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Empiricism, epistemology and modern postmodernism: a critique

Bradley G. Bowden (Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Article publication date: 8 October 2019

Issue publication date: 21 November 2019




The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, it seeks to trace the origins of the various strands of postmodernism within German philosophic idealism; traditions of thought which placed emphasis – like postmodernism – on a subjective understanding of evidence and a supposed capacity of human consciousness to continually move beyond the bounds imposed by social convention and being; second, this paper states that postmodernism, rooted as it is in philosophic idealism, is methodologically and conceptually constrained. Its emphasis on consciousness and will marginalize its capacity to make meaningful contributions in areas such as economics, and the wider trends in human history.


This paper is theoretical. It seeks to locate conflicting methodologies – most particularly those relating to postmodernism, positivism and philosophical realism – within the traditions of thought that have emerged since the enlightenment.


Postmodernism is rooted in philosophical idealism. As such, it places emphasis on consciousness, identity and being. The essential problem with postmodernism, this paper argues, is not this emphasis. These are legitimate areas of inquiry. Rather, the central problem with postmodernist-informed research is found in the limited range of methodological and conceptual tools in its kitbag.


Despite the growing influence of postmodernism in its various shades within academia, few of its proponents and critics trace its philosophic origins. In doing so this paper highlights the strengths and limitations of not only postmodernism but also its polar opposite, positivism.



Bowden, B.G. (2019), "Empiricism, epistemology and modern postmodernism: a critique", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 481-497.



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