A Substitute Approach for Mainstream Positivist Psychological Research

Psychological research is greatly dependent on the methodology positivism. Positivism rather accepts notions from metaphysics including general and even abstract ideas and that it regard “sense” experience as the “sole and supreme criterion” of human knowledge (Comte, 1853). Therefore, positivism only considers science as the only body of knowledge and that questions arising from metaphysics can never be answered. This assumptions, however, is being critiqued by many philosophers. Positivism is associated with empiricism and quite bias to the scientific process of conducting a research.

In light with this, positivist psychological research is first, objective and empirical; secondly, it is a quantitative and qualitative research (Bryman, 2005); and lastly, human knowledge—one variable of the research—must be preoccupied with metaphysical influences (cf. “Cours de philosophie positive”, II, 15 sqq. ). Nature of mainstream psychological research Psychological research, being entirely based on positivism, is bias to the scientific method, for the research has processes that aim to come up with objective, reliable, and valid results.

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By defining objectivity, positivist psychological research is in need to be delivered quantitatively, meaning no personal bias must be included and thus, must only be based to a set of knowledge. Subjectivity either is a tool, but this is used at stages requiring subjective observation. On the other hand, reliability and validity of the results of a positivist psychological research has to be, first and foremost, consistent that the idea presented is interdependent with each other that for re-testing, still, conceives the same results as what the first had, also, no internal contradictions must be formulated.

The latter explains therefore the validity of the research; so, a psychological research is said to be valid if it measured what is expected to measure and though judging a psychological research with respect to validity is subjective, still validity greatly depends on empirical indicators. Misleading representations With its nature mentioned, positivist psychological research is challenge nowadays for insufficiency (for some philosophers like constructionists, catholic scholars, and existentialists) and for having derogatory basis—positivism in this case.

Some argued that positivist psychological research, although objective and scientific, usually bears certain flaws, which are being obtained from its rigid process. One philosopher in the person of Alan Chalmers (1999) argued an emancipating reasoning that critique positivism as associated with empiricism. He said that it is “misleading” to establish perceived or accumulated observation as a general fact or theory (Chalmers, 1978). Such “nature study” is neither accurate nor precise to establish facts and truths.

He also added that facts either should be in a theoretical blueprint, such that someone who makes a psychological research must “tirelessly and imaginatively” explains what he had observed in the process (Chalmers, 1978). In his book, he exemplifies what Charles Darwin, the forefront of the Theory of Evolution, did. Subjectivity then is a clear and effective tool. Wide range of exploration is what Darwin proved in his studies. Then again, hermeneutic horizons is vast that it can encompass billions of possibilities, since hermeneutic wise, interpretation varies from one person to another.

To add, one’s interpretation and experience is his and his alone. So, by conducting a positivist psychological research, it is questionable that it comes up with such assertions that serve as interpretation of the behavior or mental process of specific person or persons. The flaw: these assertions are based on empirical indicators and theories. The flaw proves that such representations of specific object must be inviolable. If the object is a group, this means that blended images from the individual images results to mere “artificial” representation and that do not genuinely represent each of them.

Irony in scientific method and scientific knowledge Chalmers (1999) asserts “Still, scientific theories are supposed to be based on facts and confirmed by facts, and for a long time the official scientific method was an alleged process of induction, whereby scientific knowledge starts with the unbiased observation of the regularities which exist in the world around us and is finally warranted or verified by inductive proof” (Chalmers, 1978). It is quite ironic that positivist psychological research significantly uses scientific method as procedure and the scientific knowledge as a sole criterion.

Little did they realize that empiricism—which perceives scientific method—is done through a deductive argumentation; whereas, scientific knowledge is “warranted” by inductive proof. If that is the case, positivist psychological research could bear contradictions. Well, in fact, a research must be reliable and valid—no internal contradictions to be specific. Falsifying theories, falsifying scientific method Logical positivists’ “hypothetico” in the 1930’s was responded by the argument of “falsificationism” (Skeptic, 1999).

Logical positivists consider the verification process as an indicator of “meaning. ” This means that if a theory failed to surpass a series of re-testing, it will be falsified. This has been rebuked by Chalmers. He declares “instrumental value” for the discarded theories. What is saddening then is that this idea is labeled “falsificationism,” which dismounted the credibility of Chalmers and Popper. What were then the hearsays and the revelations the so-called “falsificationism” possesses?

Karl Popper (1971) believes in the importance of history. And the falsified theories have significant uses as part of a past study. He said, “…it maybe useful to see how it originated, and how it succeeded in entrenching itself so successfully” (Popper, 1971). The problems presented by Popper have brought the limitations of positivists. To wit, a theory is basically effective if not examined in isolation. Hasty(? ) generalization Positivist psychological research ends up with a set of probabilistic quantitative assertions.

Positivist psychologists arrive at such end with the belief that human behavior can be studied scientifically. This process is called behaviorism where a set of empirical indicators are used for assertions (Lawson, 2003 5th edition). Positivists consider them accurate and are intermingled results of various results from the psychological research—survey and observation are some; however, this is a fundamental error. Positivist psychological research, as a theory-driven research, is challenge because the subject being examined is primarily examined through theories.

After which, a situation will be given prior explanation and thus applied to like situations. The problem here is brought about by the idea of existentialism. Existentialists believed that there is no similar situation and that a theory is applicable for specific and unique situations, for no situations are at ordered scheme (New Lexicon-Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary). Psychological research has a significant regard on positivism that it is greatly dependent on the said methodology.

Since many philosophers argued that positivism and social constructionism are placed at both ends of a pole, reconciling social constructionism and psychology faces arduous challenge. “Unperceivable” reality The ultimate predicament in the positivist psychological research is the idea of reality. This is because the primary objective of this kind of research is to interpret the human behavior and mental processes—connected to society and reality—via sense experiences. What makes it problematic is the idea of social constructionism.

The subject being examined in the positivist psychological research is never perceived through sense experience, there is no such thing; reality is “socially constructed. ” This is because we have no contact to reality even via sense experience. If that is the case, every belief, motive, or human mentality, no matter how big or small, is the status quos. The only way to psychologically apprehend them is through challenging them. This is done through social constructionism (Luckmann, 1966). Human behavior is interpreted in a dynamic, continuous basis.

So, psychological research may bring out better interpretation if there is a direct application; therefore, the interpretation becomes less important, and the process in interpreting becomes much significant. Social constructionist psychological research Here comes an alternative. The social constructionist approach in psychological research offers a wider view in the research. Berger and Luckmann argue that all knowledge, including the most basic, taken-for-granted common sense knowledge and conventional wisdom of everyday reality, is derived from social interactions and maintained by it.

When people interact, they do so with the understanding that their respective perceptions of reality are related, and as they act upon this understanding their common knowledge of reality becomes reinforced (Luckmann, 1966). Therefore, constructionist psychologies work and investigate on how human beings create schemes for meaningfully understanding their worlds and experiences. So, by using social constructionism, as a form of hermeneutic constructionism, observer-independent reality is being shattered. Language and communication are therefore very important and must be included in the research design (Raskin, 2001).

The perspective of the observer and the object of observation are inseparable; the nature of meaning is relative; phenomena are context-based; and the process of knowledge and understanding is social, inductive, hermeneutical, and qualitative. (Sexton, 1997, p. 8)” (Raskin, 2001). So, if positivist psychologists are able to knock the idea of “established notions and processes” out of their heads, they will able to realize that there is no ultimate—metaphorically, God’s Eye—in conducting a psychological research; therefore, there can be as many systems of knowledge that can be distinguished.

All possible approaches made through hermeneutic constructionism, whether through social constructionism, have a view of knowledge as a product of linguistic activity and as an interpretation. The process of psychological research through social constructionist approach is often seen ineffective to use for psychological researches for it refutes the mainstream positivist psychological research methods; however, it largely agree on a qualitative psychological research method; and, the important consideration is the notion of the inseparable object of observation-observer interdependence in coming up with a research conclusions.

What is important then in a social constructionist psychological research is the ways how the object of observation and the observer (person and society) create constructions of reality and not what they have discovered (Raskin, 2001). This ultimately contests the positivist approach to this kind of research because positivist ones aims to discover and not to create, meaning, they are oriented towards the results of observations not the process by which the results are being obtained.

To synthesize, it is therefore better to approach a psychological research by means of social constructionism rather than positivism because social constructionism is more accurate and “less artificial. ” The socially constructed reality is even more accurate because the object of observation has immense participation. Though it is still not the exact representation, ends of social constructionist psychological research lie somewhere near the exact one.

Further synthesis regarding this is by quoting this: “The confusion this produces perhaps explains why many people criticize social constructionism for encouraging anything-goes relativism (Gillett, 1998; Held, 1995; Matthews, 1998; Parker, 1999). Critics suggest that without a single, stable reality on which to rely, people tend to feel lost and ungrounded.

Interestingly, several social constructionists have argued the reverse position—that this inherent relativism is one of the strongest assets of the postmodern perspective, generating a less dogmatic and righteous society that is more open and flexible (Edwards, Ashmore, & Potter, 1995; Gergen, 1994; Raskin, 2001). Gergen (1994) has been especially vocal in defending the relativism of social constructionism, contending that it moves people toward interpersonal collaboration and the beneficial reexamination of sometimes stifling cultural practices” (Raskin, 2001).