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Basics of Paradigm Essay

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Updated: Jan 21st, 2020


A paradigm is a system of beliefs or theories that guide human beings in establishing standard practices that reflect the basis of knowledge. Ontology, epistemology and methodology are elements of paradigm that have constantly shaped the course and development of knowledge.

As ontology focuses on reality, epistemology deals with perception, while methodology involves the process of obtaining knowledge. Given that development of knowledge involves reality, perception, and processes, diverse paradigms have emerged in the course of human history. In this view, paradigm is “…a set of beliefs procedures and working practices that inform the dominant world view and which shape the context of modern science” (Somekh and Lewin: 2005, p.207).

Therefore, it means that paradigm has led to the emergence of different fields of knowledge in modern science, which progressively develop with time as paradigm shifts. Hence, this essay seeks to describe paradigm and discuss how it influences knowledge development and the selection of practice theories, and how they relate to the ecological model.

Paradigm and Knowledge Development

Paradigm is a system of beliefs and theories that have accumulated in the course of human history and have become the basis of modern knowledge. The beliefs and theories emanated from concepts, values, assumptions and practices that people formulated and developed with time.

Paradigm shift were responsible for the occurrence of various disciplines and revolutions that marked human history. For instance, “…case studies need to be assimilated to the scientific paradigm if they are to produce good social science” (Schram: 2004, p.430).

Thus, social science emerged from scientific paradigm that adopted case studies which depended upon practices, theories and beliefs. Since humanity has been evolving for many centuries, paradigm shift has led to development of human knowledge. Comprehension of knowledge lies in ontological, epistemological and methodological aspects of scientific paradigm.

Ontological aspect of paradigm seeks to unravel reality of knowledge as evident in nature. In this aspect, realists perceive reality a natural occurrence that is subject to law of nature and that human beings exist in an environment that is full of undiscovered knowledge. If human beings could understand their reality and nature, they would obtain a terrific deal of knowledge.

Comparatively, critical realists believe that nature and humanity are different entities in that human observation is subject to inherent biases that influence acquisition of knowledge. Moreover, relativists believe that, knowledge has its basis on social reality because different individuals have a different interpretation of nature.

Relativistic ontology holds that there is no single reality because human beings construct multiple realities that reflect diverse phenomena of interest (Krauss: 2005). Through constructivism, human beings impose their beliefs and theories onto the world in a constructive meaning. Thus, ontological aspect of paradigm is central in the generation of human knowledge.

Epistemology is another element of paradigm that deals with the ways of human beings perceiving knowledge. Relationship between human and knowledge gives how paradigm is an integral part of knowledge development.

According to positivist, experimentation is an empirical way of obtaining knowledge since it delineates how natural phenomena occurs through measurements and observations. Positivist epistemology views science as the best way of understanding the nature and arriving at the truth, which is critical in the establishment of knowledge (Krauss: 2005).

Hence, positivists believe that empirical study is an effective way of obtaining knowledge. Relatively, constructivists perceive that knowledge emanate from meaning that researchers attach to a given phenomena of interest, and thus subject to their own perceptions.

Since knowledge is an inherent property of nature that human beings seek to discover, methodological approach determines how one obtain knowledge. Methodological aspect of paradigm has played a significant role in defining research process that scientists utilize in deriving knowledge from certain phenomena.

Knowledge that scientists obtain from nature depend more on the methodological approach than techniques of data analysis. Development of knowledge depends on epistemological and methodological approaches that researchers are using in search of truth about a given phenomena (Gomez: 1997). Thus, methodology is an integral part of paradigm that defines how human beings approach and obtain knowledge.

Paradigm and Practice Theories

Fundamentally, practice theories focus on social life in terms of interactions and struggles that human beings face in the course of searching knowledge. One of the theories of sociology is positivism. Early positivism originated from a French philosopher, Auguste Comte, who identified historical paradigm of sociological knowledge.

In his positive philosophy, Auguste Comte elucidated three stages of paradigm that signify that knowledge had been evolving gradually in the course of human history. The three stages are theological, metaphysical and positivism.

Before 1300, theological knowledge dominated the universe, while, between 1300 and 1800, metaphysical knowledge became predominant and eventual positivism predominated from 1800 to the present time.

Through positivism, “…science would replace religion and metaphysics because knowledge would be based on observations through the five senses rather than on belief” (Babbie: 2007, p.35). Auguste Comte wanted logic and rationality to be the basis of studying society just like scientific study of physics and biology. Hence, Auguste views of positivism formed the foundation of modern social science.

Structural functionalism is a social theory, which postulates that society is a social system that consists of several parts that function cooperatively. Structural functionalism suggests that theory and practice are paradigms that influence development of knowledge in the society (Chenoweth and McAuliffe: 2005, p.117).

Hence, since society consists of theories and practices in which different societal organs obey and perform cooperatively as a system, leading to development of knowledge. Therefore, society consists of various systems such as family, community, society and government that regulate behavior of individual members in the society.

Family has a noble role of bringing up children and instilling social and societal values and beliefs into them so that when they mature, they become responsible members of the society. Moreover, community, society and government have overall responsible of controlling how individuals interact and relate.

Through laws, norms and values, community, society and government dictate how individuals should behave in the society. For many years, theory and practice has played central role in development of knowledge because they are integral part of norms and societal laws (Chenoweth and McAuliffe: 2005). It means that the social systems gradually change with passing time, and they have significant appropriate influence on individuals.

Symbolic interactionism is a social theory that describes the interaction of individuals in micro- and macro- levels of society. Institutions, organizations, and societies have been interacting continually for centuries and have led to the development of language and communication across the world.

In the society, “…most interactions revolved around the process of individuals reaching a common understanding through language and other symbolic systems, hence the term symbolic interactionism” (Babbie: p.37). Symbolic interactionism holds that knowledge emanates from an individual, and through social interaction, knowledge spreads to other people.

Since human beings are social creatures, they learn from one another through social interaction. Social learning theory supports that learning occurs best in a social environment where people emulate what other people are doing. Hence, symbolic interaction is a paradigm that has significantly shaped the evolution of knowledge through social interaction.

Constructivism theory holds that human beings construct their life experiences in cognitive structures called schemata. Experiences that one encounter in life undergoes the process of assimilation and accommodation into existing schemata; thus, one accumulates knowledge continually.

Given that organization and reorganization takes place constantly within the human mind, experiential knowledge for basis of human knowledge (Schram: 2004). When one does not understand or feel that something is amiss, cognitive conflicts arise and elicit equilibration. Equilibration is a way of restoring unbalanced brain function, and through it, knowledge occurs. In social context, constructivism perceives that language symbolically connects individuals so that they can communicate effectively.

Language is a means of transferring beliefs, values, practices and theories from one person to another. For effective communication to occur, communicating parties need to be sharing a common language and thought processes. For instance, learners have been able to acquire knowledge from their teachers by organizing their thoughts to be receptive to varying ideas and information.

Ecological Model

Bioecological systems theory postulates that human development is the sum of factors of bioecological systems that are in an environment that one lives. The theory views human development in the context of relationships that exist in bioecological systems, in one’s environment.

Human development occurs progressively through complex and reciprocal interactions between an individual and people, objects and symbols that are in a given immediate environment (Bronfenbrenner: 1994). For interactions to be effective, they must be enduring and should occur in the immediate environment to form the proximal processes that significantly influence human development.

The proximal process exists in bioecological systems made of five spheres, namely microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem and chronosystem. Thus, how do practice theories relate to ecological theory in terms of microsystem, mesosystem and macrosystem levels?


Microsystem is the closest bioecological environment that directly influences human development in terms of knowledge. Microsystem consists of structures such as family, childcare, neighborhood, school and workplace, which mainly form part of immediate bioecological environment.

In microsystem, an individual experience regular interactions through relationships, routine activities and social roles that elicit progressive and sustained interactions, which bring about human development. Social interactions in this context relate to interactions described by symbolic interactionism and constructivism theories.

Proximal processes operate optimally in microsystem because it forms an immediate environment that elicit and sustain human development (Bronfenbrenner: 1994). Under microsystem level, family is a dominant structure that does not only influence child development but also development in adults.

At microsystem level, relationships have a reciprocal influence that shape development of individuals and acquisitions of knowledge in a given social structure.

For instance, parents have the capacity to influence beliefs, behavior and values of a child, and vice versa. Bioecological systems theory states that, reciprocal interactions are strongest at microsystem level, and they have the greatest impact on human development due to proximity of bioecological factors.


Mesosystem comprises interaction of various microsystems that are in bioecological environment where one lives. For instance, interaction of microsystem structures such as family, childcare, neighborhood, school and workplace, determines overall human development in the society.

Mesosystem has increased societal forces that influence human development, unlike microsystem that only depends on individual interaction. In mesosystem, socialization is central in acquisition of knowledge as “…ecology involves interrelationships between humans and their environment” (Bems: 2009, p.18).

Interaction between family and school is particularly influential in shaping the development of elementary school pupils because it provides a platform for teachers and parents to interact effectively in educating the pupils. It, therefore, implies that interactions of microsystems enhance concerted efforts of societal forces that are crucial in shaping human development.

Thus, the more the interacting microsystems, the more significant are the societal forces that influence an individual. Thus, mesosystem relates to the theory of structural functionalism that describes the society as a social system made up of different social entities that regulate individuals and shape development of knowledge.


Macrosystem is a complex of social structures such as microsystem, mesosystem and exosystem, which are under the influence of customs, norms, values and laws that govern societal culture. Macrosystem is the outermost sphere that has a cascading effect on development of children through interaction of various spheres, which consequently determines values, beliefs, norms, customs and laws that influence children’s microsystem.

Biopsychosocial factors that exist in the community, society and culture interact with diverse microsystems, mesosystems and exosystems, thus forming a complex of macrosystem, which entirely determines human development in the society.

It means that macrosystem is the blueprint of societal culture since it consists of diverse beliefs, values, norms, laws and customs that dominate society and thus significantly influence human and knowledge development.

“The biological model of human development represents the evolving character of science because it can accommodate other theories and old research while providing a conceptual scheme to assimilate new research” (Bems: 2009, p.17).Positivism and structural functionalism are two theories that explain the development of knowledge at macrosystem level.


For centuries, paradigm has been shaping the development of knowledge. Human knowledge has been gradually changing due to shift in paradigm following emergence of new philosophies, theories, customs, values and practices. When a paradigm shift occurs, human knowledge takes a new dimension, which shows progress and development of human knowledge.

Ontology, epistemology, and methodology are aspects of paradigm that have contributed significantly to the development of human knowledge. For effective propagation of knowledge, theories such as positivism, structural functionalism, symbolic interactionism and constructivism emerged. Bioecological theory elucidates how bioecological systems influence human development and consequently reflects the development of knowledge in a complex society.


Babbie, E., (2010) Basics of Social Research, New York: Cengage.

Bems, R., (2009) Child, School, Community: Socialization and Support, New York: Cengage Leaning.

Bronfenbrenner, U., (1994) ‘Ecological Models of Human Development’ in Guavain, M., and Cole, M. (Eds.), Readings on the Development of Children, New York: Freeman, 2nd Edition.

Chenoweth, L., and McAuliffe, D., (2005) The Road to Social Work and Human Service Practice, Australia: Cengage Learning, 2nd Edition.

Gomez, R., (1997) ‘The Emergence of a New Paradigm in the Development Communication’, Culture, Communication and Power, pp.1-21.

Krauss, S. (2005) ‘Research Paradigms and Meaning Making: A Premier’, The Qualitative Report 10(4), pp.758-770.

Schram, S., (2004) ‘Beyond Paradigm: Resisting the Assimilation of Phronetic Social Science’, Politics & Society 32(3), pp. 417-433.

Somekh, B., and Lewin, C., (2005) Research Methods in the Social Sciences, London: SAGE Publisher.

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