New Paradigms in Qualitative Research

Masud Chand

  A paradigm means a set of overarching and interconnected assumptions about the nature of reality (Maykut and Moorehouse 1994). Any paradigm is built on a number of assumptions that deal with the nature of reality. The paradigm itself cannot be tested; however, it provides the basis on which we build our verifiable knowledge. A paradigm provides the largest framework within which research takes place.

A paradigm shift is the term first used by Thomas Kuhn in his famous 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions to describe the process and result of a change in basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science. Kuhn discusses two views phases of research in science: normal and revolutionary. During the normal phase, science advances by advancing in the directions predicted by existing theories. The postulates of a paradigm are assumed to be self-evident truths during times of normal science. However, they are not self evident during times of change or when there is a shift from one paradigm to another.

A scientific revolution occurs, according to Kuhn, when scientists encounter anomalies that cannot be explained by the universally accepted paradigm within which scientific progress has thereto been made. The paradigm is not simply the current theory, but the entire worldview in which it exists, and all of the implications that come with it. When enough significant anomalies have accrued against a current paradigm, the scientific discipline is thrown into a state of crisis, according to Kuhn. During this crisis, new ideas, perhaps ones previously discarded, are tried. Eventually a new paradigm is formed, which gains its own new followers, and an intellectual battle takes place between the followers of the new paradigm and the hold-outs of the old paradigm. After a given discipline has changed from one paradigm to another, this is called a scientific revolution or a paradigm shift.

In the world of research, the use of quantitative research methods, sometimes also called the positivist approach, is the dominant paradigm. Qualitative research, on the other hand, is based on a fundamentally different set of assumptions and postulates. It constitutes what we call an alternate paradigm- that is a paradigm that is not yet fully developed.

Here are a number of examples drawn from diverse fields of human endeavor of the different paradigm shifts that have taken place over the last few centuries:

•  The transition from the Newtonian physics worldview to Einstein's Relativistic worldview

•  The development of Darwin's theory of evolution that replaced the dominant creation theory.

•  The English King signing the Magna Carta that shifted rights away from the absolute monarch

•  The Prussian military model based on the General Staff that revolutionized warfare

•  Mass manufacturing after the introduction of the assembly line.

Back to concepts page.