social science research are qualitative and quantitative research methods. Qualitative research is believed to operate from a subjective, constructionist view of reality, whereas quantitative research operates from an objective, positivist viewpoint of the world. There has been quite a bit of debate over the merits of each of these approaches, often with one paradigm belittling the assumptions of the other. The current literature review explores the philosophical foundations of each paradigm, compares their practical differences, and discusses the strengths and weakness of both approaches as they relate to research in the social sciences and to human resources research. The rationale for mixed-methods research, where the two paradigms are combined, is also discussed.
In recent years there has been substantial interest concerning the role of specific paradigms and philosophical assumptions with regards to doing research. There has been a growing concern regarding the adequacy of research methods in social sciences and human resources (HR) studies (Anderson, 2004). This interest developed with the increasing interest in cross-cultural influences in the social sciences and as they related to understandings regarding employees and management. There have been ambiguities in interpreting and utilizing the findings in previous areas of research. Many researchers and past findings have been accused of producing scientific research studies that do not fully explain phenomena as they occur in the real world. A good deal of HR research has been largely empirical predicated on a positivist research philosophy. This is a different approach from the phenomenological research viewpoint that has inspired research in the traditional HR management disciplines. Much of the empirical research in HR has largely evolved from doctoral dissertations underscoring the importance of sound research grounding predominantly where quantitative approaches, primarily hypothesis testing, is concerned (Anderson, 2004). In its traditional context, human resources management has not been a quantitative discipline preferring the qualitative approach (Anderson, 2004; Huselid, 1995). The difference between qualitative and quantitative research reflects two different philosophical viewpoints.
The predominant school of empirical thought has traditionally used a quantitative approach based on research in "hard" science such as biology and medicine (Blalock, 1984). Beginning in the 1970s serious concerns were raised about the limits of quantitative research methods that were associated with the prevalent paradigm of the time, positivism (Blalock, 1984). Positivism presupposes that the world is objective and that scientific methods can inherently measure and represent aspects of the world and explain and predict causal relations among central variables. However, critics countered that positivistic methods take away contexts from meanings during the process of developing quantified measures (Lincoln & Guba, 2000). These critics charge that quantitative measures leave out the subjective interpretations from data, impose the researchers' interpretations on the data, require statistical samples that are not representative of specific groups which does not allow for generalization to individual cases.
Positivism was the dominant influence on social research for many years; however, it has been challenged by critics from two different traditions: interpretive constructionism and critical postmodernism (Blalock, 1984). Constructionism and postmodernism have offered alternative theoretical and methodological research approaches regarding management and organizations by generating interest in political and social issues that positivist-oriented research did not address. Positivistic research relies on experimental or survey methodologies that have been criticized by interpretivists as impose a worldview on subjects as opposed to describing and understanding these views. Postmodernists have argued that positivist methods implied forms of knowledge support capitalist structures and inequality. As a result of these criticisms there has been an interest in qualitative research methods that does not follow the quantitative interpretation of variables and statistical methods, but seeks to delve into the subjective experiences of the research participants (Blalock, 1984). Both quantitative and qualitative research methods should be viewed as complimentary instead of being held as opposites. This literature review discusses and compares the use of qualitative and quantitative research procedures in research and the need to rely on both.
The Philosophy of Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods
To understand the paradigms of quantitative and qualitative research one should briefly trace their origins. These origins date back to at least to the seventeenth century philosophical debates regarding the nature of knowledge and its relationship to reality. Burrell and Morgan (1979) suggest that assumptions about the nature of reality can be conceptualized in terms of a subjective (qualitative)-objective (quantitative) dimension.
The subjective (qualitative) view is centered on the supposition that the social world outside of individual cognition is composed of nothing more than labels, names, and concepts that serve as artificial creations. Their usefulness is based upon their convenience as devices that allow for describing, interpreting, and negotiating the world (Anderson, 2004). This view believes that a social action takes place when an actor (person) assigns a meaning to their conduct or environment and by means of this meaning relates their act to the acts of others. Human actions are reciprocally oriented to one another not in a mechanistic method of stimulus and response, but are oriented by way of an interpretative process (Blalock, 1984). Therefore in order to be able to understand the significance and meaning of social phenomena it is first necessary to appreciate this interpretative process. It is important to discover and understand the motives and goals which guide people to act. For the subjectivist researcher understanding and interpretation take precedence over simple causal explanations or differences in groups of people (Firestone, 1987).
In contrast, quantitative research methods originated from hard sciences such as chemistry, biology, and physics and follow an objectivist view that is centered on the ontological assumption that the social world exists independently of one's appreciation or subjective experience of it (Burrell & Morgan, 1979). This objective viewpoint of reality as a tangible, solid, physical structure supports an epistemological position that highlights the importance of studying the characteristics of relationships among those elements that make up that particular structure. The knowledge of the organization of reality from this point-of-view involves the need to understand and diagram the causal relationships between the components, ingredients, or factors of the structure (Firestone, 1987). This viewpoint encourages an objective type of knowing that specifies the particular nature of the laws and relationships amid phenomena and measured in terms of facts (Anderson, 2003; Blalock, 1984).
This phenomenological-oriented point-of-view (qualitative) disputes the notion that there can be any real type of objective knowledge that can be spelled out and communicated in a tangible form as what we know is simply an expression of the manner in which we have arbitrarily imposed our frame of reference on the reality (Firestone, 1987). We mistakenly perceive reality is consisting of an external and separate sphere, but interpretations of reality our subjective.
The objectivist attitude (quantitative) supports the epistemology following in the positivist tradition which attempts to describe and predict events in the world by seeking out the causal relationships and regularities between its components (Firestone, 1987). The research methodology here is influenced by experimental designs that originated mostly from the biological sciences. Research methods such as questionnaires can be used to investigate a range of topics as well leading to the designation of research into experimental and correlational designs occurs: true experiments can explain casual relations, correlational designs explain relationships, but these cannot be assumed to be causal. Quasi-experimentation (Campbell & Stanley, 1963) is a research approach that can be used to examine causal relationships in situations where true experiments that require random assignment to treatment conditions is difficult to achieve or is inappropriate altogether. The quantitative approach highlights the use of statistical procedures, measures of association, and the expansion of models of measurement. This approach has been developed on the basis of an ontology which is appropriate for physical sciences and assumes that objects in the world and the relationships people have are interrelated by a lawful force that is called causation. Researchers can use experimental methods to ascertain these lawful relationships. This paradigm forces the language of social behavior to become the language of variables. The over usage of experimental models of behavior that are based on methods and models derived from chemistry and physics can be criticized due to a "closed" nature and may not be the only way to study the more "open systems" that are found in human organizations, but ignoring these principles can also lead to investigating ineffective methods of change (Blalock, 1984).
Wilden (1972) proposed that if one accepts a purely reductionist approach then there are always going to be causes that inevitably cause causes to cause causes etc. In a sense an argument can be made as to whether we accept that human action/behavior is a fundamentally distinct type of phenomenon; that is that human behavior perhaps cannot be completely studied by a scientific approach or any means that makes an attempt to break down its totality into various components and variables which are then separately analyzed (Firestone, 1987). Phenomenology (qualitative) supports the argument that the whole is always greater than the mere sum of its parts. From the phenomenologist perspective human behavior should be viewed from its…