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Non-positive Approaches to Research in the Third Sector: Empowered Policy-making


Alessandrini, M, Non-positive Approaches to Research in the Third Sector: Empowered Policy-making, Conference Working Papers Series Volume VIII - siena, Italy, 2012, 10-13 July 2012, Siena, Italy, pp. 1-17. (2012) [Refereed Conference Paper]

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This paper defines, describes and discusses non-positivism and demonstrates its application to the analysis of the structures, processes and outcomes found in and delivered by third sector non-government organisations [NGOs]. The emergence of the discipline of political science brought with it a widespread conviction that the application of the positivist approach was necessary to deliver robust and valid research findings. A parallel school of thought rejected this view, refuting positivist claims of objectivity and assumptions of a superior form of knowledge. Non-positivism is ethat which is not positivistf but has other fundamental characteristics. While positivism is wholly empirical, attributing to the researcher skills and insights not available to the research subjects, a non-positivist perspective maintains that evidenced based reasoning can be used incorporating a voice for those providing the research data. Many nonpositivists reject the concept of human eresearch subjectsf, as this implies a methodologically unsound separation of the researcher and the researched. Nonpositivist data is collected transparently, emphasising ethics, and no particular data type is prioritised; no voice is given credence at the expense of another. Non-positivism as a term emerged in response to the dominance of the positivist perspective in the social sciences, but it contributes much more than simply a rebuttal of positivism and has a long and glorious history. The principles of the positivist approach to research on human social matters have always been controversial and hotly debated. Positivism has been a popular and highly influential approach to research in the natural and social sciences, contending that a rigorous and appropriate scientific research structure is likely result in the discovery of the truth [Bevir and Rhodes, 2004]. Non-positivists recognise that data collected through a positivist approach, such as empirical data, is important and relevant, but reject the positivist treatment. Several strands of this approach have emerged that emphasise particular aspects of the approach. Hermeneutics, phenomenology and interpretivism are examples [Blaikie, 1993]. More recently, the use of storytelling through a multiple perspective framework has emerged as a powerful technique for collecting and interpreting data, and constructing enlightened accounts of policy development and implementation episodes [Rhodes, 2011]. The non-positivist approach is particularly appropriate for the study of non-government organisations (NGOs), enabling a discursive empowering approach that returns value to the organisations to use at their discretion. In the case study used to illustrate a nonpositivist approach in action, a range of methods and data types is used including document search, key informant interviews, observation, and secondary data in the form of statistics. This research based paper describes the theory, provides a context by exploring its historical dimension and demonstrates non-positivism in use in the case of non-government organisations.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Conference Paper
Research Division:Human Society
Research Group:Political science
Research Field:Australian government and politics
Objective Division:Law, Politics and Community Services
Objective Group:Government and politics
Objective Field:Government and politics not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Alessandrini, M (Dr Megan Alessandrini)
ID Code:83170
Year Published:2012
Deposited By:Government
Deposited On:2013-03-04
Last Modified:2018-03-27
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