Positivism is a philosophical system first developed by Auguste Comte (1798-1857). This system maintains that knowledge is about description rather than questioning. Positivists recognise only positive facts and observable events – those things that can be seen, measured and be counted as facts. The system equates very closely with the traditional, scientific view of the world. In fact, Comte drew his ideas from the “scientific” world view that was developing at the time, and applied them to the world of sociological thought. Positivism takes little account of beliefs or feelings, although strangely some of its more extreme protagonists seem to be drawn towards mysticism.
Begun by Edmund Husserl (1859 – 1938) in the 1890s, phenomenology is a very different way of viewing the world in comparison to positivism. Phenomenologists are concerned with what things mean, rather than with identifying and measuring phenomena. They are particularly interested in the idea that human experience is a valuable source of data, as opposed to the idea that true research or discovery lies in simply measuring the existence of physical phenomena.
The following activity will allow you to explore some of the basic beliefs of positivism and phenomenology, how these would influence what a researcher might do and the types of research methods most favoured by positivists and phenomenologists:
Positivist and phenomenological paradigms online quiz.
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