In search of pragmatism and mixed methods

Jun 28 2009 Published by under Information Science

I took classes on qualitative research and naturalistic research methods from researchers who follow the constructivist paradigm rather closely and who don't really believe in mixed methods research. I took statistics classes from professors who are friendly towards naturalistic methods, but who only use quantitative methods.  Other professors around me use some mixed methods, some rhetorical/critical methods, some large scale quantitative methods, (and then there's SNA)... All of these paradigms have related epistemologies*. The practitioners of naturalistic methods, in particular, are often passionately committed to constructivism. (ok, those of you who de-bunk pseudoscience - these folks aren't strict wackaloon-there-is-no-reality types but just emphasizing that through our interactions we make meaning of the world). My management at work and the scientists who I study are typically firmly committed to post-positivism (if not positivism, which doesn't even appreciate that there are value choices in experimental methods, etc).

So I kept thinking that I would read something or do some bit of research or do some soul-searching and pick a standpoint.  But it just ain't happening and believe me, I've done *a lot* of reading!  I see the value in both of these approaches and the selection of the appropriate one based on what you want to know - they yield different information.  After really disappointing myself with a comprehensive exam practice question on mixed methods, I looked again at Creswell (2003) and still not there.  He did, however, point to Patton (2002) and mention a pragmatic approach that doesn't really commit to an epistemology, but rather picks the right tool from the toolbox according to the research question.... tell me more!

Interestingly - as I've been going through this process for months if not years - it's just this morning that Amazon recommended the new edition of Teddlie and Tashakkori (2009) and even let me read a bit of the first chapter.  I'm starting to really understand that people haven't completely made peace with mixed methods and those who have, often take more of a pragmatic approach (like Patton). While I wait for my copy of the T&T book to come from another library, I followed some links there to the Journal of Mixed Methods Research**. I'm most of the way through Bryman (2007), and holy cow, not only am I not alone, but people don't even seem to have their coping mechanisms fully in place. People commit to one or the other methods and have trouble integrating the results- if they even try at all.  Sequencing is an issue, too.  Writing up results is non-trivial because it's nearly impossible to please everyone.

So it seems I'm a pragmatist and now there remains to read more about this (now that I have some sources) and then probably memo some more to lay out and understand my personal approaches.  But I feel better now, even as I realize that just about everyone who might possibly read this will now think I've gone off the deep end!

* ontology - what can we know, epistemology - how can we know, research methodology - approaches/paradigms (not in the Kuhnian sense, really) like naturalistic, research methods - actions to take like do a survey, do an interview, etc

** note: our catalog doesn't say we have it, but we (as a larger institution) buy collections of stuff from that publisher so I gave it a try and yay, we have it. Seriously - if you can't find an e-journal in your citation linker or catalog, and you're on campus or VPN'd in, try going to that page anyway and see if it works... sad but true.

Bryman, A. (2007). Barriers to integrating quantitative and qualitative research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1(1), 8-22. doi:10.1177/2345678906290531

Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (find in a library)

Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (find in a library)

Teddlie, C., & Tashakkori, A. (2009). Foundations of mixed methods research :Integrating quantitative and qualitative approaches in the social and behavioral sciences. Los Angeles: Sage. (find in a library)

3 responses so far

  • bill says:

    I don't think you've gone bonkers; in fact, this is most timely for me. I've started applying for jobs outside bench science, but mostly still some kind of research -- after all, the only thing I'm really trained to do is "figure stuff out". So if any of those applications bears fruit, I suspect I will be revisiting this post and bothering you for advice!

  • Nathy says:

    I accidentally found ur blog when trying to . I just started my PhD few months a go and I tried to understand the confusing research philosophies. I am glad that somebody like you explained them in a 'human language'. The particular model that I choose for my research reccomended mixed research methods. So I was debating whether I should use critical realism or pragmatism. After reading ur blog I'm convinced that I am a pragmatist too. So I just want to say thank you for your advice :-)Anyway can i ask ur opinion about critical realism?

  • Christina Pikas says:

    Hey, when you figure out all of the research philosophies you can explain them to me 🙂 Seriously, though, I've just read a few paragraphs here and there (like in Denzin and Lincoln) about critical realism so I really can't explain it. It seems entirely reasonable, but that I'd have to read a bunch of books to really get it. Good luck!