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Positivism in Social Science Research

The concept of positivism in social science research developed after the studies of a French philosopher August Comte, he focused on the use of scientific techniques to study human behavior. In pure sciences, positivism has long been in use and its roots can be traced back to Aristotle, Descarte, Francis Bacon, and Galileo.

Definition

As defined by “Mertens (2005) and Creswell (2003)” Positivism is defined as scientific methods which are based on empiricism and rationalism and is based on the cause and effect relationship. The positivist paradigm follows a determination that every phenomenon or occurrence has a cause that can define the effect or the consequence. Positivists believe that there are pre-tested theories that can determine this cause and effect and these theories can be generalized to various settings.

Positivism in Social Science

In social science, positivism and postpositivism emerged from the belief that human behavior can be tested and measured just like any other natural phenomenon in our surroundings. Positivists in social science work on the cause and effect model that is used in the pure science, this enables them to predict human behavior under certain circumstances.

Positivists use quantitative methods of data collection in social science. They control the external factors and study the effect of independent variable on the dependent variable. In pure sciences, it is easy to achieve a control over external variables because the experiments are conducted in laboratory settings, on the other hand in social sciences it is easy said than done. Human behavior is determined by multiple of factors and one behavior can be the result of several beliefs and perceptions that, that person might not show in a controlled environment. Behaviors also vary culture to culture, applying the findings of one or more than one studies to another study is difficult because there are several factors that need to be studied to come to any conclusion. For example, a hypothesis is tested that use of drugs in adolescents result in juvenile crimes and it is proved to be true now this hypothesis can be true f or one culture and one society but to think the same for another culture might not be true. In one culture drugs use in teenage is rare and any occurrence of a teenager using drugs means that person is a criminal as well. In the other culture the use of drugs might be common in teenagers and therefore a drug user does not necessarily qualify to be a criminal as well.

Example

For example, a hypothesis is tested that use of drugs in adolescents result in juvenile crimes and it is proved to be true now this hypothesis can be true for one culture and one society but to think the same for another culture might not be true. In one culture drugs use in teenage is rare and any occurrence of a teenager using drugs means that person is a criminal as well. In the other culture the use of drugs might be common in teenagers and therefore a drug user does not necessarily qualify to be a criminal as well. Using positivism in social science research thus poses serious problems and in very few situations the researcher can use it alone to develop a conceptual framework of his/her study. In other situations, the researcher can use both quantitative and qualitative model in one study which is called as the mixed-method research.

Methodology used in positivist paradigm

The positivists use empirical, rational and hypothesis-based methodologies in research. They test hypothesis and theories and add to the available knowledge in that area. The most common methodologies used in positivist paradigm includes the following.

  1. Experimental

  2. Quasi-experimental

  3. Correlational

  4. Theory verification

  5. Causal-comparative

  6. Determination

  7. Normative

References

  1. Creswell, J.W.  Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches, 2nd Edition, Thousand Oaks: Sage. 2003
  2. Noella Mackenzie and Sally K.  Research dilemmas: Paradigms, methods, and methodology, Issues In Educational Research, Vol 16, 2006

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