Monday, December 12, 2011

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment