I recently gave a couple of presentations on interpretivist research for the Introduction to Educational Inquiry Research Awareness Day. The idea was to provide a philosophical and methodological contrast to postivist research (presented by Dr Sarah Meadows). There was doubt in the department that such an old school binary existed at the GSoE but Sarah and I managed to resurrect an intellectual conflict that had been dormant for a while! It was good fun, though a bit surreal as our M-Level cohort was so big I had to present the same material twice (running down 5 flights of stairs between presentations).
The essential message was that interpretivism is a complex beast which is tricky to define. Positivism is more clear cut, but text books sometimes present interpretivist philosophy as literally the epistemological and ontological opposite of positivism when, in fact, interpretivism is a broad term which can be used to refer to a collection of philosophies, some of which may compliment positivism. (For example, core phenomenology is a normative project.) Still, wrestling with these ideas allows us to get away from a tedious qualitative/quantitative divide abstracted from philosophical thinking which is a benefit in and of itself. I hope the students agreed!
(Pictured: GSoE’s home in Berkeley Square, Bristol)