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Engaging with postgraduate research: education, childhood & youth
Engaging with postgraduate research: education, childhood & youth

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3 Competing paradigmatic positions

In this section you will look at two paradigms which can be considered to be mutually exclusive and therefore potentially competing – positivism and interpretivism. After this, an alternative will be presented. Thinking about the differences between each paradigmatic position might help you to identify the stance with which you most identify. However, before developing an understanding of ‘paradigms’, you will first reflect on the origins of this term.

What is a paradigm?

The philosopher Kuhn (1970) argued that knowledge relies on those within a discipline or field agreeing on broad, shared concepts which are anchored by particular studies that are treated as exemplars. These concepts and exemplars make up what he referred to as a paradigm, indicating both what is already known and ‘puzzles’ that require further work. He saw sciences (e.g. physics), or particular fields within the sciences, as being dominated in any one period by a single paradigm.

People playing tug of war with a rope.
Figure 5 People can hold views that can be considered in opposition to those of others

In the social sciences, however, within which some argue education and childhood and youth research sits, it can be argued that there can be simultaneously held paradigms.

You will look at the first paradigm, positivism, next.