Table 1. The core ontological assumptions guiding positivism and subjectivism, adapted from a table in Morgan and Smircich (1980).


Extreme Subjectivism Extreme Positivism
Perspective on reality The social world and what passes as “reality” are a projection of human perception and an act of people’s creative imagination. In its extreme, there may be nothing outside of oneself: a person’s mind is the world. The social world is a concrete, real thing that affects everyone. It can be thought of as a structure composed of a network of causal relationships between its essential parts. The social world is as concrete and real as the natural world.
Perspective on the researcher Reality cannot be fully understood, as human processes interpret events in consciousness before fully understanding its structure or meaning. The researcher will explicitly state what they believe to be their influence on the results of the research, taking into account that they cannot be objective. Reality is an objective phenomenon that lends itself to accurate or inaccurate—depending on variance—observation and measurement. “Any aspect of the world that is not in some form of observable activity or behavior must be regarded as being of questionable status”.
Perspective on humans Humans use their intuition and experience to make the world into a meaningful form. Human beings shape the world using their own immediate experience. Human beings behave and respond to stimuli in predictable ways. Although perception may play some role in response, behavior remains lawful and rule governed and is a product of the world (and stimuli to which they are exposed).