The social sciences try to understand human behavior from very specific points of view. However, if you want to study behavior, you have to accept certain ideas. First, you have to determine whether people are really able to interpret the behavior and whether they can understand social reality.
The answer you give will determine how you study the behavior. This is the ontological assumption. The second question that determines the way you examine human behavior is epistemological. This assumption presupposes a relationship between the researcher and the research subject.
This assumes that you can assume that the researcher and the subject are separate elements or the same. Again, the answer will determine the focus of social science.
In addition to these two assumptions, there are other differences in the approach. Here we are talking about methodology. It is true that different approaches can use different possibilities. However, there are common methodologies and practices within certain approaches.
Based on these differences (ontology, epistemology, methodology and methods), at least four approaches to investigate behavior appear. So these are the four different approaches in the social sciences: positivism, post-positivism, interpretive approach, and humanism.
The positivist approach in the social sciences
The first approach we will discuss is positivism. This approach believes that social reality is objective. In other words, interactions between people conform to certain natural laws that are easy to understand.
This approach in the social sciences also believes that the researcher and the subject are separate elements. Thus, researchers use inductive research procedures.
Being able to recognize certain behaviors will help us discover the natural laws that govern our social reality. Thus, by studying certain behaviors, we can find the reasons behind our actions.
Positivists use the empirical method. They strive to fully understand reality through experience. Moreover, the methods used come from the natural sciences and are all about experimentation.
So researchers get their data from these experiments. They also use the statistical analysis to build mathematical models. These models then explain the behaviour.
The post-positivist approach to the social sciences
Over time, people began to criticize the positivist approach. After all, they noticed that human behavior does not follow the laws of nature. This criticism led to the emergence of another approach called post-positivism.
However, this approach still believes that reality is objective. Still, she keeps in mind that it’s not easy to understand. The result of this change is that researchers and research subjects are no longer regarded as separate elements.
After all, the post-positivists believe that the researcher can influence the process. This approach started to use deductive methods. This began with the application of accepted facts to individual cases for the purpose of testing their validity by using probability.
The post-positivist approach is also still empirical. However, it gives greater importance to context. In the same vein, the methods are estimates of the natural method. In these methods we find the experiments, the statistical analysis and the quantitative interviews.
The interpretive approach in the social sciences
The interpretive approach assumes that social reality is both objective and subjective. This new understanding, subjectivity, implies that reality is a human construct. That means that people create their own social reality.
According to this approach, we can still understand social reality and behavior, even though the interpretation will depend on human subjectivity. To understand subjective behavior, the followers of the interpretive approach rely on conceptual knowledge.
In the interpretative approach, researchers use a methodology based on context. They pay close attention to the meaning that people ascribe to actions. To find those meanings, the researchers use textual analysis and speech analysis.
The humanistic approach to the social sciences
Finally, the humanistic approach goes to the other extreme. It states that reality is completely subjective. As a result, we cannot understand social reality. In this approach, human subjectivity is more important than anything else.
Since we can never understand, we can only hope to feel empathy. The only way we can understand how other people see the world is to see how it differs from our own understanding.
The humanistic methodology in the social sciences is interested in values, meanings and objectives. To obtain this information, researchers use the empathic interaction.
They therefore interact with the research subjects in order to collect information about how they understand their social reality.
As you can see, the social sciences offer several ways to understand our behavior. There are also several ways to study them. At first glance, it seems likely that they are mutually exclusive. However, we can combine them.
Human behavior is very complicated. We can study it from different approaches. This can help the researcher come to a more comprehensive conclusion. Some approaches are more useful than others in understanding certain behaviors. However, that doesn’t mean the rest is useless or less valuable.