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Researching from the inside — does it compromise validity?
A discussion

Author - Pauline Rooney

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2. 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.

2.1. 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).

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