What is the dominant paradigm in social research?

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    I have just returned from the LSE conference on Informing Public Policy. What was interesting from my point of view (I was at a talk on ‘Future Developments in Social Research’) was that all of the three eminent speakers in this session agreed that there was emerging now a new ‘paradigm’ of pragmatism in research. This was partly, they said, a methodological/epistemological pragmatism, but was more generally about researchers simply wanting to design research studies that could best handle the particular research problem faced by a researcher or research team.

    I wondered how this assertion – of an emerging hegemonic pragmatism in methodology – would have gone down at some of the big qualitative methods conferences, where the issue of theory remains of utmost concern.

    What do others think? Is there an emerging dominant paradigm in social research that is broadly neo-realist and pragmatic? Would we take, for instance, the growing ‘mixed methods’ movement as emblematic of this shift? Or is this assertion a contested one?

    I strongly suspect the answer to this very much depends on who one asks. But do please let me know your thoughts.

    Dr Ann Lawless

    Its an interesting arguement isn’t it!

    Certainly I see a trend in some Australian universities of encouraging higher degree research students to make their reseach pragmatic – achievable, do-able and manageable – in time for submission and examination of thesis, in accordance with an imperative from the unviersity senior management to force out timely graduations by domestic students (Australian universities dont get “paid” by federal government for educating the domestic or Australian-citizen research student until they graduate).

    I intially hoped my PhD research would be innovative in design and theory-rich (using Habermas) but have been strongly encouraged to make it practical – and that encouragement has not only come from the uni staff but also fellow students who seem to internalise many of the managerialist messages of the uni.

    I suspect another influence is the socialisation processes within the applied professions such as education. The applied professions seem to call for us to be pragmatists who perform well, produce outputs and bring credit to our profession.

    My own experience of these influences is how they CAN help you achieve focus and produce outputs but also how they stifle and control.

    LeRoy Hill

    I see no reason why researchers should embrace a pragmatic approach or a theoretical approach. I believe the trends and changes are trying to address some of the issues in Social Issues that conventional methods seem not to give a picture that is responsive to various aspects. The debate between the methodologies has been overshadowed by the need for relevance and context. Certainly not all research interest and topics and problems can be done using a single method of inquiry. I like the idea of Action Research because it strikes the balance between theory and practice.

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