Paradigm relevant to my research

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(T847, Block 1, Activity 2)

Activity 2 asks me to identify an example of a paradigm and related theories and concepts that are relevant to the ideas that I am considering for my research.

The T847 materials summarise a paradigm as “a perspective or point of view affecting what is recognised, known, valued, and done. As such, a paradigm advances both a set of assumptions about the world and a philosophical framework for the study of that world.”

The materials also have a neat way of explaining theories and concepts: “suppositions or systems of ideas, or mental representations or abstract objects intended to explain something, or a set of principles on which some form of activity is based.”

I’ve been exploring different ‘sets of assumptions about the world’ in a number of blogs I have done over the summer that are relevant to this issue, in particular – Epistemology and research; Knowing; Knowing – some more; and, Another diversion into epistemology and research.  In turn they relate to previous posts on Worldview for example.

In those inquiries I was thinking about the ‘compatibility’ of different research paradigms with being a systems practitioner – so I could ensure that I honour being a systems practitioner in my research practice (a process issue).  This activity asks me to focus on the paradigm relevant to the ideas I am thinking about for my research – which seems more like a content issue.

In the first of the blogs linked above I distinguished positivist from critical theory, postmodernism and poststructuralism.  I think at the time I was seeing this as a duality – that choosing one is a negation of the other.  However, Ison (2010, 191) suggests that it is possible to see choices as a duality – “a totality which together make up a whole” (ibid). He uses this in discussion of the choice between systemic and systematic thinking and practice – he sees systemic thinking and practice as an extended context for systematic thinking and action (an explanation that I accept).  So do critical theory, postmodernism and poststructuralism completely ‘reject’ positivism? Or is it more about an expanded context for ‘science’? I recognise that not all phenomena can be explored through positivist approaches but some need to be so in embracing multi-methodologies and epistemological pluralism, you can’t reject appropriate use of positivism.

Nevertheless, the ideas I have pulled together in Activity 1 do stem from the application and use of critical theory, postmodernism and poststructuralism – in particular they have a social constructionist element.  This paradigm is at the core of the theories and concepts I want to draw on – and it is at the core of the way I want to carry out my research.  (It may be my own limitations but I am not sure it is possible to conduct your research process in a different paradigm to the theories and concepts you draw on).

It seems in many ways that this question is about juggling the ‘E’ ball – for engaging.  I recognise the social world (which includes partnership and organisational life) as something messy and confusing.  The paradigm underpinning my framework of ideas is predominantly postmodernist (incorporating social construction).  The theories and concepts I want to draw on in my research are those that I think will help in elucidating a particular aspect of the social world – particularly use of language and metaphor, what they reveal about conceptual frameworks people are drawing on, and whether they can be used as ‘tools’ to help create change.

So now I have touched on ‘change’.  Ison (2005, 77) cites two questions posed by von Foerster:

– am I apart from the universe?  That is, whenever I look, am I looking through a peephole upon an unfolding universe (first-order)

– am I part of the universe?  That is, whenever I act, am I changing myself and the universe as well (second-order).

I choose to be in the second ‘camp’ – doing research is taking action… am I aware of the ripples of change that will create (or could create) for myself and others?  am I thinking through the implications?

This is also something highlighted in the work of Schein (as per this post).  When I read his work, he particularly warned against the idea that ‘research’ is a neutral phase before ‘intervention’ starts.  Data collection/generation is an intervention that has consequences…. now maybe I am mentally jumping forward because I noticed there is something on ethics to come.


Ison, R., 2005. Traditions of Understanding: Language, Dialogue and Experience in Blackmore, C (Ed, 2010) Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice, The Open University/Springer Publications, Milton Keynes/London

Ison, R., 2010. Systems Practice: how to act in a climate-change world, Milton Keynes/London: The Open University/Sage Publications.







Ison, R., 2010. Systems Practice: how to act in a climate-change world, Milton Keynes/London: The Open University/Sage Publications.

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