Researchers need to be aware of philosophical issues in research

I’m starting my thesis project soon.. Here’s some of my concluded thoughts on the link between academic theories and practise.

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Introduction: How I view research

This is a reaction to Beginning qualitative research: a philosophic and practical guide by Maykut & Morehouse, as well as to Business Research Methods by Bryman & Bell.

Bryman & Bell state that research is systematic investigation into, and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions. The more I’ve personally got involved to the business life towards the end of my studies in the business school, the more I’ve began to question academic research. I question whether academic research actually contributes profoundly to practice or not, especially in the field of business. In human science, for example, I understand perfectly that research enables fundamental findings that can save lives. These findings can only be made through profound research and testing the human body.

In business, however, how I see it, everything is context-dependent. How do you know whether findings are trustworthy? To what extent can they be generalized? Further, if the researchers are not actively involved in the business life, are they qualified to give recommendations of best practices and tools? And when they do, how do we know that these implications will enhance organizational performance? Does the new knowledge even reach relevant people?

Philosophic questions on nature of research

My thoughts are very much in line with philosophical analysis in literature. Nature of research raises questions that researchers need to be familiar with and further, have their view on it. Epistemological assumptions concern the origins of knowledge – the nature, sources and limitations of it and whether there can be factual knowledge in the first place. How trustworthy are research findings? If there is no such thing as factual knowledge, what is the point of research?

In my opinion, the academic language is too complex and theoretical; people in business simply don’t have time and interest to read highly academic articles, even if they wanted. Information today needs to be quickly and simply absorbable and adaptable. Thus I’m afraid that the valuable work of researchers is too rarely utilized – practical and academic languages might simply not find mutual communication ground.

Ontology, then, questions the nature of reality. What can be said to exist? What is a thing? Can we sort existing things into categories? If yes, on which basis? I agree with Bryman & Bell, who claim that researchers have to very carefully determine how they conceptualize a noun in their specific piece of research. According to a constructionist view, nouns cannot be pre-given and assumed to be something constant and specific. Social actors are continually shaping social phenomena and their meanings; they are constantly in a state of revision.

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Research methods

Quantitative research collects and analyses data, with the aim to test an existing theory. Social reality is seen as an external, objective reality (ontological). Qualitative, by contrast, usually emphasizes words and sees social reality as constantly evolving by individuals’ creation. As Maykut & Morehouse emphasizes, it is important to choose an appropriate research method based on what is being researched. If we are interested in the worldviews of members of a certain social group, a qualitative research method that is sensitive to how participants interpret their social world is likely to be better option than quantitative.

The question of influence of author’s values in conducting research is highly important. As Bryman & Bell points out, choice of values can intrude in the process of business research, in for example:

  • Choice of research area
  • Formulation of research question and choice of methods
  • Data collection techniques and implementation
  • Analysis and interpretation of data
  • Conclusions

Clearly, there are several phases, which may result in a bias research; values being intruded consciously or unconsciously. Academic research always comes with limitations that are elaborated in the article; how generalizable and trustworthy the findings are.

Maykut & Morehouse highlight the importance of logic. Logic deals with the principles of demonstration and verification. Are causal links between bits of information possible? Teleology is generally concerned with questions of purpose. What is research for? What is the possibility of generalization? What does research contribute to knowledge? What is the purpose of research?

Conclusion

In the field of business, as I see it, situations are context-dependent and hardly generalizable. Each organization faces their individual problems. Research findings should always be questioned and their feasibility into context thoroughly considered. Despite the criticism presented above and limitations that research will always have, the findings will be very useful in organizations, when their limitations are carefully considered and understood by practitioners.

Corporate Communication Research

Sonja Hannus

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