Social and business science is all about gaining knowledge of the world around us. However, while natural sciences assume that, no matter at what time and what place you observe a phenomenon, the same scientific explanation should hold. In social sciences where human behaviour is the focal point of attention, one might assume a different view of reality. In philosophy, thinking about one’s assumptions on reality and how it can be understood is captured by the terms ontology and epistemology. In essence ontology and epistemology are quite easy to understand, and regularly asked by four-year old children:
- ‘What is there?’ (ontology)
- ‘How do you know?’ (epistemology)
- If we ask “Does God exist?” this is a question of ontology.
- If we ask “How do we know if God exists?” this is an epistemological question.
If you wanted to investigate those questions, your methodological choices were strongly driven by your assumptions of the world, a paradigm as it is often called in research. As a teaser, two of the most common paradigms in social science research are:
The positivist paradigm – including objectivist ontology and positivist epistemology
The interpretivist paradigm – including constructionist ontology and interpretivist epistemology
Thus, your choice regarding a quantitative or qualitative research method would be firmly grounded in one of the two, or another, philosophical paradigm.
I am sure by now you have well understood the difference between the ontology and epistemology, but it might still not be clear how to apply it in entrepreneurship and innovation management research. Therefore, this session helps you to get familiar with different philosophies in social science research, and ultimately becoming comfortable when reasoning your decisions in a Master thesis or any other research project. Hopefully, by the end of the session you agree that ontology and epistemology are not difficult philosophical concepts that one has to grapple with to please the evaluator of your research project; both ontology and epistemology are primary issues in any research, underpinning everything that we do.
Creswell, J. (2007). Chapter 2: Philosophical, Paradigm, and Interpretive Frameworks, in Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches.p.15-32.
1. Introduction to Epistemology and Ontology
2. Ontology for Social Actors
3. Ontology for Researchers
Exercise 2.1 – Comprehend
Mention four different scientific paradigms, and explain the core assumptions/ideas of each paradigm in 2-3 sentence. Which one do you find most suitable for your own research on entrepreneurship or innovation management?
What is the difference between methodology and research method?
Exercise 2.2 – Critique
According to your reading of Munoz and Cohen (2017), which worldview did they choose? Imagine the authors had chosen a postpositivist, constructivist, advocacy/participatory, or pragmatic worldview in their study. Briefly discuss the ways that these worldviews could have changed the design of their study.
Please check. Did you gain an understanding of the following?
- What is ontology
- What is epistemology
- What is methodology
- The difference between interpretivist and positivist paradigm
If you can answer everything with a confident Yes! then you have achieved the learning objective of this session.