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Methodology and Methods. Professor Luiz Moutinho Foundation Chair of Marketing University of Glasgow, Scotland.

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methodology and methods

Methodology and Methods

Professor Luiz Moutinho

Foundation Chair of Marketing

University of Glasgow, Scotland


“all research is influenced by the philosophical position of the researchers, the nature of the project and the intended audience” (Jordan and Gibson, 2004). “Questions of method are secondary to questions of paradigm”.

Professor Luiz Moutinho


The final choice of research strategy and method should be seen as a culmination of issues at the level of the researcher and the research paradigm, the latter involving the interconnected issues of ‘ontology’ (what is the nature of reality?), epistemology (What is the relationship between the inquirer and the known?) and methodology (How can we know the world, or gain knowledge of it?)

Professor Luiz Moutinho


Paradigms can be interpreted as worldviews or a set of beliefs that underpin an individual’s understanding of the world and their place and relationship within it (Guba and Lincoln, 1998). A paradigm is, a consensus across the relevantscientific community about the theoretical and methodological rules to be followed, the instruments to be used, the problems to be investigated, and the standards by which research is to be judged (Marshall, 1998).

Professor Luiz Moutinho


Inquiry paradigms can be revealed by the researcher's responses to the following three questions. Firstly, what is the form and nature of reality and therefore what can be known about it – the ontological question – secondly, what is the nature of the relationship between the knower and what can be known – the epistemological question – and thirdly, how can the inquirer go about finding whatever he or she believes can be known – the methodological question (Guba and Lincoln, 1998). Ontology is concerned with the nature of being and reality. Epistemology can be explained as “how we know what we know (Marshall 1998).

Professor Luiz Moutinho


Any discussion of the research process undertaken for the purpose of gathering knowledge “would need to start with a consideration of the theory of knowledge – or epistemology”(Zahra and Ryan 2005). Epistemology is concerned with an “examination of the nature of knowledge and the links between theory and data in the construction of knowledge” (Aitchison 2005)

Professor Luiz Moutinho


There are currently four major paradigms which structure research (positivist, post-positivist, critical theory and interpretivist), (Goodson and Phillimore, 2004). Guba and Lincoln (1998) call the positivism the ‘received view’, while Riley and Love (2000) term positivism the ‘master paradigm’.

Professor Luiz Moutinho


Positivists take the ontological perspective that research is objective (that is the researcher neither influences or is influenced by the researched), findings are ‘true’, and not only that human behaviour can be explained rationally and logically. For positivists, the independence of the researcher from the researched is crucial, as any interaction between them will threaten the validity of the research.

Professor Luiz Moutinho


Positivism supports a quantitative methodology and generally utilises a hypothesis approach, which is then tested empirically, as the ontological perspective dictates that objective enquiry provides a true and predictive knowledge of external reality (Zahra and Ryan 2005). The goal of positivism is scientific explanation whereas the purpose of social science is the “understanding of the meaning of social phenomena”.

Professor Luiz Moutinho


Post-positivism recognises that only partially objective accounts of the real world can be made. Post positivists, whilst sharing the same ontological view, also recognise some of the criticisms levelled at positivism (it being context-less for example) and address them by generally conducting research in more naturalistic settings, often combining quantitative with qualitative techniques (Guba and Lincoln 1998)

Professor Luiz Moutinho


At the other end of the spectrum to positivists, intepretivists and social constructionists take the phenomenological perspective. This contends that multiple realities exist that are socially and experientially based, the researcher and the subject are inextricably linked, and that research is subjective, fluid and informing (Crouch 2005; Guba and Lincoln 1998; Jennings 2005; Small 2004). This perspective uses qualitative methods in order to explain and understand human experience and often deals with an individual perspective.

Professor Luiz Moutinho


The researcher in the interpretative paradigm needs to understand the social world as it is, at the level of subjective experience. He or she seeks an explanation within the frame of reference of participant as opposed to observer of action (Zahra and Ryan 2005)

Professor Luiz Moutinho


Comparison of the paradigms of positivism and phenomenology

Source: Jennings (2004:104)

Professor Luiz Moutinho


A third paradigm is critical theory, which takes the ontological perspective that there is a ‘virtual’ reality, shaped over time by various social, political, ethnic and economic factors. This requires a subjectivist and transactional epistemology and usually consists of long-term ethnographic and historical studies.

Professor Luiz Moutinho


The methods usually, but not exclusively, associated with a phenomenological approach are qualitative in nature and include methods such as in-depth interviews, participant observation and ethnography.

Professor Luiz Moutinho

a range of methodologies and their related paradigms




Grounded theory

In-depth interviewing & focus groups (with an interviewer protocol


Theory-building research: emphasis on meaning

Instrumental case research


Survey & structural equation modelling


A range of methodologies and their related paradigms

Survey & other multivariate techniques


Theory-testing research: emphasis on measurement

Source: Healy and Perry, 2000:121

Professor Luiz Moutinho


It could be argued that the post-positivist paradigm would be better termed the ‘quasi-positivist’ approach, because post-positivists, whilst interested in explanation, also want to predict and control phenomena, which is also a common feature of positivism. It could be argued that the post-positivist paradigm is actually positivism with a view qualitative methods thrown in to add a little meaning and context.

Professor Luiz Moutinho


The criticism mostly commonly ascribed to positivist inquiry is that it is context-less which therefore limits not only the relevance of the data but any meanings attached to the topic of enquiry. Further limitations include the nomothetic disjunction (that generalisations cannot be extended to individual cases) and exclusion of the discovery or creative dimension in inquiry.

Professor Luiz Moutinho


The post-positivist approach (using qualitative research methods to supplement quantitative methods) is a popular approach in scientific research and is commonly used to bring context and meaning to quantitative research findings.

Professor Luiz Moutinho


The assertion that there are significant limitations with quantitative methods as they cannot fully address questions of understanding and meaning.

Professor Luiz Moutinho


Thomas (2004) cited Walle (1997) as saying that using only quantitative, etic methods of data collection can result in dehumanised research as a result of a pursuit of rigorous, standardised data. Walle (1997) also points out that in much social science research -

“The main role of qualitative research has typically been reduced to helping create and pose hypotheses which can then be tested and refined using scientific and/or statistical research methods and models.”

Professor Luiz Moutinho


Guba and Lincoln (1998), in their critique of the perceived superiority of quantitative methods of enquiry in social science research believe that “Human behaviour, unlike that of physical objects, cannot be understood without reference to the meanings and purposes attached by human actors to their activities”. Objective reality can never be captured. We know a thing only through its representation.

Professor Luiz Moutinho


“Embracing a more creative, artistic approach to research” (Phillimore and Goodson, 2004). This ontological perspective implied the usefulness of several different methodologies but essentially required a method that acknowledged the interactive and co-operative nature of the relationship between the interviewer and the subjects being investigated (e.g. innovative methods such as semiotic analysis).

Professor Luiz Moutinho