Glossary of Terms

This will be added to / edited as the course progresses. Many of these concepts are quite complex and hard to define, so don’t worry if you don’t understand them all straight away (& apologies if anything is poorly defined or inaccurate!) If you have any additions / edits you would like to suggest please email

Critical Realism – A position adopted in research where a physical reality is affirmed/accepted, but cannot be directly observed or measured, thus the world can only be known through. It argues the way the physical reality is interpreted and represented is dependent on socio-cultural factors

Constructionism – the idea that what we know about the world is produced (not discovered) through discourse and systems of meaning

Empiricism – sees ‘truth’ as accessible using empirical methods (observation, experimentation etc.) leading to scientific knowledge

Epistemology – the study of knowledge, how we go about ‘knowing’ and how this is validated. Empiricism falls within this – the assumption that the truth is accessible through empirical methods & scientific knowledge. Other frameworks, such as postmodernism, reject the idea of a uniform truth

Essentialism – ‘things’ have an essential nature, which are stable and can be identified. An example of this is the idea of personality ‘traits’, which are intrinsic

Method – techniques for data collection, data analysis etc – the practical tools one uses for going about research

Methodology – a theoretical framework which sets out an approach for research. Different assumptions guide different methodological approaches, and gives consideration for methods used in research, how one views participants, the role ‘research’ plays, amongst other things. Different methodologies may have altering perspectives on ethics, for instance

Ontology – the study and nature of ‘being’ and reality, falling onto a realist-relativist dimension

Positivism – the idea of identifying valid knowledge through empiricism and the scientific knowledge, the identification of objective ‘facts’ about an observable world, which exists independently of our ways of getting to know it

Reductionism – complex aspects of human activity being broken down into component parts

Realism – the theory of there being an external world, independent of our thoughts and perceptions, which is accessible through research

Reflexivity – a reflection on the researcher’s own position as a researcher, and the way their assumptions shape (and limit) research. This can also include a consideration for how the research was conducted and the methods used.

Relativism – an ontological position asserting that reality exists in relation to culture and society, and is not absolute. All we have is accounts of what reality is

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