A case for Social Constructionism in Aviation Safety and Human Performance Research
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This paper outlines the use of both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies in organisational research as applied in the aviation environment and argues the case for both approaches in such research. Aviation safety and human performance research, with its largely observation based methodology and life critical outcomes, is an area where quality of research is more important than academic argument as to the purity of research methodology. Though the desire for high quality research should always be the underlying principle in methodology selection, it appears that one research approach is more prevalent. Quantitative research methodology has been, and continues to be, the preferred research methodology under which aviation research is conducted. With its grounding in the natural sciences, this methodology is indeed a logical choice for research in an industry based in a highly evolved technical environment. From a historical perspective, early aviation research topics revolved around subjects with a basis in physics, chemistry, engineering and medicine. These subjects naturally lend themselves to the analytical and empirical nature of quantitative research methodology; underpinned by a positivistic epistemology, stating that positive substantiation of all enquiries is essential for authentic research. While research in aviation continues unabated under the positivistic approach, the maturation of the aviation industry has resulted in an expansion of research topics to include areas related to human performance. It is in this field that numerous researchers have concluded that the use of quantitative processes may exhibit flaws due to the attempted removal of the human element in the research process. The aviation environment is complex with a myriad of cultural, organisational and technical interrelationships considered by many to be a human construct. As a human construct, it is logical that some research needs a qualitative element to add context and depth to the results. Logic dictates that there may be a legitimate role for research in this field to contain elements of both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. With this in mind perhaps it is time to consider qualitative research, as founded in social constructionist theory, as a valid component of aviation research methodology.
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