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Paradigms in Social Science Essay

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Constructivist-Interpretive Paradigm

The proponents of this paradigm assert that reality is not fixed and therefore knowledge is not fixed waiting to be discovered by social scientists (Travers, 2010, p.22). There is emphasis on the individual both the subject and the researcher. There is a sensitivity to the other person’s world view. For example, there is a need to realize that indigenous people question why researchers always take the position of dominance while the natives are expected to be nothing more than the object of their research (Smith, 1999, p.119).

Another researcher succinctly explained in this passage: “We do not construct our interpretations in isolation but against a backdrop of shared understandings, practices, language, and so forth” (Travers, 2010, p.22). It can be argued that this paradigm will enable researchers to work closely and effectively with the target group, be it the people living in the poor section of a city or indigenous peoples living in a remote area.

In the Mackenzie Valley pipeline inquiry, the commissioner could not rely on mere analysis of what is normally believed to be the highest form of information or “truth”, this is what is commonly attributed to empirical evidence that is the result of extensive use of techniques derived from the scientific method of knowing. However, it is clear in the results of the inquiry that the Dene, Inuits and the Metis are people with a different mindset .

A business only approach to the study of the viability of the oil pipeline will provide no insight to the extent of the social and economic cost of the proposed project. Therefore, the ideas that will be generated for problem solving purposes will not be enough to address all pertinent issues to the satisfaction of all those who are involved in the construction of the pipeline.

Critical Discussion

The people behind the construction of the pipeline are experts in engineering and the business aspects related to an expensive and risky venture.

Therefore, it can be said that it is not their first time to build a pipeline. They may have constructed one in the United States, the Middle-East or even in Europe. There is therefore the tendency to look at the proposal to build the Mackenzie Valley pipeline as another one of those projects. The engineers and the project managers will simply use the same methods employed in other sites and expect success.

But it can easily backfire as pointed out by one researcher who said that the establishment of oil and gas industry “could deprive the people who live in the frontier of their rights to the land, and it could offer them employment for reasons that have nothing to do with their needs” (Berger, 1988, p.170). This means that the project team will have to work closely with the natives to understand their dilemma, their fears and even their aspirations. They will be able to develop a better plan. This is the importance of using this paradigm.

Feminist Paradigm

This paradigm was developed based on the ontological assumption that this world is dominated by men (Travers, 2010, p.27). Those who favor this view are working hard to rectify what they call is an injustice or an erroneous way of looking at things. They also believe that “conventional knowledge production is a tool men use to maintain and naturalize this dominance” (Travers, 2010, p.27).

For example one analyst said that in some indigenous cultures women are seen as assertive and confident and if this is the case in the Northern Frontier then project managers will have to be informed with the way community makes a decision especially with regards to a proposal that will forever change the lives of the indigenous peoples (Smith, 1999, p.96).

In the case of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline inquiry the feminist paradigm comes into play when one will consider the research design and what was the rationale as to why these issues were the main focus of the said inquiry.

It seems that the focus was only on the breadwinner of the family which are the men or the father of the household. There was an extensive discussion with regards to the impact of the pipeline to the local economy but these issues were discussed with the head of the family in mind and how this can affect their role and responsibility as the provider of the family.

No emphasis was given when it comes to the impact of the men’s jobs on their family such as separation from their wives and children (Berger, 1988, p.178). There is therefore limited information when it comes to the women of the household, but a feminist perspective can help widen the scope of inquiry.

The absence of a feminist paradigm makes it easier for researchers to fall into the trap of conventional thinking. For example, in the Mackenzie Valley pipeline inquiry, the voices of women were rarely heard, if at all. As a result no one knew what the women really felt about the project. This is unacceptable because women have a role to play in shaping society and their inputs are valuable when it comes to creating a plan that will ensure the success of the pipeline.

Critical Discussion

In the Mackenzie Valley pipeline inquiry there was very little information with regards to the role that women play in the event that outsiders come pouring into the said region because of the presence of an oil pipeline. The feminist paradigm will help encourage the planners to be more conscious about women and what they can contribute to the said endeavor.

More importantly the focus of the inquiry was on the male members of the indigenous population. This does not mean that there is male-bias as suggested by the adherents of the feminist paradigm nevertheless it is important to get more information regarding the impact of the project to the women, mothers, and daughters. This will create a more credible report.

Constructivist-Interpretive Paradigm

There are at least five aspects of this paradigm that makes it an effective tool in research when it comes to the subject matter of Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland. The first one is the idea that knowledge is not fixed.

It is a crucial piece of insight regarding the acquisition of knowledge because it immediately acknowledges the fact that the researcher is not infallible and that there are still many things that he does not know about. The researcher comes into the scene and project the idea that he or she is better than the natives. The researcher may not be aware of but it will certainly affect the findings of the research process.

This is because the researcher armed with his so-called proven techniques comes into the area with the belief that he or she can discover the truth. However, no one really has the ability to see the truth in its entirety and this is the beauty of the constructivist-interpretive paradigm because it makes the researcher aware of his or her limitations and yet firm in the conviction that it is possible to acquire knowledge.

The second most important facet of this paradigm can be seen in the idea that knowledge is the byproduct of interpreting information gleaned from the research but not using tools and models and rules but according to what the person says.

This was clarified even further by one researcher who revealed that, “When using figures, you do not have to consider the reality of what is happening on the ground; with pages of text, flow charts and graphs, you can express ideas about cash income and gross domestic product and avoid all consideration of hwat is really occurring among the families of the native communities” (Berger, 1988, p.178).

With this paradigm researchers are made aware of the other important aspects the project that has to be studied and empower them to report what they had discovered in the field.

The third facet of this paradigm is that knowing is not a passive process. This means that the researcher can never be fully objective while doing research. When an information is relayed and digested in the mind the person is affected by that information and at the same time his past experiences, knowledge, and training comes into play and affect the way he or she interprets data.

This is why it is important to understand and acknowledge that this process occurs while doing research and instead of suppressing it a much better alternative is to use the researcher’s interpretation of reality and fuse it with the worldview of the subject matter. In this case, the indigenous people.

Finally, the fourth aspect of this paradigm that would make an appropriate tool for research in the Northern Frontier is the insistence that “there is no material reality that exists outside of interpretation” (Travers, 2010, p.22).

This means that researchers are the final arbiters. They cannot rely on formulas and they cannot say that a technique or model has allowed them to discover the truth. It is their interpretation of the data based on a thorough examination of what the indigenous people had relayed to them when it comes to the way they perceived the outside world around them.

All the four aspects of the constructivist-interpretive paradigm are crucial in understanding the indigenous people of the frontier. If they go to the site with a prior understanding of the Mackenzie Valley, of its people, and a fixed belief system on how humans behave then they will simply discover ideas and behavior patterns that will conform to their own biases.

For instance if they believe that the indigenous people living in this region are uneducated and primitive then they will see their traditional way of life as somewhat barbaric and must be transformed in accordance to Western lifestyle.

Here lies the danger because they had sealed-off their minds from information that has the potential to radically impact their inquiry. Yet, since they are no longer willing to absorb information by attempting to understand the indigenous people’s point of view then there is not stopping their error-prone ways.

Outsiders trying to exploit the natural resources of a particular region comes into the territory with a bias towards technology. Nothing is important except the technology that is believe to be the savior of the world (Smith, 1999, p.99). It is like going into a territory with blinders and insensitive to the needs, fears, and aspirations of the people. This is why researchers will never understand why there is conflict and that they cannot gain the favor of the natives.

As explained by one social scientist, “The most fundamental clash between Western and indigenous belief system … stems from a belief held by indigenous people that the earth is a living entity” (Smith, 1999, p.99). The investors and project managers may be able to separate the people from their natural habitat but the people will resent this. There is therefore conflict that will not be resolved because one of them operates within a system that does not accommodate this kind of worldview.

The constructivist-interpretive paradigm has one last final facet that has to be pointed out in this study. The fifth aspect when it comes to this paradigm is its capability to utilize the best in other paradigms.

In other words the scientific approach used by those who believed in the positivist paradigm can be adapted here. An aspect of the feminist paradigm which is the need to acknowledge the place and contribution of women in society can be also be adapted into the constructivist-interpretive paradigm without compromising its core principles. There is therefore a great degree of flexibility.

A researcher can still use the data gleaned from scientific studies. For instance, a researcher is aware that the indigenous population will greatly benefit from the successful recovery of petroleum products, however he is also aware that the process must be sustainable in order to minimize the impact to the environment (Berger, 1988, p.168). The researcher who uses this paradigm will come to realize that the natives are not only after the wages for they also value the natural resources that for them is not only raw materials but a source of life.

The use of this paradigm will not limit the researcher. He or she can even use other paradigms and other methods of knowledge acquisition but will never feel confined to a particular methodology. More importantly those who use this paradigm will be able to know exactly th concerns of the people.

They will be able to articulate these issues to the project manager or even the investors. As a result there is a way develop an action plan that will ensure success and happiness to all concerned not just the big companies who comes in to exploit and profit from the destruction of a region and its peoples’ culture.


Berger, T. (1988). Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry. British Columbia: Douglas & McIntyre.

Smith, L. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. New York: Zed Books.

Travers, A. (2010). The Philosophy of the Social Sciences. CA: Simon Fraser University Press.

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