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Positivist and Critical Paradigms Essay

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Positivist Paradigm

Positivist paradigm was developed in the 19th century after the rejection of metaphysics by scholars such as August Compte. Before the introduction of the positivist paradigm, the world was studied through natural sciences. Positivist believed that the social world can be studied through observations and analysis of research findings. Consequently, the positivist paradigm was developed to help in studying the social world with the aim of acquiring accurate knowledge on social phenomenon. Positivist scientists believe that there is a real world that is independent. Thus it is not affected by the perception of human beings. Positivists believe that “reality is composed of human phenomena that are causally linked to one another” (Travers, 2010, p. 12). For example, the expected degradation of the environment in the Mackenzie delta was linked to the construction of a pipeline in the region. The positivist paradigm is “based on the epistemology of empiricism” (Travers, 2010, p. 12). This means that the real world can only be understood by acquiring knowledge that is supported by empirical evidence. Thus any social phenomenon that can not be measured or verified with the aid of common senses is not real.

In the Mackenzie Valley pipeline inquiry, the commissioner had to base his judgment on the empirical evidence provided by the investigation. Consequently, scientific research was done on the potential negative impacts on the environment. The outcome of the investigation revealed that the project would interfere with the ecosystem and endanger some species of animals and birds (Berger, 1988, p. 96). Thus the commissioner ruled against the project. According to the positivist paradigm, the findings of the inquiry were considered to be knowledge since they were based on empirical evidence. According to the paradigm, researchers should be able to conduct their investigations in a manner that is free from the bias that is associated with prejudice and personal values (Travers, 2010, p. 13). Consequently, the commissioner had to listen to all concerned parties in order to get the unbiased position on the impacts of the project. Positivism focuses on objectivism in collecting data through observations.

Critical Discussion

The potential impact of the pipeline project was the subject matter of the inquiry. The positivist paradigm helps in understanding the subject of the inquiry in three ways. First, the paradigm relies on empirical evidence (Travers, 2010, p. 12). Consequently, it is possible to understand how and why the commissioner rejected the project. The commissioner’s decision was based on empirical evidence that was presented during the inquiry. Second, the paradigm focuses on fairness or justice. This helps in understanding why various groups had to be given attention by the commissioner. Finally, the concept of objectivism enables use to understand the relationship between the methods used in the investigation and the expected impacts of the project. Objectivism enables researchers to approach a problem with an open mind. Consequently, the commissioner adopted a neutral ground on the matter. The neutral position was adopted in order to avoid bias that is attributed to prejudice and personal views.

Critical Paradigm

The critical paradigm was originated by Marxist scientist who opposed the objectivity of the positivist paradigm. According to Marx, the positivist’s objectivism favored the rich and the powerful in the society. Thus the truth about social phenomenon represents the interests of the bourgeoisie (Travers, 2010, p. 15). Marxists believe that the only way to get an unbiased picture of the society is to focus on class consciousness. This is because objectivism represents the views of the powerful instead of the reality. Thus the paradigm is based on the concept of class conflict (Travers, 2010, p. 16). In the Mackenzie pipeline project, there was a class conflict between the rich who proposed the project and the poor who opposed the project. According to the paradigm, the real world is socially constructed with the intention of benefiting the powerful. The powerful create social relations and institutions that help them to justify their actions and interests (Smith, 1999, p. 23). The poor are expected to accept their fate due to the fact that they can not change the social system that is responsible for their oppression (Smith, 1999, p. 29). For example, the powerful proposed the project in the name of economic development. However, the economic development was to benefit the powerful at the expense of the poor. This is because the local communities were to lose the land that they depended on (Berger, 1988, p. 62).

The critical paradigm is “based on subjective epistemology” (Travers, 2010, p. 18). This means that the suffering of the oppressed individuals forms the basis of knowledge. The communities that lived in the Mackenzie region depended on the environment for their livelihood (Berger, 1988, p. 62). Thus the implementation of the project could have interfered with their economic activities. Their collective subjection formed the basis of knowledge about the potential negative impacts of the project (Travers, 2010, p. 18). According to the critical paradigm the value of truth is based on the “ability of knowledge to emancipate oppressed individuals” (Travers, 2010, p. 19). Thus it is the expected suffering that prompted the locals to oppose the project. According to the paradigm, social science should focus on solving social problems through dialogue (Travers, 2010, p. 19). It is for this reason that the inquiry considered the views of all parties in order to find a lasting solution.

Critical Discussion

The critical paradigm helps in understanding the subject of the inquiry in three ways. First, the concept of class consciousness reveals the fact that the implementation of the project could have led to inequality and poverty among the locals. Second, the dialogue approach helps in understanding the fact that the various parties had different views concerning the pipeline project (Berger, 1988, p. 122). Consequently, the inquiry was meant to utilize the various views of the concerned parties to find a lasting solution. Finally, the critical paradigm clarifies the fact that occurrences or problems in the social world are created by the community. The powerful use their resources to exploit the poor and this leads to problems such as inequality, class conflict and the degradation of the environment.

References

Berger, T. (1988). Northern frontier northern homeland. Toronto: Simon Fraser University.

Smith, L. (1999). Decolonizing methodology. London: Zed Books.

Travers, A. (2010). The philosophy of the social sciences. Burnaby, BC: Simon Fraser University.

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