Positivism: to what extent does it aid our understanding of the contemporary social world?

Md Nazmul Hasan

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


There is a stereotypical belief among many researchers that the social world is complex in nature, and it cannot be investigated by employing a positivist approach. While the extant body of literature mostly support this notion, this brief theoretical paper, however, presents some critical arguments against this and goes onto claim that positivism also aids our understanding of the contemporary social world to a certain extent. It has been argued that the quantifiable methods of the natural sciences are also appropriate for studying the social world in some cases, such as large-scale social surveys and cross-country social research. To begin with, a critical commentary on the history of positivism is provided and the essence of positivist epistemology in exploring different elements of the social world is then discussed. Finally, the paper establishes that both positivism and interpretivism can be seen as appropriate to some level of analysis of meaningful social action. The former is most suited for large-scale social surveys or for providing descriptive information about the social world while the latter is more appropriate to understand the complex actions of social members and to capture the multiple realities of the society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-325
Number of pages9
JournalQuality & Quantity
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • Positivism
  • Quantitative research
  • Social science
  • Social research
  • Contemporary social world


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