Research in a Developmental Context

Essay, 2014

13 Pages, Grade: B

Free online reading



The role of applied research in development arenas

Epistemology in development context and boundary issues

Methodology used in reviewed literatures

Validity issues within the social sciences




The purpose of this paper is to review recent research in development area. The overall structure of the study takes the form of five sections, including the introductory section. The first section of this paper examines the role of applied research in a development context. Section two begins by laying out the different epistemological and boundary issues of the research, and looks at its impact on the research process. The third section is concerned with the methodology used in the literature review. The final chapter discusses validity issues within the social sciences focusing on what constitutes rigour in development research. Finally, the conclusion gives a brief summary and critique of the findings.

The role of applied research in development arenas

A large and growing body of literature has investigated the role of applied research in a development context. What we know about applied research is that it is largely based on empirical studies that investigate how practical problems are solved. A serious weakness with applied research is that it is impossible to use a random sample and transparency in the methodology.

A key aspect of development is making a better life for everyone. Therefore development has been studied by many researchers using different techniques. The concept of “simple learning cycle” in development is an approach to solving real problems and find solutions taking action base on reflection on the results. “Taking action” has two main moments: “the conceptual moment” and “the operational moment”. During the “conceptual moment” the concepts and hypotheses operationalized and at the same time it creates abstract concept and theories. After completing the conceptual moment the operational moment tries to realize the concept with practical experience and observations. If the operational moment fails the conceptual moment starts again with the reoperation of concepts and hypotheses.

Previous research has indicated that various development indicators have had an impact on the country and its people. According to Thomas (1998) research is a social process to change certain policies. Thomas (1998) showed that fast policy making decreases adequate resource allocating. However, a major problem with this kind of application is that it only improves a quality of life policy just coping with demands, but does not cope with the reducing hindrances.

Recent evidence suggests that rapid research techniques may lead quick research and pay less attention to the research thoughts and unthought-of research techniques. Nevertheless, an effort to the investigation will frame more convenience (Thomas, 1998). One question that needs to be asked is how to judge the validity and usefulness of research. The concept of validity addresses the nature of reality. Validity is at the heart of our understanding of what type of tests to use and what is the entire discipline of methods researcher going to use.

According to post-positivism, “interpretivism reality” exist ‘out there’ independent from human perception (Levers, 2013). This interpretation is contrasting with social constructivism which argues that reality is socially constructed, dependent of human representation. Further constructivism described individual construct new knowledge by their experiences. The issue of constructivism has received considerable critical attention. One argument is when individual accumulate their new experience to framework they use previous framework without any changes. Constructivism is a theory that argues that human generates knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas. Mostly it promotes “active learning” (Bonwell & Eison, 1991) or “learning by doing”.

Much of the current literature on participatory methodologies pays particular attention to experiences of poor people’s real life. Thomas (1998) found that development study about the poor people living in rural areas. Chamber (2010) has identified many fragile development policies carried out by supremacy of the “things paradigm”. Chambers (2010) has distinguished paradigm in development discourses into two dimensions: “things” and “people”. While “the things paradigm” is associated with engineering and economics, “the people paradigm” works with anthropology and society. These two dimensions have different indicators in practice. At the same time, there are many cross-overs and cross-applications.

Basically “the things paradigm” works in context and there is a clear link with desired outcomes. In the content of “things” and “people in development things” paradigm play dominance role making error and failure in development policy. The main weakness of the “things paradigm” is implemented plans using the top-down method with bad results. To transform this method to down-top method giving priority to people has taken many struggles during the development process (Chambers, 2011).

The down-top method has given priority to the most vulnerable people like women, children, and marginalized people who live in poverty line or below the poverty line. However, in the 1990s these rapid changes had a serious effect on implementing development policies until it changes in 2000s (Thomas, 1998).

Epistemology in development context and boundary issues

Under the narrow definition of epistemology can describes as it is the study of knowledge which justify all kind of belief. In this context study of knowledge highlights questions such as what are the sufficient conditions of knowledge? What can be its sources? And Its structure and limits? Same as the context of justified belief, its aims to answer some questions such as: How we going to understand the notion of justification? Justification is concept of one’s own mind (internal or external) or is it general to everyone? In broader aspects, epistemology can be described as it is the study deal with creation and propulsion of knowledge of inquiry.

Development studies draw on different epistemologies, related to the natural sciences as a branch of the social sciences. Sumner and Tribe (2004) examined appropriateness of the nature of epistemology and methodology in development studies. Epistemology deals with knowledge (‘how do we know what we know?’). Basically truth of our knowledge related to two huge questions, such as what is reality (ontology) and what and how can we know (epistemology). One question needs to be asked is what is knowledge? However epistemology provides what can effect for knowledge through a rigorous methodology. Collectively, development studies draw on different epistemologies, related to natural and social sciences. The natural science base on positivism while social science base on interpretivism. Sumner and Tribe (2004) examined that natural science element of development studies based on a quantitative approach.

The next key question arises with definition of epistemology is what is knowledge? Knowledge does not limit to certain direction and there is various kind of knowledge exist in this world. The knowledge can be started very smaller place of knowing someone in person to deep level of understanding of interrelated two or more objects. As an example what are the significant for X to know Y? It can distinguish by using traditional and non-traditional approaches. To answer this question knowledge requires knowing what truth is and should believe it. Sometimes knowledge may require third elements. Therefore knowledge does not born alone. It is always a mutual connection of truth, belief, and justifications ( web, 2005).

However, there is a weakness in this concept, which is where there is cases arise with neither possession of evidence nor origination in reliable faculties. The answer to eliminating this weakness knowledge should joint concept of reliability.

Kanbur & Shaffer (2007) pointed out that Brute data plays a critically important role in both empiricism and the consumption approach. Further illustrating idea about poverty analysis they have pointed out that approach to poverty has been to base its core elements on inter-subjectively observable data. The core objective of their approach was how to understand poverty in level of better and what categories are considered relevant when thinking about well-being. And more importantly, what types of social relationships are take account when analysing social changes.

Further, Kanbur & Shaffer (2007) described that there is kinship between brute data and numeric information. While ranking well-being participatory approach often used to generate numbers of the poor, which are sometimes compared across sites.

Under the theme of epistemology, there are two broader traditions take into account. One is positivism and another one is social constructionist approaches. The concept of positivism derived from western thought. Positivism is the philosophy of science. In broader aspects positivism can define as rejection of metaphysics. It concerns about the goal of knowledge is describes the phenomena that we experience. For positivist science is just a cane to observe and measures. Central to the entire discipline of positivist nothing is possible anything beyond to knowledge.

In a view of positivist, science was seen as a gateway to get the truth and understand the world in better. The positivist believed in empiricism which lay down the idea of observation and measurement was the essence of the scientific efforts.

However, things have changed since middle part of the 20th century parallelly, the positivism view of science shift away towards post-positivism. Being contrasts with positivism post­positivism rejects the central discipline of positivism. Post-positivism believes that there is a reality independent from your thinking which can be studied by science. A major criticism of subjectivist who holds the notion of there is no external reality until unless we are each making this all up. The main contradiction of the positivist and the post-positivist is while the positivist believed the aim of science is to uncover the truth the post-positivist believed though we never can achieve the goal we still constant on reaching right about reality. The post-positivist believes that all observations are naturally biased by own cultural experiences, world views and etc. But, this is not a reason to give up hopes. Though someone does not have same my world views based on my experience and have their own does not mean that these two people cannot understand each other by translating their own views of world. And also they reject the idea of people comes from different experience and culture never can understand each other.

Basically, non-positivistic approach can be divided into three main points such as interpretivism, philosophical hermeneutics and social constructionism. Interpretivism integrates human interest into a study. It assumes that access to reality can be done only through social constructions. Interpretivism associated with social constructionism and hermeneutics approaches. Moreover, interpretivism basically focuses on meaning and may apply multiple methods to reflect the difference issues. The basic differences between positivism and interpretivism can illustrate to assumptions of nature of reality, focus interest, desired information and knowledge generated. According to positivism nature of reality is objective; tangible and single while interpretivism socially constructed and multiple. Focus interest of positivists are based on what is general, average and representative while interpretivism focuses on what is specific, unique and deviant. There is a difference between these two approaches regarding assumption of desired information. Positivist focuses on getting information in how many people think and do a specific thing, or have a specific problem. But interpretivism focuses on collecting information on what some people think and do what kind of problems they are confronted with, and how they deal with them.

As interpretivism is combination of human science and natural science it deals with understanding and explaining social and natural phenomena. Under human science, we are trying to understand social action with intended outcome. In natural sciences explain causal force through natural phenomenon. Interpretivism believed that human action is inherently meaningful and also it is intentional and grasp its meaning. In this manner understanding requires the interpretation of human from the perspective of the actor’s meaning system.

The main principle of research in interpretivism is respect and purity to research subjects. In the terms of qualitative, it says try to get actor’s inside perspectives through human action is intentional and meaningful. Under epistemological assumption researcher objectively represent the meaning or intentions of actors in their framework. Indeed objective reconstruction of self­understanding of actors (Kanbur & Shuffer, 2007).

The second point of philosophical hermeneutics illustrated critique on the role of the uninvolved observer interpretation is not a matter of procedure or techniques. But it is an inherent and inescapable structure of human experience. Further, it examines understanding is always interpretation. Social-historical inherited bias unavoidable in this approach. Nevertheless, in the research process cannot and should not be neutralized. As well as living force of all understanding is inherited tradition and it is impossible to side-step this inheritance. Though we always try to understand reality by best interpretations there is always something remains beyond our understanding.

Nevertheless, the term of hermeneutics covers both the art and theory of understanding. And also it includes interpretation of linguistic and non-linguistic expressions. After turn hermeneutics with philosophy, it starts to question how do we communicate at all instant of how to read? Philosophical hermeneutics state that true and objective cannot understand. And more interestingly it examines that one’s own subjectivity does enable understanding. Moreover, it does not hamper it. Indeed understanding is not to discover something or someone. It is a risk to negotiate with our own interpretation and others interpretation.

The last concept is social constructionism suggest that the learner actively involved with creating new meanings. Indeed it emphasizes how meaning and understanding grow out of social contact. Social-constructionists use language as disclosure and workable framework to handle reality. And also it is socially embedded theory. According to social constructivism we see and create reality through our own lenses and language. In that sense more or less we all are constructivists. Under strong constructionism language takes considerable place. Here no place for cross­framework judgments and truth can claim with particular frame of meaning. Contrast to this concept weak constructionism lay down knowledge is the product of social creation expanded with subjective values and ideologies but mixed with empirical observation.

Taking account to what are the epistemological differences between empiricism and critical hermeneutics related to units of knowledge and truth or validity criteria the first difference, which contrasts brute data with inter-subjective meanings applied to the distinction between numerical and nonnumerical data. The second difference is which contrasts observation-based validity criteria and discursive validity criteria (Kanbur & Shaffer, 2007).

Nevertheless, most of the post-positivists are constructivists. The constructivists believe that we each construct our view of the world based on our perceptions. When positivist attempts to draw scientists are responsible for seeing the world, in reality, keeping their personal biases aside, post-positivist rejects the idea of individual able to see the world perfectly as it is. My statement in this argument is no one can free from being bias and our observations are always corrupted by biases. Though we can never achieve objectivity perfectly, we can approach it.

Boundaries for thinking and action play crucial role in epistemology. The concept of boundary means conceptual line demarcating inside or outside of a system. More elaborately it separates relevant from irrelevant. Doing this can ignore unimportant things. There are two main boundaries exist such as geographical boundaries and conceptual boundaries. Usually, boundaries are determined by stakeholders depending on their purpose and perspectives.

Under the theme of boundaries in development management, talks about boundaries in opened and closed system. Basically, boundaries in development accept boundaries as tool to guide thinking conceptualizing reality. What theories to use? Who should be the actors? Who determines purpose? What is the context and how is it understood are crucial boundaries setting issues in development management research. As people are individual different individuals will recognize different systems because they have different perspectives and life experiences. Furthermore, as human communication is a complex process effective communication and negotiation process will depend on feedback of researcher, policymaker or stakeholders.

Boundaries enable thinking and action, but at the same time also constrain this thinking or action ignoring others highlighting certain aspects. Different perspectives are useful to organize workshops and exchange-negotiation dynamics. We need boundaries to enable thinking and communication. To realize negotiation and dialogue we need to listen, hand over the stick and organize social dynamics of exchange and social learning. Sometimes, for an equal participation

it is necessary to encourage participation of (none) stakeholders. But practical challenge is how to enable and organize stakeholder participation (Blackmore & Ison, 1998).

Methodology used in reviewed literatures

There is a slight distinction between epistemology and methodology. Same as epistemology the term methodology is also concerned with how we come to know, but more practically with nature. A primary concern of methodology is focus on specific ways; methods which can use for understanding the world in advance. However, epistemology and methodology are subjectively related.

Potter and Subrahmanian (1998) pointed out that mixing of research methods always useful for possible and politically ethical choices. After project aim established the next step is to formulate structure for research. Research projects aim often conjoins with a key question. Collecting and understanding information may lead for less avid project or a different methodology. According to Potter and Subrahmanian, there are four types of research questions associated with different methods. What if questions are associated with experiment, scenarios, multivariable modelling, and qualitative interviews or panels? Why question is associated with case studies, experiment and semi-structured interviews. How question is associated with surveys, simple modelling and semi-structured interviews. Finally what question is involved with surveys, archives and administrative statistics?

Moreover, research approaches in development context positivist traditions use quantitative approach while non-positivist traditions use qualitative approach. Bryman (2004) tried to emphasis on strengthen and weakness of research methods associated with quantitative and qualitative research. He noted that there is no such thing as researcher opts for a single methodology or a multi-strategy research matters less than other factors. The skills and training of the researcher should also be taken into consideration. According to the idea of Bryman methods, he argued multi-strategy research less than two main points. Those are, research methods are not 100 present locked-in into epistemologies and research methods carry epistemological commitments. He has established by his theory room for mixed methods. Doing illustrating the concept of mixed theory quantitative research facilitates quantitative research and quantitative research facilitates qualitative research.

However, both quantitative and qualitative methods are trying to fill its gap by getting support from each other. As an example, micro-quantitative surveys use qualitative inquiry to complement and qualitative insights on process to complete the static picture about quantitative analysis. Although, mixing is good while using mixed methods there are some things to be aware will combining two approaches. Those are, do not use quantitative closed questions questionnaires for doing qualitative interviews, do not use qualitative determination of samples for quantitative surveys, do not use quantitative data to discover data and interpret them and finally do not do quantitative claims based on qualitative interviews.

In 2007, Kanbur and Shaffer demonstrated that there are significant differences between poverty under the terms of epistemology and normative theory. In 2003, Kanbur performed most relevant dimensions about typology. It is basically based on five dimensions which discussed quantitative and qualitative methods in terms of research. They proposed a typology of qualitative or quantitative approach based on data. However, among arose issues about this dimension is research approach can be conducted to any number of sites, therefore it pay more attention to the design and purpose of research, not on the methodological approach.

Participatory methodologies are highly combined with natural phenomenon of individual behavior, social instructions, and verbal mediation, visual or virtual. But social methodologies are not in this concern. If participatory method well uses they can enable poor people to analyze their own realities and conditions and inform local people after they learn from each other. It will extend enabling them to make their voice and take action to what happens to them.

If it flows like this it attains win-wins situation gains both for poor people and also for professionals. The best example for this case is win-win Bangladesh. However paying attention to Bangladesh example what can say is it much depends on the confidence of ‘they can do it’.

Validity issues within the social sciences

Validity in research does not mean valid sample, measure or design had strong validity. Why because none of those concepts have validity. Validity can have in inference or conclusion. Epistemology is deeply relevant to Q-Squared poverty analysis because it bears favoured types of knowledge and the types of validity criteria adopted. The second difference between empiricism and critical hermeneutics concerns truth and validity criteria. Brute data play significant role in establishing validity in the consumption poverty approach. The critical hermeneutic generally rejects this central role of inter-subjective observability in establishing validity. Brute data have played critical role in establishing validity in the consumption poverty approach (Kanbur & Shaffer, 2007).

Basically, validity can subdivide into three types. The first one is measurement validity and second one is internal validity. The third one is external validity. Internal validity is how can establish confidence on truth of the findings that we have carried out in particular subject. External validity is determined how applicable one particular inquiry with other subjects. The other criteria of validity are consistency otherwise reliability. It determines if the findings of inquiry would be repeated if the inquiry were replicated with the same. Another aspect of validity is neutrality or objectivity. It examines how we can establish findings of inquiry determined by the subjects and conditions, not by the biases, motivations, interest or perspectives.

Hammersly (1992) pointed out that validity criterion needs to be reformulated under following criteria. Empirical account must be plausible but cannot put direct access to social worlds, assess credibility of researcher’s truth claims and adequacy of evidence as ‘true representation’. Doing conclusion, Langan Teele (2014:228) “Methods are like people: If you focus only on what they cannot do, you will always be disappointed". Denscombe (2007:279) described that “ftjhe difficulties of doing qualitative research do not mean that our research has to be abandoned. Only that we should adopt a more reflexive, cautious and above all humble attitude when we represent our results”.

According to the Maxwell (2005:105) “Validity is a goal rather than a product; it is never something that can be proven or taken for granted. Validity is also relative: It has to be assessed in relationship to the purpose and circumstances of the research, rather than being a context- independent property of methods or conclusions ”. According to this argument, validity depends on evidence rather than the methods. Methods use for collect evidence. Both quantitative and qualitative researchers use different design for deal with validity threats. Quantitative researchers attempt to design anticipated and unanticipated threats to validity. Qualitative researchers plan to design validity threats after collecting data. The main argument with the qualitative studies is researcher bias (Maxwell, 2005). Researcher bias can be effect to the conclusion part of research. Researcher’s perceptions can be direct effects on the research outcome.


Epistemology and methodology in development studies are a special case (Summer and Tribe, 2004). In epistemology, development studies can differ from the natural science which search for one truth to a subjective, social constructivist searches for many truths and researcher conscience of their bias. The methodology, due to the nature of the subject matter, social science methodology and methods onto developing countries is often problematic. Social science methods are more sensitive to development research than others (Summer and Tribe, 2004).

Concepts and lenses from complexity science are exclusive advantages to understand validation in realities of poor, marginalized and vulnerable people and the things methodologies for complex conditions and processes. According to Chamber (2006) the four domains of the Cynefin Framework the day to day life of poor people are more complex and chaotic. But for professionals, there are best practices in simple and good practices in complicated.


- Blackmore, C. and Ison, R. (1998) “Boundaries for Thinking and Action”, in: Thomas, A. Chataway, J. and Wuyts M. (eds.) Finding Out Fast: Investigative Skills for Policy and Development, London, SAGE Publications, 41-66
- Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Rep. No. 1). Washington, DC: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.
- Bryman, A. (2004) “Combining Quantitative and Qualitative Research”, in: Bryman, A. Social Research Methods, 2nd edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 451-465.
- Chambers, R. (2010) “Paradigms, Poverty and Adaptive Pluralism ”, Working Paper 344, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, 11-17.
- Chambers, R. (2011, February 10). Aid on the edge of chaos. Retrieved Otober 24, 2014, from
- Kanbur, R. and Shaffer, P. (2007) “Epistemology, Normative Poverty and Poverty Analysis - Implications for Q-squared in Practice” in: World Development, 35(2), 183­196
- Levers, M. J. (2013, December 17). Sage Open. Retrieved October 23, 2014, from Sage Journals:
- Maxwell, J. A. (2005) “Validity: How might you be wrong?” in: Maxwell, J. A. Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach, London, SAGE Publications, 105-115.
- Potter, S. and Subrahmanian, R. (1998) “Information Needs and Policy Change”, in: Thomas, A. Chataway, J. and Wuyts M. (eds.) Finding Out Fast: Investigative Skills for Policy and Development, London, SAGE Publications, 19-24.
- Schwandt, T. (2000) “Three Epistemological Stances for Qualitative Inquiry” in:
Denzinn, N.and Lincoln, Y. (eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research, London, SAGE Publications, 189-213.
- Sumner, A. and Tribe M. (2004) “The Nature of Epistemology and Methodology in Development Studies, What Do We Mean by ‘Rigour’?, 01-27.
- The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosopy (2005) Epistemology, (last consulted: 14 December 2005)
- Thomas, A. (1998) “Introduction”, in: Thomas, A. Chataway, J. and Wuyts M. (eds.) Finding Out Fast: Investigative Skills for Policy and Development, London, SAGE Publications, 1-17.

13 of 13 pages


Research in a Developmental Context
University of Antwerp  (IOB)
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
File size
440 KB
Epistomology, Development
Quote paper
Indeewari Kanchana Galagama (Author), 2014, Research in a Developmental Context, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Research in a Developmental Context

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free