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  • 00:12

    Hello.I'm Donna Mertens.I was a professor at Gallaudet Universityin Washington DC for 31 years.I have retired from there, but I continueto do work in the area of research methodologyand program evaluation.My work has focused on the developmentof a transformative approach to research-- transformativein the sense that there are issuesin our society across the globe that require us to approachresearch in ways that foster changein focusing on human rights and social justice.

  • 00:51

    I served as the Editor for the Journal of Mixed MethodsResearch for five years, and so Ihave combined the notion of transformative researchwith mixed methods approaches to research within this context.I want to talk to you today aboutthe transformative paradigm.

  • 01:12

    I will have three key learning outcomesthat I would like to address.These include an overview of the transformative paradigmin its assumptions, and then secondly, Iwill focus on the assumptions related to ethics, or axiology,and the nature of reality, or ontology.

  • 01:36

    And you will have the opportunityto see examples of research that illustratethe axiological and ontological assumptions.The paradigm concept in research isone that was developed by Yvonna Lincoln and Egon Guba, whowrote extensively about the assumptions thatguide researchers in their approaches.

  • 02:04

    Many times, researchers will argue aboutshould we do quantitative work or should wedo qualitative work.But in essence, the arguments are not about the methods.The arguments are about the assumptions that underliemethodological choices.And so I'm going to talk about paradigms in that wayas being constituted by four sets of assumptions.

  • 02:33

    That will be the axiological assumption,as I mentioned previously, relatedto the nature of ethics; the ontological assumption, whichis related to the nature of reality;the epistemological assumption, relatedto the nature of knowledge and how the researcher relatesto the participants in the study;and the methodological assumption, relatedto the nature of systematic inquiry.

  • 03:02

    Now, I have mentioned that the transformative paradigmis related to the need to addressissues of social justice and human rights.The need for this paradigm arisesfrom a variety of sources.And I wanted to share with you just brieflya few of those reasons that the transformative paradigmhas emerged.

  • 03:31

    If we look at the work of indigenous scholars--for example, Marie Battiste, who is an indigenous scholarfrom Canada-- she talks about how importantit is for us to be aware of indigenous knowledge,because their approach to understandingthe world from an ethical perspectiveis inclusive of concepts related to respect for people who havecome before us, people who are living with us now,and people who will follow us.

  • 04:09

    And it's a spiritual sense that leadsus to have more of a concern beyond the specific parametersof our study to be concerned with what do we all benefitfrom when our research is done with a more social justiceframe.

  • 04:30

    A second person who has written about thisis Bagele Chilisa, who is also an indigenous researcher.She's from Botswana.And Dr. Chilisa talks about that it's not justa matter of philosophy.It's a matter of life and death whatresearch approaches we use.

  • 04:51

    And I'm going to share with you someof her work on HIV/AIDS research in Botswanawhere inappropriate approaches to researchlead to a continued escalation of a rate of infection,whereas appropriate, indigenously culturallyrespectful approaches lead to interventions that can actuallystop the rate of infection.

  • 05:15

    A third person whose work is very importanthere is Pauline Brooks, who writesabout the concept of racism.And her work indicates the pervasiveness of racism.And as researchers, if we're working in the fieldof research, we cannot pretend that we are immuneto the concepts of racism or sexism or classism or ableismor any of the other isms that put us in a positionof thinking that those who are able-bodied, male,so forth have some superiority.

  • 05:59

    But there needs to be a sense of equity and justiceand a realization that this needsto be a conscious part of the work that we do.And so these are the voices that called to me that said,let's look at ethics a little bit differently.Let's look at the paradigms of research a little bitdifferently so that we can talk about those assumptions relatedto how we do our research.

  • 06:31

    I'm putting forth the hypothesis that if we actuallyconsciously design our research with an ethical assumptionthat we should be addressing issuesof social justice and human rights,that our research will have a greaterpotential for addressing those kinds of issues thatare necessary for true social transformation,especially for those who are marginalized in our society.

  • 07:08

    The transformative paradigm itself representsa metaphysical umbrella that allowsus to bring under that umbrella the many dimensionsof diversity that have been used as a basis for discriminationand oppression.And that can be inclusive of the dimensionsthat I have mentioned-- that would be gender, race, class,able-bodiedness, hearing ability.

  • 07:40

    We could also look at such things as religionand sexual identity, age and geographic location, refugeestatus, immigrant status.All of these are dimensions of diversity that have been usedand continue to be used as bases of discrimination.

  • 08:01

    And so in the conduct of research,what the transformative paradigm calls upon us to dois to be aware of these dimensions of diversityand to include them consciously in the design of our research.So let's take a look at these assumptions thatdefine the transformative paradigm,and we'll start with the axiological assumption.

  • 08:24

    And in this assumption, what we're talking aboutis the need to be culturally aware, culturally responsive.And that includes being aware of those dimensionswithin the culture that might be usedas a basis of discrimination and thosethat would be used as a basis for determination of power.

  • 08:48

    So in terms of axiology, what we're talking aboutis an ethical responsibility to be responsive culturally,to be aware of power issues, to design our research sothat it's actually going to address issuesof social justice and human rights,and that we will be able to challenge thosewithin the ethical stance that we take.

  • 09:18

    The second assumption is related to ontology,and this is the nature of reality.If we think about reality, think about how we might think, well,why are poor people poor.And there are different versions of reality to answer that.Is it because people are poor because they're lazy?

  • 09:42

    That's one version of reality.Is it because we live in a society that structurally hasdiscrimination and historically has kept people in poverty?That's another version of reality.And so what we're looking at is whatare the different versions of reality.Where do they come from?What are the social positions thatemanate different versions of reality,and what are the consequences of accepting one versionof reality over another?

  • 10:13

    These are the aspects that we're goingto focus on in this tutorial.We will also be aware that the other two assumptionsin the transformative paradigm are epistomology,how we relate to the people in our studies,and methodology, how do we design our studies.Those will not be the focus of this tutorial,but there will be another tutorial in which Iwill take up those topics.

  • 10:43

    In terms of axiology and the transformative paradigm,what we're looking for are methodsthat will allow us to come into contactin legitimate and authentic ways with members of the communitiesthat we are conducting the studies with.

  • 11:05

    And that word "with" is very important,because we're not conducting research on or about.We're conducting research with.It's very important that we are aware of whatthose cultural aspects are that are goingto lead us to have a better relationship with the peoplein our study.I wanted to start with looking atthe methodological implications of the axiological assumptions.

  • 11:34

    And the beginning of that is who exactlyis being impacted by this study.So that is a question of who are the stakeholder groups.Who do you need to have at the table in orderfor you to have meaningful discussions about the researchthat you're planning to conduct?What are the cultural norms, beliefs, and practicesthat are relevant that you need to be awareof in the community in which you're working?

  • 12:04

    What are the elements of history and the social locationof knowledge that are important in termsof being able to respond to issues that could be sensitiveor could be aspects of an oppressive statusquo that you need to challenge?

  • 12:24

    What are the dimensions of diversitywithin those stakeholder groups?Because all black people are not the same.All deaf people are not the same.All refugees are not the same.We need to be aware of what those dimensions of diversityare.And then we need to also be aware of whatare the strengths within those communities.

  • 12:48

    So what is the expertise, the knowledgethat exists within the community that we can recognize and makeuse of so that we have a study that's designed not looking at,oh, those poor people, but looking at peoplethat we work with as partners.And how do we set up our studies sothat we provide an authentic platform for engagementwith the researcher and the community?

  • 13:17

    I wanted to use an example from a study thatwas conducted by Katrina Bledsoe, a study that lookedat the concept of obesity, which is, of course, one that'sbeen recognized in the United Statesas one of our national problems.In this particular study, Dr. Bledsoewas asked to come into a situationwhere the school had received a grant to lookat how to reduce obesity.

  • 13:46

    It's in a community in Trenton, New Jersey, whichis known to be an area of high poverty,and also an area where there's a large percentage of AfricanAmericans and immigrants from a variety of African countries.And when she arrived, she was toldthat the school knew the reason thatobesity was a problem there.

  • 14:11

    They told her that the problem was self-image,that the people, the students had poor self-image,and that's why they were obese.And so Katrina, as a transformative researcher whohad a sense of we need to be aware of who our stakeholdergroup is, said, well, let's just take one step back from thatand say what are the cultural aspects thatare functioning here.

  • 14:38

    And she brought to their attentionthat it's a multicultural community,that it does have a high percentage of AfricanAmericans, but it also has a high percentageof immigrant groups.She also brought up the idea of whatdo these people in the school alreadyknow about obesity and its causes,and what does it mean to them.

  • 15:05

    And they said, well, why is that important?And she said, because we need to recognize the knowledge that'salready in existence there.And so she said, let me test and see what they know.They knew the causes of obesity in terms of diet,and they knew that obesity was linked to heart diseaseand to diabetes.

  • 15:28

    And they knew that exercise was important.However, knowledge was not enough to causea change in behavior.The people in the community said,we don't want another program that just comes and tellsus what's wrong with us.We've seen these programs come and go.And what we want is something thatmakes it sustainable within our community.

  • 15:53

    And so she said, well, let me work with the studentsand find out what they think is importantand what they think would be useful in terms of change.And so again, she's tapping in to their cultural knowledgeand into their expertise.And they said, the problem is, we don't have accessto healthy food.

  • 16:14

    So she said, let's go collect data on that.So they actually did go out into the communityand collect data on the lack of access to food.They said, we'd like to exercise,but there's no real safe places for us to do this.We would like to be healthy, but really, wedon't care if we're big.And they didn't use the term "obese."They said, we don't care if we're big.

  • 16:37

    That's OK.We don't want heart disease and we don't want diabetes.And so what she was doing was usingthese axiological assumptions to beginto also question the ontology, questionthe nature of knowledge, and sayingthat the knowledge about obesity is multifaceted.

  • 17:04

    And that saying we know what the nature of the problemis-- we know that obesity exists because of poor self-imageis a version of reality that is givenfrom a position of privilege without actuallytalking to the people who you're supposedlydoing the program with.

  • 17:24

    And accepting that version of self-conceptwould actually result in harm, because it would once againbe interpreted as you telling us what's wrong with us.And then how are you going to have an effective intervention?So what she did was design the studyso that it could interrogate those different versionsof reality and ask where did they come from.

  • 17:49

    Who has the power to define that nature of reality that exists,and what are the consequences of acceptingone version of reality over another one?And so she said, let us identify howwe can use mixed methods to actually identifyand support and include diverse participants so that they couldreveal those different versions of reality, includingthose versions in terms of privilege and power.

  • 18:23

    And how would that then contributeto our understanding of what is realand an appropriate intervention?So she said, who needs to be included?How do we include them appropriately?How do we listen respectfully to the members of the community,and how do we challenge those versions of realitythat are harmful?

  • 18:52

    If we look at the application of that within the study,we see that Dr. Bledsoe was able to challenge the powerbrokers to say that obesity is not caused by poor self-image,that the youth, through interviewing,revealed that they said big is not bad.We do want to try to prevent diabetes and heart disease.

  • 19:17

    In doing this study using mixed methods,doing geographical information studies,they went out and studied where therewere locations for healthy food-- veryfew locations for healthy food.There were no safe places to exercise,and they recognized the traditional foodsthat they ate were not healthy.

  • 19:41

    And so the design of the study overallis reflective of those axiological and ontologicalassumptions.There was a beginning with identifyingwho needs to be involved, what are the versions of realitythat are important, how do we bring people togetherso that we can work together.

  • 20:02

    They did surveys with the students.They did the quantitative site mapping.They did discussion groups with students.And the result was an interventionthat was entirely different than had first been anticipated.The intervention then became the studentsgoing back into the community, talking to the leadership,and saying you need to bring in access to healthy foods.

  • 20:27

    In terms of exercise, they said, youknow what, you have to make it funand you have to make it safe.So the students said, let's have dance contestsduring lunchtime or right after school.Everybody can wear a pedometer, and theycan count the number of steps and see from dancing whohas the most number of steps.

  • 20:48

    They also had food fairs where theyhad experts come in to teach themhow to cook their foods naturally,but in a more healthy way.And so from this, we see the applicationof the transformative paradigm, its axiological assumptions,its ontological assumptions leading to the use of a mixedmethods design.

  • 21:12

    And I hope what you take away from thisis the concept that starting with an assumption relatedto social justice, related to human rights,leads us to be able to question versions of reality thatcould be harmful in communities, and also gives us the potentialto work with communities towards the developmentand implementation and the researchabout interventions that have greater potentialto bring about the kind of change that we want to seeand that the communities will value.


Professor Donna Mertens introduces the transformative paradigm, which encourages researchers to approach projects from a social justice perspective. This paradigm places particular emphasis on including diverse stakeholders in study design and on challenging accepted realities that underlie research projects.

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Introduction to the Transformative Paradigm: Axiology and Ontology

Professor Donna Mertens introduces the transformative paradigm, which encourages researchers to approach projects from a social justice perspective. This paradigm places particular emphasis on including diverse stakeholders in study design and on challenging accepted realities that underlie research projects.

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