On philosophical perspectives

Lecture 2 + 12
Research philosophy
Philosophical perspectives
The realism-constructivism debate
Gergen and the concept of middle
Department of Organization
Creative business project and methods for creative industry analysis
Cand. Soc. (CBP)
Spring 2012
Rehné Christensen
Philosophical perspectives
”This is a black point”
Philosophical perspectives
”The painting is meditative”
Philosophical perspectives
”The organizational everyday life at CBS is highly complex ”
Philosophical perspectives
What is agreement? What does it mean to agree
on something? How do we obtain agreement?
What constitutes and makes agreement possible?
Data suggests that x is y
”x is y”
if the data suggests that x is y,
then x is y (by certainty, probability...)
Criteria establishing
Philosophical perspectives
Criteria establishing
What criterias (should) count in social research?
What criterias (should) count the most?
Philosophical perspectives
Philosophical perspectives
The main philosophical perspectives in social
science and research:
• Realism
• Phenomenology (subjectivism)
• Constructivism
Philosophical perspectives
Philosophical perspectives why?
Philosophical perspectives and scientific approaches directly and
fundamentally determine our scientific reasoning and research:
Making your scientific position explicit
Perspective and approach affect problem formulation,
choice of method(s) for data collection and analytical
Choice of theory and theoretical concepts
Choice of criteria of research quality.
Philosophical perspectives
On philosophical perspectives
Conceptualization of fundamental assumptions and understandings
of the world, our knowledge of it and ability to theorize about it.
Theoretical point of departure:
(r) reality exist independent of our knowledge of it
(c) reality is constructed continously in social processes
(p) reality is the individual’s subjective picture of the world.
Perspectives entail different aims of research and research interests:
(r) describe reality as precise and neutral as possible
(c) capture the complexity (and ambiguity) of social procesess
(p) achieve understanding of individual pictures of the world.
Philosophical perspectives
The dynamics of perspectives
Venn diagram-interpretation of the dynamics of perspectives:
The 3 intersecting circles represent the 3 perspectives realism,
constructivism and phenomenology.
The middle represent the research in question (object, description).
The diagram demonstrates:
1) perspectives is a matter of choice, 2) possibility of shifting back
and forth between perspectives, 3) two or more perspectives may
be applied simultaneously to one and the same object.
Philosophical perspectives
On the nature of perspectives
No clear demarcation of perspectives: open-ended and overlap.
Nor are perspectives definite in number: Perhaps only 2 (e.g.
merging (c) and (p), perhaps more than 3 (e.g. subjectivism).
Tentative clarification on concept use:
Perspective: concept of the philosophy of science frequently
drawing on general philosophical considerations e.g. ontology,
Scientific approach: traditions such as positivism, hermeneutics
and poststructuralism all to be subsumed by and ”derived” from
the perspectives of realism, phenomenology and constructivism
Philosophical perspectives
the world, reality exists ”out there”, objectively and
independently of our perception and description of it.
essentialism in realism; objects of reality are bearers of
inherent, essential properties.
we obtain objective and true/false knowledge of the world.
our knowledge and language is true or false depending on
correspondence with object/empirical trial with reality.
Philosophy of science
to describe and explain reality as neutral and objectively as
Philosophical perspectives
Realist provisos
Critical realism
critical awareness of strong realist claims about reality:
Knowledge and science do not mirror reality in exact and every
detail but objectivity remains an ideal of knowledge and science.
Science and method brings us closer to reality (but not the reality).
Realism in the social sciences
the realist researcher seeking behind conventional human action
arriving at the underlying guiding structures of the social.
This level is not open for our scrutiny but regulates the empirical
level of which we have acces – cf. Kantian two-layer theory; the
thing for us, the thing in itself).
Philosophical perspectives
reality is constructed by social processes. Reality is the result of
how humans construct our mutual reality through interpretation.
non-essentialism in constructivism; objects of reality are not
bearers of inherent, essential properties as assumed by realists.
we do not obtain objective knowledge since this rest on empirical
trial with reality. This obviously makes no sense if we hold that we
ourselves construct reality.
alternatively we should allow for criteria of correctness and intersubjectivity.
Philosophy of science
to describe and explain reality not as neutral and objectively as
possible, but as coherent and in all complexity.
Philosophical perspectives
Provisos of constructivism
Reality is not something existing entirely in our heads. Reality is
”out there” but not independently of our understanding of it.
We use our senses, reason and language to obtain understanding
and thereby influencing reality.
Constructivism does not entail radical subjectivist relativism
claiming that everybody is holding ones own private truth and
perception of the world.
Most constructivism put special emphasize on the assumption that
the world is collectively constructed and so truth becomes a matter
of intersubjectivity most oftenly situated in language, discourse or
institutional structures framing our common context.
Constructivism in social science
Critical potential when challenging basic categorizations taken for
granted in reasoning and science; if everything is constructed, so is
the basis of our categories thereby all up for potential revision.
Philosophical perspectives
reality is only perceptible and understandable through our
Our only access to the world is by our consciousness: No such
thing as facts given objectively, they must necessarily be chosen
by our sensory apparatus and consciousness and is therefore
always interpreted facts.
The distinction between epistemology and ontology becomes
vague since ontological questions are always already tainted by
epistemological ones.
Philosophy of science
to describe the world in terms of our subjective view of it.
Our worldview is concrete and everyday – in contrast to natural
scientific abstract and formalized descriptions of the world.
Philosophical perspectives
Phenomenological provisos
Phenomenology does not entail the notion that everybody
posess one’s own private experience of the world and that
meaning should therefore be radically individual:
Our life world is always also a common, intersubjective world.
The life world is a social, cultural and historical context shaping a
specific horizon of meaning for the individual.
Phenomenology in social science
The neutral researcher should be replaced by a notion of research
and researcher that obtain special understanding of the object of
study through empathy i.e. identifying oneself with ones object.
Focus is on motives and specific experience rather than general
The realism-constructivism debate
Dimensions of the debate
According to Burr (1998) the realism-constructivism debate evolves
around 3 themes, dimensions or aspects of reality:
Truth (i)
What does the concept of truth mean in relation to falsehood?
Materiality (ii)
How do we grasp the concept of materialty in relation to illusion?
Essence (iii)
What is essence contrasted with construction?
The realism-constructivism debate
Dimensions of the debate: Truth?
Realism – Tarski-style semantics:
”The snow is white” is true iff the snow is white.
The sentence may be ascribed truth value if the propositional
content corresponds with empirical fact(s).
The world forms the truth conditions of language and science.
How to ascribe truth value to theories about organizations and art?
No set of formal truth conditions is to be attached to theories of
the social.
Alternative concept of truth; adjusted to the social world allowing
for correctness and intersubjective agreement.
The realism-constructivism debate
Dimensions of the debate: Materiality?
Realism (Kripke 1998)
Could Hitler have been someone else? Could Queen Elizabeth II?
(in all possible worlds)
Criteria of origin: Hitler could not originate from someone else
than his unique parents. If a material object has its origin in a
certain hunk of matter, it could not have had its origin in any
other matter.
Criteria of substance: Hitler could not have had a different
substance. Hitler is structurally constituted by a unique genetic
code x,y,z.
This is trivial: The research interest of social science is the very
contingent properties and actions of Hitler (power, politics, evil
etc.) rendered less important on this notion of materiality.
The realism-constructivism debate
Dimensions of the debate: Essence?
Realism (Kripke 1998)
Gold’s atomic number 79 is an essential property of gold:
if some chunk of matter has this atomic structure, then it is gold.
This is not the case with gold being yellow: sometimes gold is
white and other metals such as pyrites is also yellow (fool’s gold).
We may state that the property yellow of gold is contingent.
What is the essence of an organization or a text?
The objects of social science are not bearers of essential properties
but of nominal such.
Essence in the social sciences is nominal i.e. types of properties
that we in some way construct (e.g. ”efficiency” of organizations).
Gergen and the concept of middle
Discourse as middle ground
Gergen (1998) wish to absent the realism-constructivism antinomy
and exhibit 3 directions or strategies for moving on (beyond):
1) (remain) isolated in enclaves
2) Direct confrontation; material nature vs. rhetorics
3) Consider realism and constructivism as forms of discourse.
Gergen and the concept of middle
Discourse as middle ground
Strategies to absent from the realism-constructivism antinomy:
1) (remain) isolated, safely secured and fragmented in
hostile self-satisfied enclaves.
Gergen and the concept of middle
Discourse as middle ground
Strategies to absent from the realism-constructivism antinomy:
2) Direct confrontation resting on the assumption that it is
doubtfull whether argumentation has the potential to yield
common understanding due to the fact that both positions
are to beconsidered foundational ontologies.
Arguing the first necessarily rules out the foundations of the
second and vice versa:
the realist cannot point to material nature in order to convince the
constructivist, since such evidence has no currency in constructivist
the constructivist cannot use rhetorical references to compel the
realist, since mere rhetorics would disqualify the argument in the
eyes of the realist.
Gergen and the concept of middle
Discourse as middle ground
Directions to absent from the realism-constructivism antinomy:
3) Consider realism and constructivism as forms of discourse;
key concepts are words and phrases used by everybody
– a dual capacity of using both realist and constructivist
claims and arguments by both.
This is in a sense already the case: In order to participate in the
battle one needs to know about the opposite viewpoint in detail.
Also adding the fact that explaining both viewpoints is very much
encouraged by using the opponent in explaining.
It follows that agreement on which discourse is appropriate in
various situations may be reached: Constructivists using realist
discourse to critize realism and realists using constructivist
reasoning objecting to constructivism.
Gergen and the concept of middle
Realism and constructivism as forms of discourse
Positive consequences of strategy 3); considering realism and
constructivism as forms of discourse.
a) non-confrontational mode of opposition based on argumentation:
A domain of dialogue rather than conflict.
b) Separation of persons from discourse:
Constructivists may use realist discourse and vice versa.
Realism and constructivism not as identies but as perspectives.
Realism and constructivism gain intelligibility by opposition.
c) Explorations in commonality:
Looking for elements bringing together rather than separating.
Material nature
Realism and
as identity
Material nature
Material nature
Realism and constructivism
Material nature
Material nature
Realism and
as discourse
Material nature
Gergen and the concept of middle
The neither-nor of middle
Either A or not-A; either A or B; both A and B.
Neither A nor B:
negative definition of middle, C
the rejection of the one-sided (approaches).
The fullness of middle
The middle, C, interpreted as constructive alternative.
Middle as fullness:
filling up space instead of void.
a point of equilibrium and balance.
Philosophical perspectives
Pick one of your research questions.
Develop two problem formulations that
corresponds to;
1) a realist perspective
2) a constructivist perspective
Discuss obvious research questions within
both perspectives.
The realism-constructivism debate
What is your stance on the question
of realism versus constructivism?
Which perspective seems more
reasonable to you? – and why?
How will your work be affected by
your position in the realismconstructivism debate?
Gergen and the concept of middle
Realism, phenomenology and constructivism:
Separate and conflicting perspectives or different yet
supplementary dimensions of theory and research?
Philosophical perspectives:
Choices prior to research activities or overarching debating and
evaluation tools that may be put to use at various points during

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