Monday, December 12, 2011

Radical Structuralist Paradigmatic Perspective

Structure that is radical?
A social work researcher from a radical structuralist paradigmatic perspective would concentrate on the structures of oppression and the aim of knowledge would be for praxis. The researcher would view the social world as comprised of structures which are fundamentally in opposition to one another. Thus, the focus in this research would be to identify ways in which the opposition can lead to conflict, which would eventually lead to political or economic crisis, at which point the present structure would be overthrown. The resultant new structure that replaces the old structure would have solved the problems that the previous structure held. A social worker in this paradigmatic perspective considers phenomenon in the social world objectively as an outside observer, thus the researcher can “know one” without “being one” however these two aspects of reality are irrelevant given that the structure of society determines the limits and bounds of how one comes to know oneself (and is often an oppressive way of knowing oneself). Michel Foucault is a philosopher whose perspective can be used as an exemplar to this paradigm. He considered knowledge to be the result of “winning” over other forms of knowledge for political reasons; thus, whatever form of knowledge won became “truth”. Central to Foucault’s perspective is the knowledge of power and how it interacts within society to create knowledge and subsequently truth. Foucault uses genealogical and archeological methods to uncover the historical discourses of knowledge, power, and truth. One can then use the result of this knowledge to inform how one should approach the overthrow of the present oppressive structure of society.

Social Work Research Process and Product
A research question that might be formulated from this paradigmatic perspective is “How is the power inherent in the majority privilege of heterosexism upheld in faith communities that are non-affirming towards LGB people?” This question assumes that power is the substructure that is dominating and oppressing, which is a Radical Weberian approach. The research could be conducted by holding focus groups in churches and asking questions regarding what the present church finds to be acceptable intimate relationships and how the church came to that understanding. The focus groups would be recorded and transcribed, and then a meta-analysis would be conducted to identify the themes of each focus group. The themes would then be compared to the hypothesis that non-affirming churches are upholding the power that heterosexism gives to heterosexuals. Of course several researchers would be included in this process to ensure that the themes were captured accurately. Then, the research would be presented to the members of the church and changes would be recommended. Perhaps some members would readily embrace the social justice aspect of how heterosexism is injust to those on the margins, and they would call for a change in the church’s mode of operation. The new mode of operation may be distinctly different than the church’s larger denomination, at which point the church members may come to a crisis of either conforming to the denominational standards or breaking free of those standards and creating their own standards. If the church members decide to create their own new standards and break from the denomination, then the product of this radical structuralist research would have been successful. Perhaps other churches throughout the region or country hear the news of this radical church breaking free from the constraints of the denominational standards, and a new wave begins of churches rising up against the denomination to assert their own standards.  

An example of a product of research from this perspective is an organization called Soulforce. Watch this brief video compilation that describes who Soulforce is and what they aim to do:

(Click here if the video doesn't load: )
Song "Dive In" by Jennifer Knapp (

Cost and Benefit Analysis
A benefit to this paradigmatic perspective is that it gives voice to the oppressed people in society, and the research can (in theory) result in liberation from oppressive structures in society. This perspective, therefore, is very oriented towards social justice on a societal level because it seeks to right the wrongs of the present structure. A problem with this paradigmatic perspective is that it depends on crisis in order to succeed. And if the paradigm views the social world as ordered, then it would be very difficult to bring chaos to an ordered world. Most structures are imbedded in the places that they are at because they have fought against crisis and change and have succeeded in remaining true to their structure of origin. Thus, it is the job of the radical structuralist to convince enough groups of people that the crisis and consequent structural overthrow is worthy of the extreme effort it would take to dissemble such a structure. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the new structure is any less oppressive than the old structure. In fact, some radical structuralists acknowledge that the new structure will, by the nature of any structure, have oppression and domination inherent in it. However, radical structuralism gives a pathway for how to go about overthrowing the oppressive structure as it is in the present reality.

Radical Humanist Paradigmatic Perspective

Radically Human?
The radical humanist paradigm is similar to the interpretivist paradigm in that it views the social world as approachable only through the subjective experience of the individual, and that an outside observer cannot attain knowledge of an individual but instead must ask the individual to impart that knowledge to the researcher.  The radical humanist paradigmatic perspective differs from the interpretivist paradigm in that the commitment in terms of knowledge is for overthrowing or transcending the existing social order. This is achieved through consciousness. Radical humanists view the answer to all social problems to be that humans have been alienated from their true selves, and in order to attain fulfillment they must become liberated from that alienation through consciousness of the separation. Radical humanists view the human essence as being an internal property that is unique to each individual, and therefore you must “be one” to “know one” but you must also be radically conscious in order to know yourself! They also view the social world as imposing on the essence of the human by way of domination and deprivation. Therefore, in order to achieve wholeness, humans must find a way to get back to their essence without the constraints of the external social world. The radical humanist perspective is anti-theoretical, anti-organizational, and anti-prescriptive because each of those things only contribute to the alienation of humanity’s oppression. A philosophical exemplar for this perspective is Jean-Francois Lyotard who is often associated with the intellectual and cultural movement called postmodernism. Postmodernism is understood in the context of its predecessor, modernism. Modernism describes the time period during which science and knowledge focused on the totality of the world, included systems as opposed to individuals as the unit of analysis, and used grand theories to explain the social world. Therefore postmodernism can be understood as a critique to modernism. It focuses on the fragmentation of the world, language is the unit of analysis, and favors small-scale local narratives to explain the social world. The two can often be understood as objective reality (modernism) and subjective reality (postmodernism). Thus, this paradigmatic perspective is the extreme opposite of the functionalist perspective. 

Take a look at this prezi to help you raise your awareness about radical humanism....
Social Work Research Proposal and Product
A social work researcher in this paradigm might have a single-system design for the study. The researcher would first go about purposefully selecting a sample consisting of an individual who has been oppressed by a faith community. Then the researcher and respondent would engage in casual but meaningful conversation about the individual’s experience as an LGB person in a faith context.  Through this process as the respondent informs the researcher about their own experience, consciousness is raised for each of them in terms of what sort of radical change might help each one achieve wholeness. Thus, the product of the research is that both the researcher and the respondent have experienced consciousness raising about LGB people of faith, and they can then use that raised conscious to go about decreasing the source of alienation that keeps their external world separate from their true essence (internal world). The product of this research would not be published in a peer-reviewed journal article. It perhaps would be made public through an autobiography or even a blog so that others might experience consciousness raising as a result of reading it. An example of a product from the radical humanist perspective is the Queer Theology Syncroblog, coordinated through the Watch this short video I compiled from content in the syncroblog:

(Click here if the video doesn't load:
Song "Inside" by Jennifer Knapp (

Cost and Benefit Analysis
A benefit of this paradigmatic perspective is that the experience is very meaningful for the individual. Thus, in terms of social justice, the awareness of how to change is both produced by and given to the individual. Through dialogue, humanity can become conscious but there is not a need to come to “TRUTH” because it is an irrelevant term (in the universal sense). A problem with this perspective, however, is that the negotiation of what reality is could be a never-ending project and thus you may never know what is real. Thus the process might only entail uncovering the issues without ever getting to a solution. The researcher and respondent’s consciousness is raised, but do they ever get around to enacting the change that they are aware of that needs to take place in order to be liberated from the alienation of their souls? However, one could argue that WITHOUT such consciousness, meaningful change is never possible because the essence of fulfillment cannot be achieved without it.

Interpretivist Paradigmatic Perspective

Interpreting Interpretivists...
The interpretivist paradigm assumes that there is no universally “correct” answer to a question because it approaches an understanding of the social world through a subjective lens. A social work researcher in this paradigm does not assume that an observer can understand the experience of an individual. The social work must be understood only through the eyes of those who experience it themselves, on an individual level. Knowledge is built together by both the researcher and the respondent. Both are involved in a meaning-making process. Therefore, the assumption in this paradigm is that you MUST “be one” to “know one”. A philosopher that exemplifies this paradigm is Mary Katherine O'Connor. Her view of reality is that there are multiple realities, and each one is understood only through the individual to whom it belongs. Therefore, the best way to get to knowledge is through the eyes of the individual. Because this is not literally possible, the researcher must go to great lengths to ensure that the knowledge derived is indeed how the individual sees the world. This is done through a process of trustworthiness and authenticity, which some might say mirror the functionalist ideals of rigor and validity.

Are you getting it? Not sure? Take a look at this prezi for a bit more information:

Social Work Research Process and Product
A social work researcher might investigate a research question such as “what is an LGB person’s experience of a faith community?” Through the process of discovering the meaning of experiencing a faith community for that LGB person, the researcher can begin to learn whether or not it is of importance that the faith community experience was affirming or non-affirming. Then, the researcher can investigate the meaning of affirming or non-affirming depending on if it is of importance to the individual. The knowledge attained through the research process is verified by the individual for authenticity. The researcher can obtain an external audit of the knowledge product attained in order to ensure that there is as little bias as possible in the findings. This is a process called triangulation. The researcher might use purposive sampling to identify individuals with diverse demographics in order to capture the complexity of what it means to be an LGB person of faith. Through several individual interviews that have little structure but great purpose (to gain a deeper understanding), the researcher and respondent can begin to make meaning of the experience together. The product of this process might be a book that offers great detail about the experiences and views of LGB people of faith. Although it is not generalizable in the functionalist sense, it brings great meaning to the understanding of LGB people of faith. This sort of research product would be made readily available to anyone that wanted to have it, perhaps through a website or mail-order form.

An existing example of a product of research through an interpretivist perspective is "Through My Eyes", a DVD project by the Gay Christian Network. Check out the short video I compiled for a brief snapshot of the project:

(Click here if the video doesn't load:
Song "Fallen" by Jennifer Knapp (

Cost and Benefit Analysis
A benefit of utilizing this paradigmatic perspective is that rigor is applied to the individual voice. Therefore, for people who are “on the margins”, they get the opportunity to not simply be passed over because they don’t fit into the majority of responses. This is arguably more socially just, at least in terms of what aim a social work researcher has, than that of the functionalist paradigmatic perspective. A problem with research in this paradigmatic perspective is that it can sometimes get caught in a cycle of finding meaning without the action that social justice sometimes calls for. The process of meaning-making is often a long process; therefore the opportunity to act on the knowledge attained can sometimes quickly come and go long before the product of the research is complete. The reason for such length and breadth is because complexity can be chaotic. However, one could argue that the in-depth meaning attained through the research process has enough value within itself that the action needed to be taken for social justice is informed by a much more rich and complex base of knowledge than if the process were otherwise shortened. This argument brings up the question of whether or not social action based on a broadly (but arguably not deeply) informed knowledge base is really socially just at all.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Functionalist Paradigmatic Perspective

Don't panic. Functionalism is not a word most people hear very often. It is a term used by sociologists to describe a certain philosophical approach to doing research. I am using it in the context of how Burrell & Morgan (1979) used it to explain four different approaches to social science. Social work research from a functionalist paradigmatic perspective focuses on objective truth, seeking to produce knowledge for the purpose of regulation of the social world, and keeping with the status quo. This perspective assumes that there is a certain order to the world, and that it can be known from an observer’s point of view. Researchers in this paradigm are concerned with falsifying hypotheses through the traditional scientific method. The concern of the end product of the research is that it is generalizable to the entire population of concern. Research studies are designed with concern for reliability and validity. This paradigmatic perspective assumes that you don’t have to “be one” to “know one”. A social science philosopher who stands as an exemplar of this paradigm is Talcott Parsons. He viewed society as a unified system with players all serving a purpose. His emphasis was on the action of systems (structures) more so than the actors. Parsons’ ontology was that reality is not a construction of one’s mind; it exists externally to what the mind makes it up to be. Parsons was interested in studying the process that ensures social stability and order. Order, in his view, is possible through the existence of common norms that serve to regulate society.
Take a quick preview of this paradigm by viewing a prezi on its definition:

Social Work Research Process and Product
A research question that could be answered in the assumptions of this paradigm is “Is there a difference between membership in an affirming faith community and psychological well-being for LGB people?” A research study conducted from this paradigmatic perspective would entail gathering a large enough sample size to claim generalizability. This could be done through convenience sampling in various settings such as Pride festivals, Gay and Lesbian Community Centers, churches that are welcoming and affirming to LGBT people such as the Metropolitan Community Church (and others), and snowball sampling via e-mail listserves for LGBT organizations and advertising through Facebook and Twitter groups that pertain to LGBT people. The study would consist of an online survey which would result in interval/ratio level data that can be analyzed with inferential statistical methods. A statistical method appropriate to this design is a t-test which tests for whether there is a significant difference between groups based on a mean score. The product of this research would be to contribute to the knowledge base of social work scholarship about LGB people of faith. Another product could be to construct a measurement instrument and test its psychometric properties as part of the data analysis.  

One possible product of research conducted in this paradigmatic perspective might be what The Marin Foundation is doing. Check out a short video that I compiled based on content from their website: 

(Click here if the video doesn't load:
Song: "Stone to the River" by Jennifer Knapp (

Cost and Benefit Analysis

A benefit of knowledge produced out of this paradigm is that it is orderly and generalizable to a great number of people. This means that the product can be applied to a wider population, thus more people benefit from the knowledge (in theory, at least). One problem with this paradigm is that often the input from those on the margins is…well, considered marginal, and therefore irrelevant to the major findings of a research study. However, the profession of social work is concerned with those on the margins (those who are vulnerable and historically oppressed), so it would seem that this paradigmatic perspective is not very aligned with the values of social work. However, knowledge from this paradigm can be used for social justice causes, such as bringing knowledge to the general population about the experiences of those on the margins, for instance. This could be achieved for LGB people of faith by creating a measurement tool that is designed specifically to examine their experiences. In this way, the experiences of LGB people of faith, who are considered to be in the margins of both the LGB population and of people of faith, can have a voice “at the table” so to speak.