CHAPTER 5: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
Minds and problems possess a deeper reality than cobblestones, although cobblestones are admittedly more real in the sense of being tangible. Moreover, since I regard the significance of a thing as more important than its tangibility, I shall say that minds and problems are more real than cobblestones
Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension.
The previous chapters of this thesis endeavoured to articulate a broad definition of spirituality, its role in the workplace and its relationship to ethics. This chapter discusses the methodology that underpins this research. It commences by explaining the problematic context of SWP research and then proposes the methodology of critical realism as a means of tackling some of these issues.
Setting the Context
There is an ongoing debate in the literature as to how we should investigate SWP. Some writers argue for a scientific approach (Ashmos & Duchon, 2000; Giacalone & Jurkiewicz, 2003b). Others advocate for interpretivist holistic methods (Fornaciari & Dean, 2001; Lips-Wiersma, 2003; Neal et al., 1999). Unfortunately, spirituality and its effects thus far resist exact classification and empirical measurement. Expressions of spirituality are inherently value-laden and subjective. Human beings are complex emotional creatures who tend to defy the neat, behaviourist definitions offered by the scientific model. Not only is one’s expression of spirituality intensely unique to each individual, any inquiry into its nature or effects often bears the stamp of the researcher’s own “values, assumptions and dogmas” (Lips-Wiersma, 2003, p. 406). Entirely detaching our personal value systems from scientific inquiry is impossible and contra objectivity. We must articulate and understand the impact of these values if we are to proffer results as objective and to do otherwise is irresponsible. Finally, all spirituality happens within a social context that construes its practice and vice versa.
At the same time, however, there is plenty of support suggesting spirituality is a demonstrable reality. It is not merely a figment of folklore, myth or the collective imagination (Archer, Collier, & Porpora, 2004b; Emmons, 1999; Moberg, 1984). In answering the question “what is spirituality?”, the themes identified in Chapter 2 commonly occur in a wide variety of literature. This reflects a high degree of inter-subjective agreement as to what characterises this phenomenon. Furthermore, we can measure the tangible impacts of spirituality on individuals; it affects people in a bona fide manner. To reduce spirituality and its impact to the relativist view, that people define it for themselves, is bordering on the inane and is fallacious. Such a diminution is senseless, because then anything, from the trivial (e.g., having a bath) to the outright evil (e.g., Nazism), could be classified as being spiritual. This relativist view ultimately diminishes spirituality to meaninglessness. Spirituality is a personal experience with a specific kind of reality – an objective spiritual reality. To pay no attention to this reality is to remove it from the person’s spiritual understanding. The effects of doing this are considerable:
If a putative object of experience contributes nothing to the content of experience, the putative experience is not a genuine experience at all, but only an illusion of one. Thus, by methodologically absenting the object of experience…[we] end up losing altogether the very category of experience (Archer, Collier, & Porpora, 2004a, p. 14).
If spirituality were purely an observable reality open to empirical measurement, then positivist methods would be appropriate for investigating it. However, each individual’s expression of his or her spirituality is inherently subjective. While the themes identified in Chapter 2 may be universal to spirituality, the conceptualisation and practice of these themes, and therefore of individuals’ spirituality as a whole, is heterogenic. What does that mean for this research? On one level, we appear to have a reality called spirituality that is characterised by several common themes. On another level, this spirituality is lived out in multiple subjective individual contexts. In this way, the study of spirituality lends itself neither strictly to a positivist nor to interpretivist research paradigm alone. The rising popularity of SWP suggests increasing recognition for more integrative methodologies and approaches (Benefiel, 2003b).
Does this mean spirituality is inscrutable and therefore unsuitable as a research topic as some might argue? No, rather spirituality, whether in the workplace or any other context, is just as amenable to study as many other phenomena that are not observed directly (e.g., attitudes, beliefs, feelings, personality and intelligence) and yet have become stable social science research topics. What is required, however, is a nuanced research paradigm that allows for the existence of an objective spiritual reality, even if not completely comprehended, while recognising the subjective perception and application of that reality in organisational contexts. Critical realism is such a paradigm (Archer et al., 2004b; Hartwig & Morgan, 2012; McGrath, 2002).
Critical realism is philosophical methodology between positivism and hermeneutics (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005a). According to critical realists, human beings use their cognitive capacity to try to make sense of and communicate reality as well as they can. Wright (1992) offers a useful broad description of critical realism that explains this idea:
[Critical realism] is a way of describing the process of ‘knowing’ that acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower (hence ‘realism’), while also fully acknowledging that the only access we have to this reality lies along the spiralling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known (hence ‘critical’). This path leads to critical reflection on the products of our enquiry into ‘reality’ so that our assertions about ‘reality’ acknowledge their own provisionality. Knowledge, in other words, although in principle concerning realities independent of the knower, is never itself independent of the knower (p. 35).
This methodology arose as a critique of positivism and certain hermeneutical approaches, along with a different philosophical way of considering science. Its leading proponent Roy Bhaskar tried to address two fundamental questions about scientific knowledge in his seminal works: A Realist Theory of Science (1975/2008) and The Possibility of Naturalism (1979/1998). First, is it possible to have a systematic realist account of science without collapsing it into positivism? Second, to what extent can one study society (i.e., the social world) in the same way as nature? Positivists’ claim nature and society ought to be studied in accordance with the naturalist view while interpretivists argue the social sciences clarify the meanings of social events which are not open to a naturalistic methodology. Bhaskar, on the other hand, defined naturalism as “the thesis that there is (or can be) an essential unity of method between the natural and the social sciences” (p. 2). He claimed that science can be understood using both natural and social science methods. While there are clearly differences in these approaches, Bhaskar contended that the nature of reality, knowledge of and relationships between objects restricts the possibility of naturalism. Moreover, he argued, it is these considerations that make social science possible. Finally, Bhaskar insisted “that it is the nature of the object that determines the form of its possible science” (p. 3).
Much has been written on critical realism since these initial developments, (Collier, 1994; Cruickshank, 2003; Danermark et al., 1997; Sayer, 2000). From this literature, one can draw four major threads. First, critical realism recognises the objective existence of reality, independent of our beliefs about it. Bhaskar (1975/2008) refers to this difference as the intransitive and transitive dimensions of knowledge. The things studied, physical processes and/or social phenomenon, are intransitive whereas theories of science and/or social science are transitive. In other words, the things we perceive about reality are transitive, whereas the actual underlying structures of reality, (i.e., what is objectively real), are intransitive. Collier (1994) notes “rival theories and sciences have different transitive objects (theories about the world) but the world they are about – the intransitive dimension – is the same; otherwise they would not be rivals” (p. 51). In other words, when our ideas and premises about reality alter, reality itself does not necessarily change. This rescues ontology from absorption into epistemology and refutes what critical realists call the epistemic fallacy, that is, the flawed inference that because there is no epistemologically objective view of the world, there is no objective world ontologically (McGrath, 2002).
It is certainly more challenging to use this idea in the social world. The transitive objects of social science, defined and understood within a social context, are unlike the natural world, which is produced naturally but understood socially. However, this does not mean social objects are less real (Danermark et al., 1997). Sayer (2000) contends that “for the most part [under a critical realist methodology], social scientists are cast in the modest role of construing rather than ‘constructing’ the social world” (p. 11). There is a difference between construal and construction, or between making a mental construction of the world and materially constructing something. Construals of the world inform material constructions such as practices and organisational forms. As Sayer writes, “Once such social phenomena are constructed, they gain some degree of independence from their original constructers and from subsequent actors” (p. 7). Stating that entities exist independently “does not mean they exist independently of human activity. It merely means that they are not dependent upon the specific activities involved with identification” (Fleetwood, 2005, p. 202). For example, theorists changing their mind about something like spirituality are unlikely to cause in any real significant change in the social reality of spirituality.
Second, a critical realist approach reveals several things about the actual process of knowing reality. An observer observes from their point of view alone, there is no such thing as a God’s-eye view available to human beings since such a view would be a view from nowhere (Nagel, 1986). Dependent on this idea is the notion that all human beings interpret information received from their senses through a worldview that includes such things as expectations, memories, stories, mental states, cultural objects and so on. Moreover, an individual’s worldview has a great deal to do with the communities to which they belong. Consequently, there is no such thing as a neutral or objective observer and there is no such thing as the detached observer. A failure to recognise this subjectivist reality results in the ontic fallacy, which holds that knowledge can be analysed directly without recognising the cognitive and social mechanisms by which it is produced (McGrath, 2002).
Third, critical realists’ arrange reality in levels (Sayer, 2000). They want to look beyond what is perceived and distinguish the underlying causes that produce the outcomes observed. Bhaskar (1975/2008) refers to these different levels of reality as the real, the actual and the empirical. The real is what objectively exists. This can be material (e.g., molecules, plants and animals) or social (e.g., organisations and ideologies) and we may not necessarily understand its essence fully. Bhaskar also calls these objects mechanisms. A mechanism “is that which can cause something in the world to happen” (Danermark et al., 1997, p. 55). The next level of reality, the actual, refers to the outcomes, the states of affairs or events that arise when the causal powers of real objects are activated. These outcomes, states Bhaskar (1975/2008), can also be mechanisms. Finally, the empirical level is our experience of these real and actual levels of reality. Again, such occurrences can have causal power and outcomes that inform further experiences (i.e., they can also be real or actual). For Bhaskar, not all levels of reality may be experienced. Just because we cannot observe something does not mean that it is not real. Moreover, mechanisms, and their causal powers, are also often unobservable but are nonetheless real. Reality cannot be contingent on observation alone; Bhaskar’s three levels of reality cannot collapse into a singular level. Any research that does this results in a shallow consideration of the natural and social world.
McGrath (2002) contends that these differing levels of reality (the real, actual and empirical) interact with each other. How do they do this? First, ontologically each level could not exist without the others. Second, causal mechanisms functioning at a certain level of reality explains those functioning at other levels. From a research perspective this means, “Each account of a generative mechanism contains ‘gaps’ or ‘black boxes’ which may subsequently be explained by positing the existing of additional mechanisms at a ‘deeper’ or a more fundamental level” (Pratschke, 2003, p. 16). This means we can hypothesise the existence of lower-level unobservable mechanisms by examining their evident outcomes at higher levels. In this way, phenomena like human behaviours (e.g., spirituality) or organisational culture (e.g., SWP) are emergent from these lower levels without being reduced to them. Fleetwood (2005), discussing these multiple levels of reality, conveys this notion clearly:
An entity is said to be real if it has causal efficiency; has an effect on behaviour; makes a difference. Confusion often stems from (mis)treating real entities synonymously with material entities; and/or from (mis)treating non-material entities synonymously with non real entities. God may or may not be real, but the idea of God is as real as Mount Everest, because the idea of God makes a difference to people’s actions (p. 199).
Furthermore, each emergent level of reality is self-existent, that is, has its own ontology. This is an important bulwark against reductionism. McGrath (2002) illustrates this point. A stone “can be picked up and thrown because it is solid; it is not solid because it can be picked up and thrown” (p. 223). The ontology of the stone determines how we know and use it. Two practical consequences arise from this. First, any research methods utilised must match the ontology (or reality) of the thing investigated. Second, such stratification means that any adequate analysis must encompass a number of levels.
Spirituality appears to stratify into different levels of reality (Helminiak, 1996). Ultimately, the spiritual may exist independent of the knower, an intransitive metaphysical dimension (Bhaskar, 2012). At this level, spirituality may concern the reality of what one’s Ultimate Concern is ontologically in itself (McGrath, 2002). While it is not possible to know this ultimate reality fully, we can hypothesise its existence by exploring its actuality (i.e., what actually happens when people are spiritual or enacting their spirituality). Chapter 2 proposes that they feel interconnected to all, they interpret their actions within a larger meaningful framework, they rise above their environmental conditions and they develop their sense of inner self. Both the real and the actual are the structures of this spiritual reality and underlie our experience of it. At the same time, both the real and the actual are also mechanisms with causal power to create new emergent realities. Finally, individuals and groups experience this spiritual reality differently as they live it out daily. What people subjectively encounter is the object of spiritualty and the causal power of its outcomes in their lives (Archer et al., 2004a). A critical realist methodology requires the use of research methods matching the ontology of the reality investigated. This means any investigation of spirituality, whatever the context, must use appropriate research methods specific to that level. Moreover, spirituality involves human agents, who act consciously with intention and purpose and who assign meaning to phenomena. Any method utilised must incorporate this hermeneutic premise (Danermark et al., 1997).
Table of Contents
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF TABLES & FIGURES
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
1.1 Setting the Context
1.2 Spirituality in the Workplace – The State of the Field
1.3 Significance of the Research
1.4 Objectives of the Research
1.5 Structure of the Thesis
CHAPTER 2: APPROACHES TO SPIRITUALITY
2.1 Setting the Context
2.2 Religious Approaches to Spirituality
2.3 Philosophical Approaches to Spirituality
2.4 Psychological Approaches to Spirituality
2.5 What is Spirituality?
2.5.1 Spiritual Themes
CHAPTER 3: TAKING SPIRITUALITY TO WORK
3.1 Setting the Context
3.2 Why Spirituality in the Workplace?
3.3 What is Spirituality in the Workplace?
3.4 Outcomes of Spirituality in the Workplace
CHAPTER 4: ORGANISATIONS, ETHICS & SPIRITUALITY
4.1 Setting the Context
4.2 Organisational Ethics
4.3 Spirituality & Ethical Decision-making in Organisations
4.4 Spirituality & Ethical Behaviour in Organisations
4.5 Ethical Benefits of Spirituality in the Workplace
CHAPTER 5: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
5.1 Setting the Context
5.2 Critical Realism
CHAPTER 6: EXTENSIVE RESEARCH
6.1 Extensive Research Design
6.2 Extensive Results
6.3 Extensive Research Validity & Ethical Issues
CHAPTER 7: INTENSIVE RESEARCH
7.1 Intensive Research Design
7.2 Intensive Results
7.3 Intensive Research Validity & Reliability
7.4 Ethical Issues
CHAPTER 8: GLOBAL THEMES
8.1 Setting the Context
8.2 Evidence from Interviews – Critical Incidents
8.3 Evidence from Interviews – Ethical Benefits
CHAPTER 9: DISCUSSION
9.1 Extensive Analysis
9.2 Enacting Spirituality in the Workplace
9.3 Spiritual Individuals Enhance the Workplace
CHAPTER 10: CONCLUSION
10.1 Setting the Context
10.2 Revisiting the Research Questions
10.5 Future Research
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
THE ROLE OF SPIRITUALITY IN ETHICAL DECISIONMAKING AND BEHAVIOUR AND THE BENEFITS TO ORGANISATIONS: A CRITICAL REALIST ANALYSIS