Posted by: Dorianne Cotter-Lockard | 20 January 2008

My Personal Epistemology, part 2

In an earlier post, I talked about my first intensive workshop experience. The course was an overview of research epistemology or “cultures of inquiry.” I realized I needed to know myself enough to determine a “culture of inquiry” that aligns with my core values. What follows is an excerpt from my “reflective” paper, which BTW got an “A.”

This post walks through several research disciplines and my reactions to each. If you are interested in a great book that describes each culture of inquiry in detail, I highly recommend Mindful Inquiry in Social Research, by Valerie Bentz and Jeremy Shapiro. I used their framework for mindful inquiry to shape my entire paper.  I will post a “part 3” and let you know which culture is my “love.”

Evolving My Understanding

Prior to the intensive workshop, I had a surface-level understanding of the material. After I participated in the workshop and allowed a few weeks to digest the material, I returned to it with a deeper understanding. I re-read the assigned books as I wrote this paper and have solidified my understanding of the various cultures of inquiry. My comprehension will continue to evolve because I will continually examine my core values and definition of what it means to know throughout my doctoral program.

Allowing New Meaning to Emerge

While I read about cultures of inquiry in each of the three books, I asked myself questions about the values within each culture and how they aligned with my own values. The following section is a summary of this analysis. I have grouped the various cultures together in a different manner than in our assigned texts.


I appreciate the value of quantitative research and intend to incorporate some into my work, but I don’t believe there’s only one truth to be revealed or that there’s such a thing as value-free science. Rather than predict behavior, I desire to understand behavior in order to affect future behavior. Positivism is also characterized as atomistic and its approach is to reduce an entity into its parts or variables for observation and experimentation. This approach can reveal insights, but results need to be integrated together because component parts do not function separately from a whole entity. I want to understand the context within the whole as well as attain a specific understanding of the variable.

Interpretive Social Science (ISS)

Neuman’s summary of values for ISS states that “values are an integral part of social life; no group’s values are wrong, only different” (2006, P. 105). I subscribe to this viewpoint. How can I, as an individual who lives in the context of my own socio-historical point in time, place a right or wrong judgment on other groups’ values? I can give my opinion regarding whether I think their values fit with mine, but my goal is to understand values of others, not accept or reject them. Social constructionism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, and ethnography are included within the group of ISS cultures.

Social constructionism.

During the intensive session, I resonated with this culture the most, especially after I heard the interview with Barnett Pearce. I wonder if I would have had the same feeling after interviews with members of other cultures of inquiry. Dr. Pearce was very persuasive and I imagine other faculty would be equally passionate if they had been interviewed about their chosen culture of inquiry. The interview format was a very effective learning method.

A basic premise of social constructionism is that “reality is in the perception of the perceiver” (Farrell, 2007b). I have come to agree with this maxim through my personal work in psychological, spiritual and management realms. I liked the concept of Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM) and the fact that it differs from critical social science. Unlike CSS, CMM doesn’t assume there is a power imbalance related to any situation in which research is conducted. Social constructionist researchers adopt an emic view of the other, coming to understand the other’s values and perspectives. I believe this is a key approach to understand leaders’ interior lives, which is one of my research interests.


Phenomenology is most interested in answering the question “what is X?” rather than “why does X occur?” I am more interested in the latter question. Since I am interested in understanding leaders’ and organizations’ consciousness, I will use this approach for some of my research, but not all of it. I also intend to use quantitative analysis to support phenomenological discoveries because I plan to write for a general business management and leadership audience. By mixing these two approaches, I will be able to appeal to my audience in the quantitative language they understand while I open the door to a more humanistic discussion.


I’m most familiar with hermeneutics, since my KA702 assignments require I use a different hermeneutic strategy for each paper. At the KA753A intensive, my group applied Droysen’s four hermeneutic strategies of interpretation to the film Capote. This exercise really helped me to solidify how to use hermeneutic techniques and I plan to use them in my research.


This culture wasn’t discussed much during the intensive, but the reading materials provided more detail. An ethnographer loves to study groups of humans, including their behavior, morals, values and idea systems. The goal is to understand how people in organizations behave as a culture or living entity. The ethnographer immerses herself in the field she is studying.

I have already been immersed in my research field, which is corporate culture. My challenge will be to assume a position of detachment in order to interpret and explain my observations. I like the fact that ethnography uses both inductive and deductive approaches to research. I can envision using theoretical frameworks in my early research and eventually devising my own theories as I advance.

Critical Social Science (CSS)

I find myself attracted to this culture of inquiry for several reasons, yet I know CSS doesn’t align completely with my values. Neuman’s summary of values for CSS states that “all science must begin with a value position; some positions are right, some are wrong” (2006, p. 105). As mentioned in my discussion of ISS values, I do not judge one group’s position as right and another group’s position as wrong. CSS assumes there is an imbalance of power in the world and the other includes women, minorities, homosexuals, etc. Although I generally agree this is true, as I conduct research, I don’t want to assume an imbalance. Imbalances should be revealed through research results. I also don’t like the idea of mixing politics and research. Politicizing a culture of inquiry introduces so much bias that researchers will find only what they set out to find, rather than what there is to be found.

CSS focuses on systems orientation and situates the research context historically and culturally. I agree with this approach. CSS also incorporates the idea of immanent critique, which is a comparison of what people within an organization, society or government say they believe in and what they actually do in practice. I like this approach to inquiry and can see myself asking these types of questions. Critical race theory, feminist theory, queer theory and action research are included within the group of CSS cultures.

Critical race theory.

Dr. Farrell briefly referenced critical race theory during the intensive and the assigned reading materials also addressed this topic. I see similarities between critical race theory and feminist theory, though this culture is not my “love.”

Feminist theory.

We discussed this culture during the intensive since one of the groups used feminist theory for their Capote presentation. The group presented a role-play of their discussion process and then provided observations of their interactions which reflected sexist behaviors. For example, a man sat at the head of the table. There were only two men in the group and they didn’t bring their reference materials. The only non-Caucasian woman took the role of reference librarian as she read descriptions of each CSS culture to the group. We saw quite clearly how bias is embedded into normal, every-day behavior.

I recently read Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice (1982, 1993) and wrote a critical summary paper on the book. This was how I “put my toe into the water” to see if this culture of inquiry is my “love.” Although I enjoyed the topic and Gilligan’s analysis, I don’t think feminist research is my culture. I place value on leadership issues, regardless of gender; this culture doesn’t serve my research interest.

Queer theory.

This culture was addressed in the reading material and only briefly referenced during the intensive. Although it is interesting reading, I don’t resonate with this culture of inquiry either.

Action Research.

This culture asserts that research is relevant only when it is concurrently applied to solve a practical problem during the research project. The intention of action research is to transform an organization or system in the process of conducting research. I don’t agree with this premise. While the ultimate goal of research is to affect change through understanding, there’s no requirement that the change needs to be concurrent with the process of gaining understanding.


This culture of inquiry seems most radical to me. Postmodernists believe that systematic research and theories developed to date are invalid, knowledge cannot be accumulated over time and there are no patterns in human life to be discovered. These beliefs don’t align with my values. I believe the value of theories and concepts depend on two things; 1) the measurable benefit of applying the theory in a practical setting; and 2) the perceived value from an individual’s viewpoint. It seems to me that postmodernists want to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Postmodernists prefer to create a piece of performance art to express their ideas and concepts than to present a paper at a conference or publish it in a journal. As an artist, I agree there is great power in the ability to convey ideas through the arts. However, I don’t see how a play or skit can touch enough people’s lives to transform organizations and societies. I’m eagerly awaiting the post-postmodern movement, which is in the process of emerging now. The post-postmodern movement seeks transformation of modernist philosophy without discarding the past.


Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful inquiry in social research. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1998). The landscape of qualitative research : theories and issues. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Farrell, M. (2007a). Marie’s Notes. On Cultures of Inquiry – 753A. Santa Barbara.

Farrell, M. (2007b). Social Constructionism Research 753A, An Interview with Dr. Barnett Pearce. Santa Barbara.

Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice : psychological theory and women’s development. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Gilligan, C. (1993). In a different voice : psychological theory and women’s development. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.



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