Epistemological positions: Objective, Constructive & Subjective perspectives

There are 2 polarities in epistemology.

Positivism, objectivism, empiricism
  • There is an external, universal reality that can be know by breaking it down into fragments and studying each one separately. In this case the knower is completely detached from the actual knowledge. This position has evolved into postpositivism where it is granted that the knower is in a cultural context but still emphasises that one can arrive to an objective reality.
Subjectivism, interpretivism
  • Knowledge is internally constructed and therefore completely subjective. It depends on the context and should also focus on its holistic nature. The knower cannot be separated from what is known.

Epistemology can also look at knowledge from another perspective however which is found mid-way between the other two while introducing another dimension:

  • Knowledge about the human world is different from knowledge about the physical world. It is socially constructed, always belonging to a particular context. The reality experienced is only constructed but is experienced as real by the people concerned.


Human beings are social beings and therefore by definition they are always in interaction with each other. Rather than looking at the polarities of epistemology and adopting one of them, it is best to look at a continuum between individuals, rather than between ideologies.

The closer one moves towards the individual, the more one looks at the subjective experience. No other entity can occupy that same place and thus it is a space that belongs entirely to the individual. Individuals are also linked together and thus their experiences may overlap. Although the core experience will always remain totally subjective, the areas that overlap will be more and more of a shared experience, leading to a possible universal experience (e.g. the experience of hunger).

The researcher who examines the subjective experience or the objective, shared experience also forms part of the interaction matrix, thus having his/her own core subjectivity as well as other experiences, the meaning of which he/she can share with other humans. This means that rather than talking about whether or not the knower is linked to what is known, it is better to look at a graded link between the two, ranging from the purely personal (thus completely linked) to the universal (thus objective).

In all of this one must always keep in mind what constitutes the social matrix of individuals. Culture, history and language automatically insert every individual in the interaction matrix. This means that complete objectivity is impossible, as is complete subjectivity. The words we use and which shape our thinking, our history, our environment, our culture, all create “prejudices” in us through which we interpret reality. Once again however, these influences are on a continuum ranging from a completely shared experience to a completely personal one. They cannot be separated from each other as we are always individuals and we always form part of society.

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