chapter  5
17 Pages

Positivism/Causality/Explanation

As we already discussed in earlier chapters, communication as an academic discipline differs from many others in that it is not grounded firmly in only one epistemological tradition, or even a family of related traditions. Rather, it is a very broad discipline with several roots, based on the humanities, the social sciences, the performing arts, and public address. As a result, not only is there a lack of consensus as to what constitutes a good or valid knowledge claim, but frequently there is intense or even vitriolic disagreement between communication scholars about even the most basic concepts of scholarship, such as the definition of knowledge or the purpose of scholarship. A lot of these disagreements run along subdisciplinary fault lines, with those more closely aligned with the humanities taking what can roughly be described as a more idealist or phe nomenological view, whereas the areas more closely aligned with the social sciences take a more naturalist or realist view. It is not our intention here to enter this fray with arguments for or against either approach; this is well beyond the scope of this book. Rather, in this chapter we explain the epistemology behind the social science position on knowledge and knowledge claims, which Pavitt (1999) so aptly called “scientific realism,” and others have more thoroughly discussed and fine-tuned (Bhaskar, 1987).We do this so that our readers are able to understand how knowledge claims are made and evaluated in social science. It thereby allows readers to evaluate social science research based on the standards and conventions that social scientists have created for themselves. Typically, research is evaluated from within its own philosophical and epistemological frame - work, because judging scholarly activity from a theoretical or methodological position that questions the underlying assumptions of that discipline makes it diffi - cult to move forward. Although these philosophical and epistemological debates are indeed important, in order to make any knowledge claims whatsoever, we must agree on the assumptions and then move to an agreeable critique of a work

itself. Thus, while we ourselves are most comfortable with knowledge claims based on scientific realism, our goal here is not necessarily to convince the reader of the superiority of this position and to encourage them to reject other viewpoints. Our goal is primarily to allow readers to distinguish good from bad social science (although see Chapters 6 and 7 for an alternate perspective).