Paradigm is an example, or pattern: small, self-contained, simplified models that we use to illustrate procedures, processes, and theoretical points.
As the term is used in social science, a paradigm is a perspective or frame of reference for viewing the social world, a way of breaking down the complexity of the real world, consisting of a set of concepts and assumptions.
In sum, a paradigm is a mental window through which the researcher views the world.
Say, two researchers describing the same phenomenon from two different paradigms may produce considerably different accounts of the same phenomenon.
For example, both Malthus and Marx looked at the overpopulation problem. Each from two different paradigms, but the phenomenon was the same overpopulation.
The Marxist position was that overpopulation would disappear with a transition from capitalism to socialism, while Malthus opposed this proposition.
He held the view that welfare and socialism would destroy the individual’s initiative.
Thus these two schools of thought, Malthusian and Marxist, tend to look at the same phenomenon (overpopulation) from significantly different paradigms or perspectives and arrive at conflicting conclusions.
Each paradigm has its own set of concepts or jargon. The Malthusian paradigm uses such concepts as arithmetic rate, geometric rate, positive check, preventive check, vice, and misery in his discussion of overpopulation related issues.
The Marxist paradigm uses such concepts as a class, class consciousness, and means of production, surplus labor, exploitation, and debate.
Paradigm differs not only in concepts and assumptions but also in the research problems it considers essential.
For example, in the Malthusian paradigm, overpopulation is the central problem.
In contrast, in the Marxist paradigm, the central problem is the class struggle and the exploitation of the lower classes by those who are in control of the means of production.
Both Democrat and Republicans have a common goal of establishing peoples’ rights, but yet they have different approaches, strategies, and concepts, vis-a-vis the paradigms, to realize the same.
Patton (1990) defines paradigm as a world view, a general perspective, a way of breaking down the complexity of the real world, while Guba (1990) view this as an interpretive framework, which is guided by ‘a set of beliefs and feelings about the world and how it should be understood and studied.
In a research context, a paradigm is an underlying assumption and the intellectual structure upon which research and development in a field of inquiry are based.
Denzin and Lincoln (1994) state that the underlying beliefs that define a particular research paradigm may be summarized by the responses given to three fundamental questions:
- Ontological question: What is the form and nature of reality?
- Epistemological question: What is the fundamental belief about knowledge (i.e., what can be known). Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge and process by which knowledge is acquired and validated.
- Methodological question: How do we know the world, or gain knowledge of it?
Dill and Romiszowski (1997) stated some functions of paradigms. According to them, research paradigms.
- Define how the world works, how knowledge is extracted from this world, and how one is to think, write, and talk about this knowledge.
- Define the types of questions to be asked and the methodologies to be used in answering.
- Decide what is published and what is not published.
- Structure the work of the academic worker, and
- Provide its meaning and its significance.