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Critical Evaluation of Paper on Positivism

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Critically evaluate Steimetz's belief that "Despite repeated attempts by social theorists and researchers to drive a stake through the heart of the vampire (Positivism) the Social Sciences continue to experience a positivistic haunting"

Positivism is the philosophical underpinning of Quantitative research and it stands in direct contrast to Interpretivism or Verstehen, the philosophical framework of Qualitative research. Steimetz's assertion that "despite repeated attempts by social theorists and researchers to drive a stake in the heart the vampire (Positivism), the Social Sciences continue to experience a Positivistic haunting" requires closer scrutiny. Steinmetz makes three assumptions that will be examined in this paper. One, he assumes that there is a concerted effort by social theorists and researchers to annihilate positivism from the Social Sciences. Two, he postulates that the sum influence of positivism is totally negative and third, he argues that positivism seems to continue to haunt the Social Sciences despite the repeated attempts "drive a stake through the heart of the vampire." With these assumptions as its framework, the aim of this paper is to determine the extent to which Steinmetz's assertion is valid.

Qualitative research evolved as a critique of the inappropriateness of quantitative research's epistemological, ontological and methodological frameworks for doing research in the human sciences. Social Scientists maintained that the human sciences could not be equated with the natural sciences and that research on people and society had to be conducted along alternative pathways which could safeguard the intrinsic individuality and irreproducibility of the human being, (Corbetta, 2003: p.1). Flick corroborates this point of view by referring to the disenchantment with the methods and findings of the sciences (BonB and Hartmann (1985) that were not applicable in the social world. He further argues that "Science no longer produces "absolute truths", which can be uncritically adopted." This rejection of the positivistic template can be traced through different centuries beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the work of early historians and sociologists such as Dilthey, Rickert, Windleband, Simmel and Weber. This was followed up in the 1970s with work by Geertz, Schutz, Habermas and Garfinkel and then in the early 20th century in the works of Denzin and Lincoln, Flick and Schwandt.

However, there is no indication that there was or is a concerted effort across the Social Sciences to 'drive out' positivism and efforts seem to be concentrated at the disciplinary level. This is true for Sociology in the 1920s and 30s through the work of the 'Chicago school' and in the field of Anthropology. This contrasts with other disciplines such as Economics, Area Studies and Political Science that have been and continue to be heavily influenced by positivism. Conversely, many social theorists and researchers have been disposed to employ both quantitative and qualitative methods in the same discipline. Wundt (1928) used methods of description and Verstehen in his folk psychology alongside the experimental methods of his general psychology. Steinmetz argues that positivism is "perpetually disavowed and unconsciously embraced." However, it is seen to be consciously embraced by some of the authors whose works he sums up in his introductory chapter. Sandra Harding (standpoint epistemology) is a critique of positivism's "view from nowhere". Nevertheless, she also emphasizes some of the continuities between positivism and standpoint theory, reminding us that logical positivism encompassed a commitment to democracy, rationality, objectivity and fairness, p. 26.

Her view of positivism seems contrary to the usual critique



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