Researching from the inside — does it compromise
Concepts of validity and the role of the researcher
Validity is an important factor in successful and effective research.
If research is not valid, then it is judged worthless (Cohen
et al. 2000). The researcher's role is crucial to ensuring the
validity of research. But what constitutes valid research and how
can the researcher ensure validity?
The concept of validity itself is open to debate and scrutiny.
It is problematic because of philosophical questions underlying
the validity concept. Ontological and epistemological questions
such as `What is reality and truth?' and `How do we perceive and
understand social reality?' are complex. However such questions
are critical to an understanding of the validity concept and to
the role of the researcher. The section that follows provides an
overview of contrasting ontologies and epistemologies and their
relationship to the concept of validity and researcher roles.
Positivism and the objective researcher
In the first half of the twentieth century, objectivist epistemologies
dominated social research. Asserting that objective truths and meanings
exist independently of human consciousness, objectivism encapsulates
the spirit of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason in seventeenth-century
England (Crotty 1998). Objectivist
epistemologies are associated with realist ontologies which view
reality as an external objective phenomenon, existing independently
of human consciousness (Guba and
Lincoln 2000). Objectivism also underpins the positivist stance
that dominated social research in the early twentieth century.
Key to the positivist model was that science could produce objective
knowledge. Thus the purpose of research was to uncover objective
truths (Crotty 1998). To capture
and accurately represent an objective truth or reality, it was argued
that the researcher must remain objective (Hammersley
2000). Essentially the researcher was viewed as an `outsider',
an independent observer, rigorously gathering data and reporting
objectively on this data. The researcher's subjectivities were not
allowed to impact on the research process as it was believed that
this would lead to a distorted, invalid picture of reality.
Much quantitative research exemplifies the positivist model of
validity. However some qualitative research also demonstrates these
assumptions (note 1).