Towards a framework for multiparadigm multimethodologies in systems thinking and practice

Bowers, Todd David

March 2012

Thesis or dissertation

© 2012 Todd David Bowers. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Burrell and Morgan (2000) claimed that knowledge is paradigmatic, encompassing a distinct worldview and rationality governing research strategies and methods for which they identified four sociological paradigms to locate them based on “metatheoretical assumptions about the nature of reality, knowledge, and human behavior” (Cunliffe, 2010). They regard the competing theories developed from different paradigms as incommensurable—those working in one paradigm are not understood by those committed to another. Moreover, “there can be no measure, outside of the paradigms, which can be used as a basis for comparing and adjudicating between the claims to
knowledge of theories produced from within different paradigms” (Jackson, 2000).

This new theory states that because the problem of paradigm incommensurability begins at the level of ontology the solution lies there as well. Rather than supporting just one or a few paradigms, a different type of ontology is needed to explain ontological variety. It is argued that we can only perceive reality as meaningful paradigmatically, just as in the metaphor of the blind men and the elephant (Saxe, ca. 1850) where each comes upon a different part of an elephant and
generalises that the whole is like their one piece. Furthermore, they cannot understand what they have found by comparing experiences.

Solving the incommensurability issue is the theoretical key needed to properly underpin pluralist approaches to systems theory, design and intervention. But to do so, this new ontology is placed so that it operates within a suitable and otherwise complete theoretical framework which does not circumscribe, subsume, or in any way alter existing approaches, paradigms and theories—it purpose is only to sanction their use in a pluralist systemic approach. Such a framework, called
P–S Multiparadigm Perspectivity is described in this thesis.

Ten interviews with systemists were conducted with mixed results. The tests mistakenly assumed that systemists were generally aware of paradigms and incommensurability—instead, an aversion to theory was discovered. Surprisingly, though, two methods to address the issue were also found in the data. One of the interviewees teaches theory through storytelling; another demonstrates methods first, to pique the learner’s interest and evoke their questions. It was learned that the adoption of this theory depends upon an improved awareness of the concepts of critical systems paradigms within the systemist community.

Business School, The University of Hull
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