The Importance of Pragmatism in Research
Pragmatic is an epistemological approach that focuses on the practical realities of human behaviour and experience. It seeks to avoid being pinned down to a particular worldview or ideology and is open to other approaches of knowledge production (Cameron, 2000).
Pragmatism is often viewed as an alternative to idealism or as a logical extension of empiricism. It emphasizes the importance of generating knowledge through practice and action and that such knowledge is useful only insofar as it is beneficial to human beings. Pragmatism is also seen as a counterpoint to the metaphysical claims of religions as it holds that only what works will be considered true. Nonetheless, James’ pragmatic position does not deny the possibility of transcendent realities.
In a research context, the principle of pragmatism can be used to guide the selection and application of methodologies. The pragmatist emphasis on action and the value of results can be useful in facilitating an iterative process between theory and empirical observation as well as maintaining a focus on respondent experiences throughout the research cycle (Kelly, 2019b). Pragmatism’s skepticism towards fixed theories and dogmas can also help to avoid the rigidity and exclusivity of traditional paradigms and allow for a more flexible and creative approach to inquiry.
One of the most important practical implications of pragmatism is its emphasis on language and communication. It is a principle that allows us to do things like politely hedge a request, cleverly read between the lines or navigate ambiguity in conversation. It is this pragmatic knowledge of how language works that allows you to understand why people don’t always say what they mean.
This pragmatic knowledge is also a crucial component of our everyday social interactions. It is why you might decide to prioritize your short-term gain over a family member’s well-being or why you might buy an expensive designer outfit at a bargain price knowing that it may have been manufactured in a country with poor labor laws and low wages.
Although the pragmatic approach has gained popularity in recent years, it is not without its critics. A major concern is that pragmatism’s emphasis on practical outcomes can lead to a disregard of established bodies of knowledge or even established theoretical frameworks. This reluctance to adhere to an overarching explanatory model can hinder the accumulation of knowledge and prevent meaningful progress in understanding complex phenomena. In addition, a reluctance to adopt a philosophical basis for inquiry can also inhibit the development of more rigorous and valid research designs. However, if a pragmatic approach is implemented with care, it can be an effective tool for investigating complex phenomena and finding solutions to emerging problems.