Ontology –Ontology is concerned with the ‘nature of reality and the assumptions researchers have about the way the world operates and the commitment held to a particular view’ (Saunders et. al., 2007, pp. 110).  Ontology shapes the choice of what to study based on how we view the phenomena and/or the world around it.
  2. Epistemology – Epistemology refers to the nature of knowledge. An epistemological issue concerns itself with the question of what is (or should be) regarded as acceptable knowledge in a discipline (Bryman,2004).  Epistemology refers to the nature of the relationship between the researcher (the knower) and the researched.
  3. Axiology – Axiology refers to the nature and role of values (what is worth/good) within the research process. Axiological assumptions concern itself with how researchers deal with their own values and those of their respondents. Questions of ethics and bias are part of Axiology.
  4. Methodology – Methodology refers to an explanation of the methods to be applied to answer the research problem. Methods are the chosen techniques or procedures used to gather and analyze data related to the stated research questions or set hypotheses. It answers the question: what tools can we use to acquire knowledge? How should we study the world/social phenomena?

These four components make together the 4 paradigms that are used in social science research. These are positivism, constructivism/Interpretivism, emancipatory and pragmatism