Paradigms: Examining Your Lens

One of the courses I’m taking is Research Methods I for my doctoral program. Beyond introducing research methods used on social science studies, the concept of philosophy of science is being introduced. As part of this, I’ve been learning more about Paradigms. Babbie defined paradigms as “the fundamental models or frames of references we use to organize our observations and reasoning” (2016, pg. 32). This struck a cord in my as I read it, I began to really think about my own paradigms, my own models of observation and reasoning.

Paradigms – fundamental models we use to organize our observations and reasoning.

I’ve heard before the concept of a paradigm compared to a camera lens. Each person has their own lens they view the world through. We can change our lens, our way of viewing the world, and we can also understand other’s people’s reactions and thoughts by realizing they’re viewing the world through a different lens – a different paradigm. I understood this metaphor, and have even used it in my own teaching in an attempt to have my undergrads take a broader view of he problem.

What I’ve really not understood, or fully realized until now, is how difficulty paradigms are to recognize, and how we can change them. Babbie writes that paradigms are “difficult to recognize as such, because they are so implicit, assumed, taken for granted” (2016, pg. 33). Why are paradigms so implicit? Why is it that we take paradigms for granted?

When I step back and think about why we take paradigms for granted, only one answer comes to light. We take paradigms for granted because we’re not taught or encouraged to be self-reflective in our lives. We’re not often encouraged to take a step back and examine the lens we view the world through. Even when I teach this concept in class, trying to get my students to understand that other people view the world differently from them, I don’t encourage them or give them space to examine their own paradigms.

But what are the benefits of recognizing our own paradigms? Here’s what Babbie has to say on the matter:

We can better understand the views and actions of others, especially when they’re different from our own. By examining our own viewpoints, we gain the ability to better understand those of others. This is the cornerstone of being a productive citizen, in my own opinion. The ability to understand, emphasize, and communicate about our viewpoints and those of those around is a crucial skill. This can become the bridge for so many conversations and collaborations.

We can gain because we’re able to see the same problem or situation from a different viewpoint. We’re able to step outside the box and take a different angle. Who hasn’t been up against a road block and not able to see around it, over it, or through it. With understanding our own paradigm, and those of others, we gain the ability to step back and see different angles of “attack” for any problem we’re faced with. Self-reflection of our own paradigm gives us a greater problem solving ability.

Here’s the thing though, we can’t begin to examine our own paradigm until we accept this one fact – our own paradigm isn’t reality.

Our paradigm is just our way of viewing the world, processing information, and forming reasoning and reactions. We have to realize that “paradigms are neither true nor false; as ways of looking, they are only more or less useful” (Babbie, 2016, pg. 34). While we have our own paradigm, it’s not the only lens to view the world through. We can easily take our lens off, and put on the lens of another, or even our own new lens.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

My own reflections on this as it relates to my doctoral program and research – the role of research is to test, challenge, explore, and reinforce these paradigms. Doing so gives society the ability to examine their lens to a great ability, to understand the paradigms of others, and to be more productive in life.

Have you thought about your own paradigm, your own lens for viewing the world?

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Babbie, E. R. (2016). The practice of social research. Cengage.

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