The theoretical dialectic between formal and subjective models is reflected in the debate about positivism and interpretivism in educational research. Subjective models relate to a mode of research that is predominantly interpretive or qualitative. This approach to enquiry is based on the subjective experience of individuals. The main aim is to seek understanding of the ways in which individuals create, modify and interpret the social world which they inhabit.
The main features of interpretive, or qualitative, research echo those of the subjective models:
- They focus on the perceptions of individuals rather than the whole organisation. The subject's individual perspective is central to qualitative research (Morrison, 2002, p. 19).
- Interpretive research is concerned with the meanings, or interpretations, placed on events by participants. “All human life is experienced and constructed from a subjective perspective” (Morrison, 2002, p. 19).
- Research findings are interpreted using “grounded” theory. “Theory is emergent and must arise from particular situations; it should be “grounded” on data generated by the research act. Theory should not proceed research but follow it” (Cohen et al, 2000, p. 23).