Paradigm Shifts Through Cultures of Inquiry: Seismic Events and Little Earthquakes
Introduction and Intentions
Over the course of the Cultures of Inquiry, I felt many shifts and sharpenings of how I see the world and process information. As a native Californian, I refer to these shifts as medium-sized earthquakes; about 4.0-6.0 on my internal Richter scale. Three epistemologies resonated with me personally, helping me refine the direction I will take with my learning at Fielding:
I examined how my spiritual beliefs and experience inform my ways of knowing, particularly through a phenomenological lens.
I experienced a strong, synchronistic pull to deepen my study of Native American ways of knowing from a personal standpoint as a descendant of Cherokees, and as a researcher with a systems orientation.
I emerged with a new commitment to social justice when political events in Texas, strengthened by understanding Critical Social Theory, aligned with my innate worldview and scholarly interest in feminist issues.
When considering “how I know what I know” during the course, I found myself returning to my spirituality as the ground from which I perceive the world. Raised a secular humanist, my family placed a high value on critical thinking, questioned authority, and saw little value in most traditional religious institutions. After years of seeking, study, and exposure to different religious and spiritual traditions, I experienced an epiphany when I encountered the Vedic concept of God as Universe. This was the most dramatic paradigm shift of my life (about a 7.5). Opened to the reality of my own experience rather than conversion to a specific doctrine, the idea of Phenomenology as presented in Mindful Inquiry (Benz & Shapiro, 1998) was personally affirming and academically intriguing as a foundation for research. The Positivist leanings of secular society, particularly “…making a fetish of science and technology, it functions as an ideology…” (p. 29) echo the ideals of my early life: science as the vehicle for a knowable, reductive universe, wherein religion is an artifact of pre-modern, superstitious times.
In contrast, my meditation practice emphasizes coming closer to the “ground” of reality by experiencing the present moment. Phenomenology’s promise is that my own experience of the world is more “real” than another’s observations of me, which is both comforting and exciting. Bentz and Shapiro say, “At its root, the intent is to understand phenomena in their own terms—to provide a description of human experience as it is experienced by the person herself.” (p. 96) Not only does this philosophical stance resonate with me personally, but it also provides a beautiful starting point for my interest in patriarchal gender norms vs. the concept of gender spectrum.
Native American Ways of Knowing
I very much enjoyed Black Elk Speaks (Black Elk & Neihardt, 2009). In Black Elk’s description of the buffalo hunt, the best hunters received the honor of providing meat for those who were disabled or widowed. This resonates with my systems orientation; when thinking about issues of poverty and social responsibility, it confounds me that organizations and citizens do not understand the personal consequences of destroying the environment or allowing poverty to flourish. It seems that extreme forms of capitalism as an outgrowth of Positivism have also been “fetishized” to the detriment of most (and eventually all). Black Elk described a society that exhibited an innate understanding of the consequences of neglecting any part of a functioning system. Put bluntly, they understood that trying to feed a positive loop is a really bad idea.
Synchronistically, during the course I had coffee with a friend who does dialogue and deliberation work using a Native American framework. She shared a Native American story transcribed by a female scholar (Underwood, 1993). Different from Black Elk’s narrative in its female voice, it described a woman who broke the gender norms of her tribe in order to learn to administer medicine to both men and women. A wise, learned woman, she eventually left her tribe to live with Quakers rather than be part of her tribe’s conversion to Christianity. Thus, she preserved the oral tradition of her tribe and passed it on. This story brought up many questions about my own Cherokee heritage. I have always felt connected to my father’s family, particularly the Jewish side. I have difficulty identifying with my mother’s family who have always felt too “white” to me. These two works helped explore how I might connect to the Native American part of my ethnicity. Additionally, when I learned of the intensive in New Mexico in October, I experienced a deep longing to attend and further explore these ideas for my personal and scholarly development.
Critical Social Theory
My third paradigm shift happened at the intersection of political events in Texas, my own preference for critical thinking, and my study of Critical Social Theory. Shortly before our first synchronous meeting, I watched my friends and colleagues mobilize to support Wendy Davis’ filibuster of Senate Bill 5 on the floor of the Texas Senate. Caught between the feminist generation and my own experience of femininity, it has been hard for me to take a stand on this issue. Ethically, I find it impossible to ignore the grey area surrounding ending life, for either the fetus or the mother. However, watching the potential trajectory of my daughter’s life change in ways I could not abide got me off my ass and down to the Capitol. My interest in social justice was reborn, and I came to my studies with a greater sense of responsibility and eagerness to be involved in social change.
The fact that this law will likely impact the most economically disadvantaged and least educated people in Texas forces me examine my own privilege and consider my responsibilities towards less advantaged people in my region. As a result, I changed my plans to study Systems in the fall to a Social Justice focus, and integrate an intensive course in New Mexico. The re-awakening of my inner activist creates a desire to contribute to social justice movements.
Critical Social Theory integrates my systems orientation with my sense that I should “start where I am” as a researcher. While I want to help solve greater social problems of poverty, education, and ecological issues, my understanding of Critical Social Theory is that, rather than be an impartial observer, I must include my social and historical situation in my research – I must center myself within my work. Certainly, my interest in the continuing impact of internalized, patriarchal definitions of femininity comes from my own experiences as a woman. Additionally, Critical Social Theory reflects the Cultural Revolution ideals of the 60s that my parents espoused. In the context of my own life, Critical Social Theory helps me consciously integrate aspects of my upbringing that are fundamental to how I view the world. The critical theorist must examine historical context. For example, understanding the historical context of second wave feminism helped me understand why I needed to take a stronger stance on reproductive rights for my daughter’s generation. While understanding of the complexity of ethical questions is important, I must not allow it to keep me from acting and engaging in dialogue. Perhaps I can replace my internal gridlock with a way to help opposing sides engage in dialogue and find common ground.
I experienced many other little earthquakes in my psyche over the course of this class: from Black Feminist Thought the white perception of sane behavior as insanity (Collins, 2008); Kuhn and the paradigm shift from an historical context (1993); Decolonizing Methodologies and the ethical responsibility of the researcher (Smith, 1999); and additional readings opened up pathways that continue to expand my research in the context of my lifeworld. I have examined changes in how I embody my values and how my paradigms have either shifted or expanded. I approached this course with a “What does this mean for me?” rather than a “How can I prove I’ve learned everything?” attitude. While I wish this were a longer course with more time to fully explore each avenue of interest, at least I had time to dip my toes in several interesting pools, changing some of my previous ideas about the direction to pursue in my upcoming courses. In particular, I will update my learning plan to include more time to explore Phenomenology, Critical Social Theory, and Indigenous ways of knowing.
Bentz, V., & Shapiro, J. (1999). Mindful inquiry in social research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Black Elk, & Neihardt, J. (2009). Black Elk speaks: Being the life story of a holy man of Oglala Sioux, the Premier Edition. Albany: SUNY Press.
Collins, P. (2008). Black feminist thought, 3rd Ed. New York: Routledge.
Kuhn, T. (1993). The structure of scientific revolutions, 3rd Ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. New York: Zed Books.
Underwood, P. (1993) A tribe of two.