Ontology, Epistemology, Axiology, & Methodology (dr. fidyk)

To a degree, hermeneutics lives in all research because it is the art of interpretation and translation, and it depends on culture and language as well as ontology. To a degree we are always interpreting and translating (even in quantitative research). The language flips over and we are into something relational in qualitative research (Fidyk, 2009).

This article reflects the recorded and transcribed sessions, field notes, and journal entries of a Pacifica Graduate Institute (PGI) research class. We circled around the subject of Participatory Research for three days, speaking the word “research” 225 times! To summarize, we discussed the desire to know from the positivist paradigm, that is, where we predict and control life, as well as the interpretive desire to understand life; we also discussed critical theory’s desire to liberate which is understood as a back and forth movement, as in ‘to revolve’. Finally, we discussed the post modern deconstruction of perceived knowledge as another means to practice research.


Dr. Fidyk said we live in our bodies in different ways according to different paradigms, for example, some of us seek alternative lifestyles for healing versus conventional methods of treatment, depending on our values. Axiology (the reflection of our values) is tied to our relationship with nature and the way we language in our culture.  This brings to mind the difference between facts and values as evidenced in the modern paradigm, which regards facts as more important, versus the post modern paradigm, which regards values more highly. “The focus of social science was on logic and validity of scientific statements . . . scientific statements are value neutral facts, as distinguished from values” (Kvale, 1996) in other words, science is value-free. In contrast, Tolman & Brydon-Miller in From Subjects to Subjectivities say that politics and psychology work outside the bounds of positivist science, their goal being transformation of political, social, and economic values. Axiology is how “certain cultures promote and hold other ways of being and unfolding [which] is a mark of our values, our history, and so many [other] aspects that we need to consider in context” (Fidyk, 2009).]

Steiner Kvale speaks about upholding the values in communities:

In current thought there is a shift from modern formalized knowledge systems to the narrative embodied in storytelling so truth can be worked out locally in small narrative units and with the collective stories to uphold the values of the community…Objectivity is often discussed as one side of a polarity, as in objective versus subjective, public versus private …fact versus values, physical versus meaning, behavior versus consciousness, stable versus changing, universal versus local …(Kvale, 1996)

Methodology is defined as the theoretical framework or lens by which we view the data after we have collected it using some method that is available to us. The two words, method and methodology, are not interchangeable. For example, Freud had a methodology but it was much more difficult for him to publish his method.  Notably, in qualitative research we do not have to abandon statistics altogether. We just use different methods for observing and gathering data.  We collect data through interviewing, observation, and various other methods of capturing data, and we use a methodology for a particular way of seeing the text or hearing into what the person is saying.

It was suggested by Dr. Fidyck that we include methods for personal healing while doing our research. Ethnographies can facilitate the desired healing since they require us to be good writers and a bit of memoir writing helps. Ethnography also may include writing our feelings in the margins of the page. The healing dimension may not be explicit in our research findings but then again we might choose to make it explicit. The quest for personal healing is not a prerequisite to doing research, but it could be a part of the results if our world view contains the idea of it and it is included in our methodology.

We, too, are invited to participate in the research (to party) although Dr. Fidyk gave the advice to keep a journal and see a therapist when doing this type of research. I suppose all of this is to keep the work pure in some way and not bleed too much into it. The research is not our personal biography but a negotiated document. For this reason we need to think about the dissertation as a process that requires negotiation with other parties. This is also known as reflexivity, as when we discussed the author’s subjectivity in the process of doing research. There needs to be adequate self-awareness and self-exposure for the reader to make judgments about the point of view being expressed. Because the dissertation is a negotiated document, our language might be different depending on who the audience is. Language is a difficult aspect of research because we can be so easily fooled when we have limited knowledge of another researcher’s world view.


Similar words often carry different meanings according to the world view one has, so language is often misleading or inaccurate. That is why Dr. Fidyck cautions us that, when reading the research of others, we need to “backstep” to the author’s ontological perspective, the key question being: ‘what does this researcher hope to gain” from knowledge being presented in a particular way.

Along those lines, Dr. Fidyck suggested we change our language in order to switch paradigms, for example, remove qualifiers when naming so as to give power to the subject. This presences the subject, makes its presence come alive for us. She described how she sees Pacifica as moving between the modern and the post modern paradigms as she explained the curriculum and the educational process, and what it means to be a student at Pacifica where things are non-linear, probably in the hope that it will alleviate some of the anxiety that students have as they experience the flux here. A key point for any of us to remember, at any time, is to understand what paradigm we are in at any given moment.

A healthy way for students to look at our conflicts in the classroom is to realize that it is our paradigms that rub up against each other, and realize that nothing is personal. Coming from a post modern paradigm, one student revealed how nervous she was that people might think her strange for contacting her ancestors. Another time, when I was thinking from a modern paradigm, I felt critical of a woman who wanted to talk to a bridge for her fieldwork project. So, you see, we move in this tense in-between space if we have no language for talking about our paradigms. It is our unexamined paradigms that react with each other when we engage with animosity. The conflict is actually between our paradigms, not us  (did I mention we used the word paradigm 49 times in three days?) And consider the possibility that all paradigms co-exist peacefully in the post post modern aka the  ‘integral’ view of Ken Wilbur where pre-modernity, modernity, and post modernity share a back and forth relationship as nested and self-contained wholes, called holarchies (this is not an area of study at Pacifica).

I recall a rupture that took place in a different course when we were required to read the post modern book Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her by Susan Griffin. This book privileges the body instead of the mind. It is a highly controversial book that traverses time, crosses lines, and is full of creative license that appealed to some of us and troubled others. We struggled to understand Griffin’s purpose in writing a book to obliterate linear thinking but now, with this understanding of paradigms, it makes sense although it was very troubling. This creativity flowed into the language Dr. Fidyk used when she said “may I trouble that” several times to students, which seemed an uncritical way of disrupting someone’s paradigm. I noticed how Dr. Fidyk ‘listened through’ in order to first understand the paradigm the student was speaking from. She wasn’t judging the rightness or wrongness of their argument but went right past judgment into understanding. We observed the act of understanding as a phenomenon unfolding before us.

Quite often Dr. Fidyk used her own dissertation to provide examples of qualitative research in contrast to quantitative research. The power of qualitative research lies in the cross-application of theory to other groups, as well as assessment which is not something we find in Freud or Jung. Dr. Fidyck does not come from a specifically western paradigm, but rather has a background in process philosophy. She suggested that we have other world views, whether from our experience as travelers or from our readings or even from different languages that would be available to us as various lenses to look through.

The question became ‘how do we take our research to the edge of the world as we know it?’ How do we traverse between inner and outer worlds or between cultures or between the temporal and the eternal worlds? How do we personally respond to life at the edge of our paradigms? What happens to our ethics when we shift perspectives? Can we allow ourselves to be troubled in the liminal space between one paradigm and the next? Can we sit at the edge of another new horizon of thought? These are the questions the students and faculty at Pacifica ask themselves.

You might say that Jung was post post modern in the sense that he included the imaginal in his observations. Unlike Jung, although he insisted that he was an empiricist, we are post modern in that we include nature in our observations. In the post modern neither the body, as in feminism, nor the imaginal world is seen as an object without any subjectivity. In other words, the body and the image both have power. In regards to Participatory Research, Dr. Fidyck said that she saw a paradigm shift in ethnography during the 70’s which led to a new way of seeing people as subjects with their own ways of understanding (Fidyk, 2009).

Paradigm Shift

The power of qualitative research, specifically Participatory Research, is in the gathering of stories. It is in making a personal connection to your audience. It is in letting power stay with participants. There is so much anxiety around what the fieldwork means and what it requires of us. Participation in ‘our’ method at Pacifica means “subjects may be participating in their own analysis of stories and might be included in a dialogue about that” (Fidyk, 2009). This is a shift away from the researcher having all the power. Dr. Fidyck also clarified that our summer fieldwork is separate from the research we will do for our dissertation (maybe, maybe not).  Because it is often said at Pacifica that our research question lives inside us, we are to ask our topic what it needs and how it wants to be represented. The research question has subjectivity and we are here to serve it.

Gadamer says the way we see a thing can change its nature. So we were asked notice how our seeing changes throughout the development of our topic and to notice how we move in and out of different paradigms much like cultures move through the different paradigms. Not only do paradigms develop in a linear fashion but they also evolve in a spiral fashion. In this way our research question has diverse methods available to answer it. In order to practice this, we did a language exercise where we listened for the paradigm that our research question is located inside of:

  • Positivist verbs which reveal prediction and control
  • Critical theory verbs which reveal liberation and emancipation
  • Interpretive verbs like “explore, uncover, discover, seek, know, illustrate”
  • Postmodern verbs like “deconstruct” (and not necessarily to put back together)
  • Imaginal verbs like “dialogue, dream, myth, imagine” which draw from the field

Each way we language a question points to the aim of our orientation. Although my fieldwork was steeped in critical theory because it went deep into the struggle to understand historical causes and to collect stories from people, in retrospect I used an interpretive paradigm in my analysis. The Portrait Stories are a form of alternative media that informs others as history unfolds. Dr. Fidyk said that the stories may not be told to be understand so much as to understand what paradigm it is being said from, and this comes down to all forms of media including the Portrait Story Project which is where my own research question comes from.

We are advised to match the question with the method and methodology that we want to use and to not change the research question when we are unable to find an answer or when we cannot understand the method we have chosen to work with. Rigor has to be applied to the process to overcome our resistance to it and so she advised us not to switch methodologies midstream. Even though language can limit us to a specific paradigm, it can also delimit us if we learn how to turn the question. How does the same question look from a different lens? In this way Dr. Fidyk gave us much to think about, to drive us, to push us forward, and to force us to consider what we will do here at Pacifica.

Criteria for judging research

Now I want to proceed towards the criteria for judging qualitative research, namely credibility as one criterion for judging research methods. We think the story we are hearing is credible but we have to take into consideration the filter or perception of the person being interviewed. We entered a long discussion on the differences between truth and fiction and the verifiability of stories. In regards to credibility I want to introduce Robert Davis’ discussion of the relationship between the patient and the analysand from Jung, Freud, and Hillman:

This tendency of patients to fabricate plots calls into question the most basic assumptions of psychoanalysis as science: that the analysand is “telling it like it actually is or was” and that the analyst is able to rationally interpret what the analysand is saying and provide some interpretation…the relationship is one in which whatever knowledge derived from analysis is idiosyncratic and depends entirely on the subjective imaginations of the two participants. (Davis, 2003)

Davis goes on to say that the analysand has a penchant for fantasy but so does the analyst in trying to explain what is happening. This is true in interviews as well since the participant and the researcher’s interpretation of events are both subjective. When it comes to truth and fiction, perhaps we have to allow the strangeness of the unknown to push us up against our edge. Maybe that’s all fiction really is until it becomes known. Whether or not the story is true or has elements of fiction, it may still work if we are both committed to the same purpose.

The second criterion we use to judge qualitative research is transferability, which Dr. Fidyk said does not mean ‘to generalize’. We are not making a general statement about all populations or using the deductive method as in the modern paradigm.  More needs to be said on transferability.

Dependability is the third criterion: dependability between all the pieces of the research including the question, the methodology, the researcher, and the people involved. It has to all make sense. Finally, confirmability is the fourth criterion and it can be stated as a question, ‘Is what is being said able to be confirmed?’ It needs to fit actual experience and the stories need to confirm one another in some way. If all the pieces connect, it confirms perhaps truth or, at the very least, compatibility and the likeliness of the truthfulness of the experience. Confirmability also means that we include what our gut feeling says about the interview or story as well as our perceptions. Dr. Fidyk calls this ‘checking in’ or verifying that what your intuition tells you has some truth to it, that things can be corroborated.

Subsequent days’ discussions actually served to expand on what Dr. Fidyk taught the first day, for example, one student defended the use of the imagination in positivism and said that imagination is everywhere throughout positivism and critical theory and as such we just imagine differently in the different paradigms.  Dr. Fidyck’s response was that the experience of the imaginal was likened to the writing process. She described her experience of the imaginal as perceptions that are porous and fluid and where feelings breathe rather than being about specific emotions. This is true especially in borderland states of consciousness. It was controversial whether the imagination is in the mind or if it is in the body. I suppose that depends on what is meant by breathability because the breath is not exclusively a function of the lungs, but is rather a quality which permeates every cell. It sounds like nitpicking but this is the importance of language because while we engage in divisive conversations in the classroom, they are, nevertheless, useful for knowledge.

The discussion about the borderline state brought up the subject of schizophrenia. We recognized that we were coming from a scientific paradigm when we did this. A student from another country said that Western psychotherapy is stuck with the notion of insideness as being inside your head and that this is a very clumsy thing about psychology in the West. Another student spoke to this by saying that we have pathologized ‘borderline’ personality in the modern paradigm. She said she works to “trouble” herself by consciously practicing having conversations with Psyche and other gods in public, and another student brought in his shamanic fieldwork experiences to elaborate stepping out of cultural contexts. Dr. Fidyk spoke of the flexibility it requires to shift paradigms at will as the situation demands, which is what he was learning to do. After we wandered long in that field of discussion, we shifted back to the criteria for judging qualitative and interpretive research.

Dr. Fidyk brought us to the discussion of transparency that is either personal, as in self-exploration, or transparency in analysis. Transparency is important to greater or lesser degrees in different paradigms, but in Depth Psychology it is extremely important. Positivists are rarely, if ever, transparent. This is seen by their writing in the third person and by their seemingly being objective. The transparency we speak of has to do with the reason things are. It is the ‘why’ question that scientists never ask.

Transparency in Research

This was so important to Dr. Fidyk that she said ‘Be transparent and anticipate and address why for all parts of your research. Be transparent in your biases and your background” as she did in teaching this class. Be transparent about archetypal energies that we are dealing with and be self-reflexive when sharing with our colleagues, our field advisor, and even when reading the literature or visiting the community. We are to admit our limitations and boundaries, not in a confessional way but we are to acknowledge our limitations of time, energy, and money. We are to be clear about our aims or goals and especially not to change our aim to fit the method we have chosen if it is not working. Learn how to make it work. This is truthfulness even though she admits it is not necessarily practical.

To be transparent also means to explore our own story in relation to our topic. We are to learn to weave in the personal story with the topic, back and forth, back and forth along with layering the literature with our experiences. This is reflexivity. We are participating alongside our participants in this way and my question is: do we share this with our participants, because the point is not to overload our project with subjectivity, which is the reason for journaling. While we may record our intuitions in our field notes, is it ever appropriate to share these? Dr. Fidyk’s response was that we might check it out because the researcher is not a therapist, it is not our role. She said to “be very cautious of what you are there for” while another student suggests looking at those “intuitions” as possible projections. Perhaps we need to look at our complexes to see where our perceptions of the participants are coming from. This discussion came about because a student was referring to the shadow that we might see operating in a community. Although I have experienced this myself, I never took it to mean we need to report on it, and it may not be ethical to do so if the community itself is unaware of it. Dr. Fidyk says this is one of those questions that has yet to be answered.

One of Dr. Fidyk greatest gifts is the transparency she brings to her teaching. She only asks of us to consider what she herself attempts to do: just that little bit of holding back the ego and keeping it calm in the process of teaching and/or interviewing. She is able to demonstrate “really hearing” what the students are saying without any desire for a particular result, in the same way that we should be listening to participants in our own projects. She masterfully withheld judgments and hovered about our questions like a hummingbird. Even within the constraints of the institutional setting where there are time limits, I could physically see her suspending her judgments in order to listen to the students, creating space for silence in small moments throughout the three days. And in this silence was deep learning. How remarkable. How rare this silence and this listening.

Dr. Fidyk asked us to explore whether we feel more inclined to be interpretive versus imaginal in our methodology. She gave us both image and text to see what we would do. We came up with a research question(s) either based on image and/or text. Next, we expanded the question to identify possible participants if we were to invite them in, and to think about the context that the research could be conducted in. It was good practice to experience negotiation with other classmates as researchers. This collaboration was extremely beneficial for the refinement of our ideas and the practice of communication skills. We began to realize what negotiation means and it gave us a taste of the dissertation process. We did not reach the part of the exercise where we were to practice asking indirect questions due to time constraints.

To re-iterate our discussion here, the interview is the most popular method used in participatory research, and the questions can be designed by the researcher or the participants. There are four main types of interviews:

  • Informal/ conversational
  • General / guided approach
  • Standardized / open-ended where all participants receive the same questions
  • Closed / fixed response like multiple choice questions. This is a good screening exercise to narrow down your research participants
  • Interviewing requires great listening and we might want to limit the number of participants

A student said, I have a practical question about being in the field, in that I recall sitting with my own grandmother and asking her to ‘tell me a story’ and the learning would come from that and there would be silences [and I would[ reverence them…[I would not want to] interrupt that or disrupt that although I can appreciate the troubling and the learning that can come from that, [but] personally I appreciate that space [the silence]. I guess I am imagining looking at a text that says ‘silence thirty minutes’ and then just probably noting my observation of presence…how I am holding the body…what am I feeling…when do I start to feel anxious, and when did I let go and accept that feeling…I guess I am answering my own question.”

This may have been said in terms of the field notes we will take and the transcriptions that interviewing requires us to make, which is why we would minimize our pool of participants. In talking about transcription, Dr. Fidyk asked us to return the transcripts to the interviewee for revisions for the second round, which should only be questions that refine the answers previously given, not new questions. The process of interview, analysis and interpretation is ongoing and never stops. Another reason to limit the number of participants is that detailed transcriptions require a huge amount of time. We should have a plan to start broadly and then funnel down and pick pieces where there is thematic value which we want to analyze. As we focus on details, we may choose to highlight and magnify aspects of the dialogue. This is “in-depth” interviewing, she says.

We were guided to have a sense of repoire with the interviewee, a degree of intimacy or familiarity which takes time to build. To this end, she played an interview between Charlie Rose and Annie Liebowitz. We watched a section of the video a second time. Students provided the feedback that watching it a second time gave us the chance to suspend the judgments that we were framing as interpretations. Listening to ourselves talk about this brought up a comment that often our questions are really disguised statements or leading questions. Being tenacious, another student asked “What if we need to check things out? Is it possible we could frame the interpretation as a question that confirms some piece for us?” The previous student suggested that we remain in a curious state of mind when asking questions and avoid interpretation, but if you remember what was said earlier, the process of interpretation never really stops. A third student suggested that analysis is what we are supposed to do as researchers, so why would we avoid it?

I feel like using the word analyzing is kind of presupposing what all of us are meant to do with our research. And if you are not planning on writing something for an academic journal, what you do with the field notes . . . can become a very different thing if you are not putting it into that frame.

As a teacher Dr. Fidyk is interpreting all the time, right or wrong, she is trying to understand how we perceive the material she is giving us. But, she says, there are different ways of knowing that are not interpretation and that is what she heard in the discussion. Sometimes we interpret, sometimes we intuitively know but how we discern that for our reader is where our credibility as a researcher lies.

On the third morning Dr. Fidyk compassionately acknowledged the students energy, time and attention. She thanked everyone for their participation. As do most Pacifica teachers, she checked in to see how everyone was doing. We read a morning poem to start the day which led into a discussion about the practice of silence and how important it is. Then she asked us what needs clarification, or review, and if there were questions around the syllabus, assignments, or readings. The reason I mention this is to demonstrate how well she treats us as participants. She demonstrated the ethics that she wants us to embrace by saying she is open to email after the class for further clarifications and to keep the lines of communication open.

The third day’s morning review is filled with reminders that fieldwork is not dissertation work, that that fieldwork is about the experience of being in community, for example, taking field notes and learning how to watch oneself in that context. She started the third day by ‘housecleaning’ as she called it. The discussion was needed in order to get on us our way. It included details about institutional policies that are important for us. I think it might be important here to list student (participant) responses on what participatory research is:

  • Shared ownership versus the researcher’s perspective alone
  • Being clear about researcher bias and prejudice, and taking responsibility for it
  • How the degree of participation varies
  • Being open to learn while not necessarily reaching conclusions
  • The balance between spontaneity and structure
  • The importance of note taking and checking back with the participants as to what they meant to say; and just exploring and not changing [the status quo]

Dr. Fidyk ‘tweaked’ the misunderstanding that Participatory Research is about maintaining the status quo by comparing PR with PAR, or Participatory Action Research, which is about liberation. Only the degree of consciousness and action varies between the two styles. We don’t know when a shift in consciousness will occur. It may just be a reorganization of the way power flows or it may be a gentle restructuring of communication rather than a radical shift. We are being asked to understand how knowledge is relational, to be present for subjects, and to practice deep listening and suspension of what we already know. Dialogical engagement, Dr. Fidyk called it: listening in, holding, suspending, etc. It is not that traditional research does not allow for the dialogic as much as how we use the word dialectic.

  • Analysis is shaped on a continuum whether from the researchers perspective, or through collaboration
  • Exploration rather than analysis. Analysis comes in afterward, but initially we are exploring. Exploration moves, as in coming to understand. To build knowledge you have to move from understanding to exploration

Dr. Fidyk has been using the idea of exploration as coming to understand something, but it doesn’t stay there. If you want to build knowledge and share it, then you have to move from understanding to exploration and, depending on the degree of power your participants have, allowing yourself to be directed by your participants.

  • The ‘researcher student’ is a wonderful phrase which says that you are learning, too
  • Where you dwell is how you see…a student who observes the class sees who we are by the questions that are asked and the observations that are made because our assumptions and interpretations are not invisible
  • Hillman says the interview is both you and me, that is to say, the interview is using US to arise and happen so that it is not me producing it but that the interview makes itself and it is using the researcher as a tool in order to be heard. PR is something wanting to happen through me

Dr. Fidyk agrees and says it depends on the ability to give oneself over to that which allows the transcendent function to be accessed. The third is always present. To continue, Participatory Research is

  • Being self-reflexive
  • Acknowledging the Third and seeing that process as a product
  • Our relationship to the topic or subject is also being researched
  • The use of image, photo, film or other tools
  • Viewing the researcher as one of the subjects that he is studying. Trying to project the personal experience as objectively as possible
  • All about learning
  • Us getting out of the way
  • The resonance of our ontology and the telos of moving towards the imaginal paradigm
  • The dance between two worlds. It is extra challenging to suspend biases when walking with people one disagrees with. It is challenging to remain neutral and to use neutral language but that is the magic of Hermes. It is to be in both worlds and be comfortable sitting with people that hold difference values or beliefs. Participating fully is a challenge when I have resistance
  • This experience was shared by other students, that is, when participants say what one does not want to hear, suspension of beliefs is essential and it is sometimes the greatest challenge

Dr. Fidyk said that the ability to bracket and hold the ego in deep listening is the ability we have to move in the direction of participatory research. It requires flexibility but if we choose not to do it, she says, that is also fine as it depends on the aims of the research.

To a degree, hermeneutics lives in all research because it is the art of interpretation and translation, and it depends on culture and language as well as ontology. To a degree we are always interpreting and translating (even in quantitative research). The language flips over and we are into something relational in qualitative research (Fidyk, 2009).

To summarize we said that methods are forms of data collection. We have methods to gather data in regards to the research question. And then we have methods to represent data to the audience. All of these can overlap. Methods include interviews, journals, archives, photography, and even experience, but in that case the report needs to be written as close in time to the actual experience as possible or through phenomenological writing using active imagination. After data collection and analysis, we think about how we present our data. Whether reporting through collage, art, music, graffiti, or through the internet, we think about representation. When representing data we need to ask who will have access to it. We can use film and photography but need to think about how it is going to be interpreted or analyzed. Even performative dissertations require a report or write-up and cannot exist as just a play or video piece alone. It has to be contained within reasoning as to why we did things a certain way and how we came to our question although we may present an interpretation through imaginal dialogue or write a poem to engage the feeling function. These are things that need to be considered as well as the fact that in doing research there is a listening deeply to see how it wants to be represented in this world.

I am left with a dream to ponder. I had it when we were in session and it appears in my fieldnotes:

A female dentist with long blonde hair found a cavity in my tooth. It was controversial whether it was actually there or not, but somehow she proved its existence. She was going to fix it, and made a hole in my cheek with the drill to get to the tooth. I was horrified! She explained her reasoning, and it sounded logical but her method was all wrong and she did more damage than good.

I am reminded that Dr. Fidyk said we have an ethical responsibility to make the effort to think about the effects of our research in the world and upon the participants.