exam revision: epistemology and ontology
Ontological and epistemological positions provide fundamental aspects of research as they concern the philosophical questions what counts as reality and how beings come into being as well as what constitutes knowledge and how knowledge comes to be established. Two core positions can be distinguished in either area: positivist and constructionist.
- positivist ontology: the world is ‘out there’, it operates in a systematic and lawful manner, discrete and observable events, reality is separate from human meaning-making;
- constructionist ontology: assumes the world we can study is a semiotic world of meanings, represented in signs and symbols, language is central to this position;
- positivist epistemology: knowledge can only be gained by gathering facts in a systematic and objective manner, predominantly by the experimental method and by testing of hypotheses in order to gradually build laws. The aim is to refine them and achieve applicability on a universal level;
- constructionist epistemology: knowledge is constructed rather than discovered, it is a representation of the ‘real world’ and interpreted by the researcher. Knowledge is subject to time-space configurations and a means of power (e.g. doctors as ‘architects of medical knowledge’). Scientists and their institutions shape the production of knowledge by their choices and values.
These positions significantly shape research designs and methodologies.