Ontology is the starting point of all research. After that, one’s epistemological and methodological positions logically follow.
Ontology is concerned with what is said to exist in the world and which potentially can be talked about. It is a branch of philosophy concerned with articulating the nature and structure of the world.
According to Blaikie (2000), ontology is about the nature of social reality. It is about what exists and what it looks like. It is concerned about what units make up what exists and how these units interact among themselves. In other words, ontological assumptions are concerned with what we believe constitutes social reality.
Thus, ontology is the science or theory of being. It answers the question of how the world is built and what can be known about it.
Epistemology is one of the branches of philosophy. It is about the theory of knowledge. It is about the methods, validation and the possible ways of gaining an understanding of social reality.
It about how what is assumed to exist can be known. It focuses on the knowledge-gathering process and developing new models or theories that are better than competing models and theories.
Then epistemology is the theory of knowledge.
Consequently, ones’ epistemological position reflects the view of what we can know about the world and how we can know it. It must be noted that knowledge and the ways of discovering it, is not static, but forever changing. Thus, when reflecting on theories and concepts in general, researchers need to reflect on the assumptions on which they are based and where they originate from in the first place (Grix, 2002).
Ontology and epistemological issues become related in the sense that the epistemological issues concerns how human actors may go about inquiring about and making sense of the ontology. Ontological and epistemological positions are the foundations on which researchers base their work. These positions are not always precise but show themselves in the matter of methodology and approach.
They shape the approach to theory and the methods utilised in research. They are grounded deeply in the researchers’ beliefs about the world, resulting in the effect that the positions taken on these issues cannot possibly be changed: ‘They are like a skin, not a sweater: they cannot be put on or taken off whenever the researcher sees fit’ (Marsh and Furlong 2002, p.17).