Inquiring Into Paradigm and Value Shifts

Your Paradigm Creates The World You See

As I conduct my doctoral studies I will do my best to post the papers I write. I hope these papers serve to stimulate your thinking, raise questions, and perhaps even reach new insights about your work or life. These papers are often written according to the style guidelines of the American Psychological Association. So, they may get a little technical and make references to unfamiliar works. When time allows I will “translate” them from scholarly writing style to blog style before I post them. Here goes…

This paper will discuss how my paradigms (Guba,1990) and values (Schwartz & Bilsky, 1987)  have shifted after my experiences in the Epistemologies and Cultures of Inquiry knowledge area facilitated by Dr. David Willis and Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu.

Paradigms and Values – Before

My paradigms and values prior to taking this course were largely influenced by the training I received in engineering and business schools. These trainings were conducted within a positivist paradigm (Guba, 1990). For example, I was trained to look for “laws of nature”, that is reproducible behavior about other phenomenon. I was trained to use the scientific method of forming a hypothesis, holding all variables constant except one, collecting a statistically significant sample size, and observing relationships between independent and dependent variables. The values I was taught were related to seeking knowledge that could be reproduced and verified, would have high precision, and would eliminate “errors” caused by emotions and cognitive biases. In addition, I was expected to know “all the answers” about a certain subject, including being able to explain deviations from ideal behavior; that is behavior predicted by theory.

Paradigms and Values – After

After studying epistemologies and cultures of inquiry my paradigm and values have been augmented in numerous ways. I will highlight three.


InquiryThe most significant change to my existing paradigms is the concept of mindful inquiry (Benz & Shapiro, 1998). For me the essence of mindful inquiry is the notion that questions are more important than answers. The primary reason highlights the most jarring change to my values—the recognition that no phenomenon can be completely known and understood. If things cannot be completely understood and answers cannot be relied upon with certainty, then the pursuit of answers is tantamount to pursuing a mythical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow—an attractive, yet unattainable goal.  What is the benefit, then, of pursuing answers? The benefit is derived in the paths of inquiry, rather than the arrival at a certain understanding. The scholar looks for multiple interpretations, causes, and meanings of phenomenon (Benz and Shapiro, 1998), rather than one universal truth.

This is a contrast to my old values, which held that good argumentation entails providing conclusive evidence of truth. My new value is that good argumentation is directly related (in a mathematical sense) to how thoroughly one inquires into a phenomenon. This is a large shift in my thinking and will likely require further practice. For example, in commenting on my upcoming research, my faculty mentor said, “Don’t look for answers right away, as you are wont to do.  Look for questions.”

Multiple Perspectives

The second change in my paradigms is that I now fully appreciate that to know something as fully as possible, one must observe it through as many perspectives as possible. A corollary of this principle is that one does not know something if one has only observed it from one perspective. For example, Collins (2008) spent considerable energy inquiring through multiple perspectives to form an epistemology of a black feminist. If she had only said, “I am black and I am female. Therefore, I am a black feminist,” then her understanding and argumentation would have been weaker.

Multiple PerspectivesTheoretical frameworks also form lenses through which researchers observe phenomena and are subject to the same corollary. In Dei’s (2000) analysis of post-colonial theory he demonstrates that the exclusive employment of any theory undermines its intent. Collins (2008), for example, thus avoided criticism of narrow-minded partisanship by pursing a thorough scholarly inquiry, even positing the question, “Can a white man be a black feminist?”

I’ve also now internalized the similar notion of dialectic—holding opposing views in perspective. In asking the question of whether someone from outside a particular social group can acquire the same knowing as an insider, Smith (1999) created a dialectical view. She demonstrated both that a) insiders cannot have complete knowledge of the group without an external perspective and that b) outsiders cannot have complete knowledge without the internal perspective of being a group member.

In summary, my new value is that there is no one, right answer to any question. Answers depend on perspectives. So now, when I read an article, I consciously evaluate the author’s epistemology to better understand the author’s perspective.


Research ConsequencesMy third paradigm change is a new awareness of the consequences of my research. The Belmont report (National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, 1978) and Code of Federal Regulations for the Protection of Human Research Subjects (45 CFR 46) attempt to ensure no harm comes to research subjects. But, those harms are essentially limited to physiological and psychological harms related to medical research. Smith (1999) and Dei (2000) describe more subtle, but no less important, consequences of social research. First, all research directly impacts the subjects, by interrupting their routines and altering dimensions such as their views, values and behaviors. Second, the researcher is in the position of interpreting observations and making judgments about the subjects, which indirectly impacts the subjects. Many ethical questions are raised: What if these judgments do not reflect the views and desires of the subjects? Who is funding the research? What is the purpose or goal of the research? Who is deciding to prioritize a particular research project over others? Who is benefiting from the research? Which groups are dominant vs dominated? What inequalities exist? How will the research reinforce or reduce these inequalities?

Prior to this course, I was thinking in the paradigm of the Belmont report. After studying topics such as alternative epistemologies, colonizing, indigenous research, and critical social theory, I now more fully appreciate the consequences of my actions as a researcher. I will be much more sensitive to these ethical questions and the wake I leave when I am conducting research and consulting in organizations.

The Real Me

As I hinted earlier, my paradigms and values have been augmented, rather than replaced. Using a post-modern paradigm I am many things: many thoughts, many experiences, many emotions, many perspectives, and many situations. However, despite acquiring a number of new lenses with which to the see and experience the world, I suspect at heart I will for the foreseeable future be an engineer and a builder—teetering on the edge of modernism. Even though I know I cannot know everything, I will still have a hunger to know “how things work.” Even though being in the world may have sufficient meaning in itself, I will have the habit of trying to find solutions to problems, lest I, like the Greek philosopher Thales, fall into a well while contemplating being (Critchley, 2010). So, as I grow as a scholar, a part of me may always be a real me looking for a reality.

That said, I am also becoming a doctor of philosophy at heart. This means—at least in my present frame of mind—not just asking how, but also asking why? I brought to this course a strongly held value of the importance of why, because in my experience people are motivated by the why. Studying epistemologies has given me a broader set of tools, or how’s to mindfully inquire into why.

Your Paradigm?

How about you? What paradigms and values are you using? What are the paradigms and values that are held by your organization?

According to Guba (1990), a paradigm of inquiry is a configurations of three questions:

  • What is the nature of the “knowable” (ontology)?
  • What is the nature of the relationship between the knower and the knowable (epistemology)?
  • How can the knower or inquirer discover the knowable (methodology)?

These are difficult questions to understand and appreciate. But, here are some applications that might be useful to you.

  • What does your organization believe it knows? For example, about its performance, about its behavior, about its customers, etc?
  • How do people in your organization know these things?
  • How are these concepts reinforced in your organization?
  • How do these notions help or hold-back the organization? How about particular groups or individuals?
  • Are there alternative paradigms, views, ways of thinking, that could also exist? How might they be useful?

Paradigms are values are abstract concepts that are often invisible–much like the lenses in your eyeglasses (if you don’t wear eyeglass, please bear with me). Unless your glasses are dirty or scratched, you don’t see them or notice them. Yet, they formulate how you see the world.

Although the “paradigm shift” fad in the business world has long-since passed, the importance of understanding the strengths, weaknesses, and limits of your organization’s paradigms and values hasn’t.


Benz, VM & Shapiro, JJ (1998). Mindful Inquiry in Social Research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

Collins, P. (2008). Black feminist thought, 3rd Ed. New York: Routledge

Critchley, S. (2010). What Is a Philosopher? Retrieved May, 26, 2010.

Dei, G. J. S. (2000). Rethinking the role of indigenous knowledges in the academy. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 4(2), 111–132.

Guba, E. (1990).  The alternative paradigm dialogue. In E. Guba (Ed). The paradigm dialog (pp. 17-27).  Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (‘Common Rule’), 45 C.F.R § 46 (1991).

National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. (1978). The Belmont Report: Ethical principles and guidelines for the protection of human subjects of research. DHEW Publication (OS) 78-0012. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Schwartz, S. H., & Bilsky, W. (1987). Toward a universal psychological structure of human values. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(3), 550-562. doi:

Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. New York: Zed Books.

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