Sound research design and practise is not only grounded in ‘a basic set of beliefs that guide action’ (Guba cited in Creswell 2018, p. 54) but serves as a vehicle to advance key philosophical concepts (Creswell 2018). Research theorists uphold that this ‘basic set of beliefs’ are informed by one’s ontology and epistemology; and delineate the paradigm or framework within which the inquiry will be conducted.
O’Leary defines onotogy as ‘the study of what exists, and how things that exist are understood and characterised. Our personal ontology points to what we think is real, what we think exists’ (2017, p.5). Ontology involves philosophical assumptions regarding existence and being. Whereas epistemology aims to describe ‘how we come to have legitimate knowledge of the world: rules for knowing and how we have come to understand the world’ (O’Leary 2017, p.5). It centres on assumptions around gaining knowledge, and pertinent for researchers, the relationship between researchers and what is known.
Mertens espouses the role of paradigms as being ‘meta-physical constructs that provide an organizing framework for the philosophical assumptions that guide researchers in their theories and practice’ (2014, p.140). It is therefore one’s paradigm or philosophical understanding that determines the research scope and methodological approach.
A Pragmatic Paradigm
Pragmatism advocates the importance of social interaction and context. Creswell (2018) recognises pragmatic research philosophy as being primarily concerned with application and solutions, with researchers focusing on the research question and use of all approaches available to understand the problem.
Preissle et al raises that in fact mixed methods research is derived from philosophical pragmatism and that it ‘allows researchers the flexibility to prioritize what is to be learned over how to learn it’ (2015, p.1). Further, this paradigm supports the inclusion of a range of qualitative and quantitative approaches best aligned with the question and context.
Drawing on Creswell’s (2018) research, applying pragmatism to mixed methods research affords a range of observable benefits including:
● A mixed method approach enables researchers greater flexibility when designing processes and instruments to address specific concepts or questions.
● Collation and analysis of data can be achieved through multiple processes as opposed to limiting collection through only qualitative or quantitative methods.
● Researchers are able to analyse the ways qualitative and quantitative data correlate in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the identified problem.
● It is vital for pragmatist researchers to be confident in justifying their application of a mixed methods approach and to design processes that reflect an anticipated outcome.
● Social, cultural, historical and political contexts influence the research and thus analysis of data is considered through the lens of social justice and political activism.
● ‘Pragmatism opens the door to multiple methods, different worldviews, and different assumptions, as well as different forms of data collection and analysis’ (Creswell 2018, p.59).
Scholars linked to Pragmatism
Pragmatism is noted to have evolved in the 1870’s from discussions in Cambridge Massachusetts among a group Kaushik and Walsh refer to as the ‘founding fathers’ (2019, p.2). Key figures included philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, psychologist William James, philosopher and mathematician Chauncey Wright, jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and philosopher and lawyer Nicholas St. Johns Green (Kaushik and Walsh 2019). Pragmatism became bound with a fundamental belief that ‘human actions can never be separated from the past experiences and from the beliefs that have originated from those experiences; and that human thoughts are thus intrinsically linked to action’(Kaushik and Walsh, 2019, p.3). Early pragmatists espoused that human reality is not static, nor is the world, and therefore one’s actions play a significant role in changing social and political outcomes for individuals and groups. They held an understanding that the world was in a constant state of becoming (Kaushik and Walsh 2019).
Considerations of a pragmatic paradigm and philosophical pragmatism
Some researchers seek to make clear distinctions between pragmatism and philosophical pragmatism by asserting that a pragmatic approach is primarily concerned with applying appropriate research mechanisms for the purpose (Mertens 2014). In contrast, philosophical pragmatism aims to assist researchers to debate the benefits and limitations of a mixed methods approach by outlining related assumptions (Mertens 2014).
Further, Morgan (as cited in Mertens, 2014) argues that there is a need to ‘clarify the epistemological and methodological assumptions that lead to decisions about the use of mixed methods’ (p.142) as these assumptions impact the criteria applied to the research. Morgan challenges whether researchers go beyond the superficial argument that it is legitimate to claim that their work reflects the pragmatic paradigm because the purpose and questions determined the methods chosen (Mertens 2014).
The philosophical pragmatic paradigm challenges researchers to justify their ‘combination of action and reflection that resulted in the knowledge represented in the research and also the tension between the concept of knowledge as objective, waiting to be discovered, and knowledge as social construction’ (Mertens 2014, p.142).
A Transformative Paradigm
The transformative paradigm seeks at all times to influence social and political injustices in an effort to improve the lives of marginalised individuals and communities. Researchers working from a transformative perspective believe strongly that their examination of key social issues can directly impact political decision making and social reform. The transformative paradigm also allows researchers to ‘raise questions about the assumptions that underlie research and the contribution of research to enhancing human rights’ (Mertens 2014, p.224). Creswell maintains that transformatism ‘assumes that the inquirer will proceed collaboratively so as to not further marginalize the participants as a result of the inquiry. In this sense, the participants may help design questions, collect data, analyze information, or reap the rewards of the research’ (2018, p.57).
Mertens (2014) asserts a transformative research paradigm is founded on a commitment to:
● Developing inclusive social structures.
● Implementing processes that ensure community members are acknowledged and research parameters are clear.
● Ensuring that research findings are freely communicated and are readily drawn upon to compel social action.
Leading scholars of the transformative paradigm offer a range of considerations for individuals undertaking a mixed methods approach to research including:
● That the concerns and opinions of participants are central, and clearly communicated in order to empower and improve lives, ‘becoming a united voice for reform and change’ (Creswell 2018, p.57)
● The purpose of the research should be unequivocally connected to social and political action.
● That social and political injustices have an intergenerational impact, and that participation in research gives voice to experiences of oppression and resistance.
● Acknowledging injustices ‘based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic class that result in asymmetric power relationships’ (Creswell 2018, p.58).
● A mixed methods approach enables researchers to draw upon the customs, languages and traditions of participants.
● Researchers are able to ‘insist that the local language is used throughout the process of the design of a study, the development and implementation of the intervention, and the presentation of the findings, especially when less powerful stakeholders are not familiar with English’ (Mertens 2014, p.223).
Sweetman et al (as cited by Creswell, 2018, p.133) provides the following questions for researchers to evaluate the inclusion of transformative theoretical thinking into a mixed methods study.
1. Did the authors openly reference a problem in a community of concern?
2. Did the authors openly declare a theoretical lens?
3. Were the research questions written with an advocacy lens?
4. Did the literature review include discussions of diversity and oppression?
5. Did authors discuss appropriate labeling of the participants?
6. Did the data collection and outcomes benefit the community?
7. Did the participants initiate the research, and/or were they actively engaged in the project?
8. Did the results elucidate power relationships?
9. Did the results facilitate social change?
10. Did the authors explicitly state the use of a transformative framework?