Positivism and Realism

Living reference work entry


Theory and practice of research in health social sciences involves a unique synergy of a range of quantitative, qualitative, and hybrid methodologies derived from parent disciplines of medicine, nursing, and various other branches of social sciences such as sociology and psychology. While the methodological diversity enhances the scope of research and implications of research findings, it also renders the necessity for the investigator to explicitly address the implicit theoretical stances and philosophical assumptions underpinning the evidentiary claims. Still inherent among the investigators in health social sciences is to present their evidentiary claims in binary terms of whether an intervention/initiative worked or not, as opposed to why it worked and for whom. This tendency to gauge the strength of evidence in terms of objectivity and replicability seems to be emerging from the deep rooted desires for control and prediction of phenomena under investigation as opposed to meaning-making. While taking the readers on a brief journey through the emergence of history and philosophy of western science, this chapter aims to provide a deeper understanding of two major philosophical foundations of research methodologies: positivism, a theoretical stance underpinning rigor and objectivity in science and scientific method, and realism, an ontological perspective examining the truth of mind-independent reality. It is suggested that a closer inspection of emergence of scientific inquiry and its underpinnings will facilitate a better understanding of research designs and outcomes, especially for contemporary complex environments in which various initiatives in health social sciences operate.


Positivism Realism Ontology Epistemology Research Health Social sciences 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sydney Medical ProgramUniversity of SydneyCamperdownAustralia

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