Epistemological orientation

Qualitative research can be classified in terms of three underlying assumptions about what constitutes ‘valid’ research and which research methods are appropriate (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991; Myers, 1997): positivist, interpretive and critical. The epistemological orientation of the study should be made explicit to inform the reader about how to review the paper (Gummesson, 1991; Walsham, 1995).

Positivist studies generally attempt to test theory, in an attempt to increase the predictive understanding of phenomena (Myers, 1997). An information system research project can be considered positivist if there is evidence of formal propositions, quantifiable measures of variables, hypothesis testing, and deducing the inferences concerning the phenomena from the representative sample to a stated population (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991). Positivists belief that the world conforms to laws of causation, which could be objectively tested (de Vries, 2004).

Interpretive studies generally attempt to understand phenomena through the meanings that people assign to them (Myers, 1997). The epistemological stance on interpretive approaches is that knowledge of reality is gained only through social construction such as language, shared meanings, tools, documents etc. (Walsham, 1993). In an interpretive research project there are no predefined dependent and independent variables, but a focus on the complexity of human sense-making as the situation emerges (Kaplan and Maxwell, 1994). The interpretive approach is inductive and concerned with discovering and interpreting social patterns (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991).

Critical research focuses on the oppositions, conflicts and contradictions in contemporary society (Myers, 1997). Information Systems (IS) research may be categorised as critical if its main task is seen as being one of social critique, whereby the restrictive and alienating conditions of the status quo are brought to light (Klein and Myers, 1999). Critical theorists assume that people can consciously act to change their social and economic conditions. They also assume that social reality is historically constituted and that it is produced and reproduced by people.

My orientation of this research will be positivistic, because I will test theory by testing the formulated hypotheses. Important criteria in qualitative case study research are to describe whether the research is exploratory or explanatory, or a hybrid of the two. The number of cases has to be clear, the site selection criteria has to be articulated, the unit of analysis has to be stated, the data sources has to be made clear, and finally it has to be clear whether triangulation is used or not and what type of triangulation (Klein and Myers, 1999). De Vries (2004) added two criteria, which are to be explicit about the data analysis techniques and about the epistemological orientation.


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