Are you “resources” or “feeling” researcher? #understandingresearchphilosophies

As researcher you are creating new knowledge. But, what is or not knowledge for you? Two main views may be adopted.

(1) The researcher who concerns on numbers and countable elements: “resources” researcher

(2) The researcher who concerns more with the feelings and attitudes of the people involved in the organization studied: “feeling” researcher

1. “Resources” researchers

The first ones are more akin to the position of the natural scientist, and for them, the reality is represented by objects that are considered to be “real”, “touchable” and “visible”, such as computers, trucks and machines. Actually, “resources” researcher´s data are presented in the form of a table of statistical data. E.g. estimated personal computers users:

Estimated personal computers users
Country Computers
USA 223,810,000
Japan 69,200,000
China 52,990,000
Germany 45,000,000
Uk 35,890,000
France 35,000,000
South Korea 26,201,000
Canada 22,390,000
Italy 21,486,000
Brazil 19,350,000

Apart from resources, the existence of such sophisticate research methods as survey, allow researchers measure also opinions and attitudes. Imaging your research aims to measure the labor satisfaction in a manufacturing company. You may perform a survey and ask such questions as below:

“Are you very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, very dissatisfied within the company?

  1. Very satisfied
  2. Somewhat satisfied
  3. Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
  4. Somewhat dissatisfied
  5. Very dissatisfied

As such, the results might be represented as below:

Level of satisfaction %
Very satisfied 40
Somewhat satisfied 35
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 20
Somewhat dissatisfied 4
Very dissatisfied 1

 

These “resources” researchers would argue that this kind of data is less open to bias and therefore more objective. They think that the object studied by the “feeling” researchers cannot be seen, measured and modified like computers, trucks and machines.

As well as nature scientist, “resources” researchers also aim that the end product can be law-like generalizations, similar to those produced by physical and natural scientist. In our example of workers satisfaction, another question of the survey questionnaire might be:

Which department do you belong to?

  1. Manufacturing department
  2. Marketing department
  3. Accounting department
  4. Logistic department

Obtaining as a result the below table and being able to make law-like generalization as: “Employed satisfaction is 20% higher among manufacturing department workers than in the rest of the department”

%

Manufacturing department Marketing department Accounting department Logistic department
Very satisfied 80 58 62 59
Somewhat satisfied 10 12 8 9
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 5 3 2 7
Somewhat dissatisfied 3 5 3 2
Very dissatisfied 2 2 5 1

2. “Feeling” researchers

But, does this data presented in statistical tables deserve more authority than those presented in a narrative by a “feeling” researcher? You may be critical of “resources” researchers view and argue that the social world of business and management is far too complex to be understood just by numbers.

“Feeling” researchers advocates that it is necessary for the researcher to understand differences between humans in our role as social actors. Before further explanations of what is a social actor, watch the below video.

This video, emphasize the importance of the context, i.e. how important is where we are to the way we behave. Many of the people passing by the famous violinist would have paid more than 100$ for attending one of his concerts, but in this precise context, not even stopped to listen to him.

At the same way, you as students might be making jokes and laughing if you were outside or in a party, but as you have been tough that in a class you are supposed to behave, you don’t make jokes. Because there is something called social norms: being in silence, raise your hands when I ask you for, say good afternoon when entering in classroom, just example of social norms that are not written anywhere but all of us know.

Following this social norms we become in social actors, and play different roles depending on the context.

What are the implications for your own research? Coming back to the example given previously about the satisfaction in a manufacturing company, you, as “resources” researcher might be content with the result and might not want to go further. However, as “feeling” researchers you might prefer to go further and try to study more closely the feelings of the workers, as well as their beliefs, values, concerns. For this reason you perform a number of in-depth interviews. After recording the interviews, listening carefully and analyzing the information, you will unlikely to represent it by statistic tables, but you will be able to perform a narrative as the one given below:

Most of the interviewed sustain that they are satisfied, but mainly thanks to the “good salaries” (Joe). But the truth is that many of them feel quite unsatisfied in terms of development, because the tasks they do are “quite boring” (Peter). On top of that, some of them think that they are satisfied with the job, but in a long term they would prefer to leave the company for doing something “more challenging” (Mary)”…

A “resources” researcher would think that this is not objective, because you analysis is affected by the context and the answer given by the worker may be biased. On top of that, the number of interviews is not enough and it is not representative of the total number of the workers.

The truth is that a “feeling” researcher do not highly focus on “representativity” and “objectivity” as “resources” researchers do, but they gain, by contrast, major deepness in their analysis and major ability to identify the smallest details of worker satisfaction.

If you are more “resources” researcher, you will likely embrace what is called the positivism, whereas if you are more “feeling” researcher, you will likely embrace interpretivism. (There are also another philosophical position called realism that will not be address here and which essence is that what the senses show us as reality is the truth. You can find more details here)

The metaphor of iceber illustrate very well the difference between both philosophies. In case of perfoming a research on a company culture, a positivist (“resources” researcher”) will aim to understant the visible part of the iceber, which corresponds with goal technology, structure, policies and proceedures, products/services and financial resources, among other, or what is called formal aspects of the organization. By contrast, a interpretativist (“feeling” researcher) will aim to undertand such questions as beliefs, attitudes and values, among others, or what is called “informal aspects of the organization.

Within this post it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one research philosophy is “better” than another. This would miss the point. They are “better” at doing different things. When doing a research on labour satisfaction, adopting both philosophies is as possible as applying, provided that you own enough resources and skills, both a survey and in-dept interviews. For example, taking advantage of the information obtain by mean the in-depth interviews you will be able to formulate more focused questions and obtain more specific data. Coming back o our previous example, once you know that the satisfaction depends not only in salary but also in expectation and in oing interesting task, your survey questionaire could include apart from the general question on satisfaction, another kind of question as: “how satisfied are you in terms of personal development”, “…and in terms of salary…”

Finally, after reading this post you still think that choosing between one position and other is somewhat urealistic in practice, perhaps you should consider read this other post on pragmatism.

References

Camino, J. R. (2011). Cómo escribir y publicar una tesis doctoral ESIC Editorial.

Gene Weingarten (April 8, 2007). Pearls Before Breakfast. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com

Lewis, P., Saunders, M. N. K., & Thornhill, A. (2009). Research methods for business students Pearson.

Stanley N. Herman (1970) Cultural Iceber. TRW Systems Group. Retrieved from http://sandylearningblog.wordpress.com

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2 thoughts on “Are you “resources” or “feeling” researcher? #understandingresearchphilosophies”

  1. I was doing some reading of your previous posts since I just got here–and I ran across this one. I hadn’t seen Joshua Bell’s experiment in context yet–thanks for sharing that with us. Amazing in more ways than one.

    Like

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