Joe Kincheloe's Critical Complex Epistemology/Pedagogy & Multidimensional Critical Complex Bricolage

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Paradis, V. J. (2013). Did Joe Lyons Kincheloe Discover the Golden Chalice for Knowledge Production? The Application of Critical Complex Epistemology and the Multidimensional Critical Complex Bricolage. (Doctoral Dissertation)





A critical complex epistemology is dedicated to bringing individuals who had been traditionally excluded to the scholarly conversation no matter how déclassé such an objective appears to the privileged epistemological trolls at FIDUROD Bridge.  (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 58). 




Introduction to the Bricolage and Critical Complex Epistemology


            The world-renowned critical theorist, Joe L. Kincheloe (2005a), developed an advanced conceptualization of the research bricolage, referred to in this study as the multidimensional critical complex bricolage. As described in Chapter 1, his final conceptualization is multitheoretical and multimethodological and he has formulated additional dimensions, including philosophical and fourth dimension research. Thus, it is a philosophically grounded, intellectual, and aesthetic endeavor. It was Kincheloe’s contention that bricoleurs engaging in this rigorous form of research will produce powerful knowledge that can change the world.

There are several key elements which clearly differentiate Kincheloe’s (2005a) form of bricolage from what has been traditionally practiced in various domains, including education. First, his bricolage research process is firmly grounded in Eros, a deep and overarching form of love recognized by ancient Greek educators as a crucial element of education. Eros Love is an all-encompassing form of love that ancient Master Teachers and students shared. As applied in education, it does not connote the sexual form of love that is usually associated with Eros Love as based on popular conceptions such as when contrasting it to philia and agape love (Noddings & Shore, 1984). Secondly, Kincheloe has specified additional levels to bricolage research, including a philosophical bricolage and fourth dimension research, in order to ensure rigor. Third, he has clarified that it is an intellectual, analytical, discursive, and aesthetic activity, and it does become focused. Bricolage begins, he explains, by “broadly looking at various perspectives to give us a ‘cubist consciousness’ on a phenomenon/a. Then we begin to narrow our, by this time, informed perspective” (J. Kincheloe, personal communication, October 29, 2008).


Toward a Definition of Bricolage


            Bricolage is nothing new. Its simplest and most broad definition is that bricolage is the act of using the tools at hand to create something, particularly something that is useful for everyday living.  Cave dwellers engaged in bricolage for mere survival and they engaged in a creative bricolage when they used whatever was at hand as media to create their beautiful cave art. Bricolage is especially notable in the arts and music throughout all ages. What often comes to my mind when hearing the term bricoleur, partly due to my Irish heritage and knowing that Kincheloe’s heritage is also Irish, are bricklayers of ancient times who knew how to use the materials at hand—stones of all shapes, types, and sizes—to build everything from sturdy fences and property markers to cozy, sheltered stone homes complete with fireplaces. The indigenous peoples of Ireland, who built these structures and other types of structures from what they had at hand, were highly skilled, improvisational artisans. This high level “bricoleurship” seems to have been a special trait among many indigenous peoples because the extraordinary skills are seen in artifacts of even very early historical periods. Their artifacts stand out in terms of the degree of intricacy, skill, creativity, and variation of materials as well as for their useful purposes. The people of Ireland were somewhat isolated and the effects of the Industrial Revolution reached them later than other parts of the world, so their artisanship continued to be practiced well into the Industrial Era (Shaw-Smith, 2003).

Whether it was stonework, textiles, woodwork, metalwork, leather, willow and straw, ceramics, artwork, or calligraphy, the Irish peoples created intricately beautiful artifacts for everyday working, living, worshipping, and entertainment from the material they had at hand (Shaw-Smith, 2003). The complexity of their designs is characterized by some of their commonly known symbols that are embedded with deep philosophical, cosmological, and spiritual meanings, such as the yin yang, the swastika (a cross-cultural symbol which, unfortunately, Hitler had denigrated), and the infinity knot, among others. Similar to the extreme intricacy of the arts of the indigenous Irish “bricoleurs,” the multidimensional critical complex bricolage draws from this same basic idea of improvisational creating from what’s at hand.

Thus, in its simplest form bricolage is an improvisational process for using the resources we have at hand for accomplishing whatever task confronts us and it can readily be applied in everyday life. While it’s easy to see and perceive the complexity in creative material artifacts and music of indigenous peoples such as just discussed, Kincheloe’s (2001a, 2005a) version of research bricolage takes us on explorations to the unseen dimensions that may account for the complexity and knowledge embedded within such artifacts. His conceptualization can be applied for everyday living to make life more interesting, aesthetic, loving, and joyful. And while the research bricolage is being applied in many disciplines today, in too many instances researchers are producing linear, superficial, reductionistic results that do not perceive the hidden, complex, intertwined dimensions that would allow the natural emergence of profound new knowledge. This is all emblematic or metaphoric in a sense, but hopefully it begins to open up other ways of viewing bricolage. Many more examples and metaphors were encountered during my research and are provided throughout this dissertation.


Defining Bricolage: Dictionary Definitions

Interestingly, the word “bricolage” is not in The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus, and this may be due to it actually being a French word. The word, bric-a-brac, however, which is in the dictionary, seems to be related to the idea of using whatever resources are at hand. Bric-a-brac is defined as miscellaneous, often old, ornaments, trinkets, furniture, etc., of no great value. The dictionary gives the following examples of bric-a-brac: “curiosities, knickknacks, bits and pieces, sundries, collectibles, trinkets, gewgaws, gimcracks, falderals, kickshaws, bijoux, bibelots, curios, objets d’art; rummage, lumber, junk, Brit. jumble.” This is fascinating because it suddenly opens up greater possibilities for applying the bricolage if these bric-a-brac items are used by a creative bricoleur—and even more possibilities if each are viewed as metaphors and expanded upon. Further definitions are required.

Thus, gewgaws, gimcracks, falderals, kickshaws, bijoux, and objets d’ art need to be defined as they are not everyday words most people are familiar with.  A gewgaw is “a gaudy plaything or ornament; a bauble.” Examples include, “bauble, ornament, gimcrack, trifle, bagatelle, kickshaw, trinket, falderal, bijou, knickknack, plaything, toy, novelty; bric-a-brac, frippery.” Now some new words have been added: trifle, bagatelle, and frippery. Next, a gimcrack, as defined by The Oxford Dictionary, is an object that is “showy but flimsy and worthless,” “a cheap, showy ornament.” A falderal is a “gewgaw or trifle,” as well as “a nonsensical refrain in a song.” Gewgaw was defined previously; trifle will be defined momentarily. The next word needing defining is kickshaw, which is described as “a fancy dish in cookery,” as well as “something elegant but insubstantial; a toy or trinket.” Next, is bijoux, which the dictionary defines as “a jewel, a trinket” and often refers to something “small and elegant.” The next word is objets d’art, which means “a small decorative object.” Now we move to the words trifle, bagatelle, and frippery which came up in the definition of gewgaws. There are multiple definitions of trifle, but in relation to bric-a-brac, the one that stands out defines it as “a thing of slight value or importance,” and also, “a small amount, esp. of money.” The verb, trifle, may also be relevant: “talk or act frivolously,” “treat or deal with frivolously or derisively; flirt heartlessly with;” and “refuse to take seriously.” Bagatelle in relation to these definitions is defined as “a mere trifle; a negligible amount,” and “a short piece of music.” And, finally, frippery is defined as “showy, tawdry, or unnecessary finery or ornament, esp. in dress,” “empty display of speech, literary style, etc.,” and “knickknacks; trifles.” It is also used as an adjective to mean “frivolous” or “contemptible.”

The above research into definitions was conducted entirely spontaneously, or in the terms of the research bricolage, an “improvisational” approach was taken. It is interesting from the perspective of having completed this research project, how relevant some of the definitions are and how they provide additional dimensions for understanding bricolage. Thus, this is the heart of bricolage research; it is not planned out ahead of time. As the research moves forward, the product grows, morphs and changes, and there are multiple discourses. Since the bricolage is also intuitive one must use discernment to help inform intuition, thus bricoleurs sharpen focus to select those discourses that contribute most to understanding the research object or phenomenon (Kincheloe, 2005a). Because the word bricolage is missing from the dictionary and the word bric-a-brac was the most closely related word in the dictionary along with the fact that the concepts are close, it is assumed that etymologically the words are related. If this is true, bric-a-brac definitions can help obtain a deeper understanding of the term bricolage, thus these definitions become important. Additional research, however, is called for to determine their interrelationship. That will be conducted now by visiting Google. The search terms are “bric-a-brac bricolage etymology.”

Humorously, it brought up an article entitled, “A Glorious Mess: Etymology Journeys: Bricolage” in this list of “hits,” along with the following statement: “In case you care, bricolage and bric a brac are in fact related: the word Bricole originated . . .” The author of this blog, Beth (2010) had the exact same question, does bric-a-brac relate to bricolage? Here is her answer:

In case you care, bricolage and bric a brac are in fact related: the word Bricole originated in 1360 as 'un machine de guerre', and comes up again in 1633 in the form of Bric, Brac, Broc meaning ‘en bloc et en blic.’ So I can only assume that the Bricole must have been an object which hurled bric, brac, & broc, which we would think of as shrapnel.


Amusingly enough, in 1650 the ‘Bric’ prefix comes up again as Bricoler, meaning ‘ricocher, aller en zigzag,’ & I find it delightful that the French say zigzag! Let's all just say zigzag with a French accent for a moment. Zigzag. Zigzag. Zigzag.


            One of the respondents to her blog, Michelle (2010), stated that bricolage means “to tinker; a sort of tinkering activity.” Having read definitions of bricolage as presented by education researchers, this is, indeed, how it is often defined, although it seems vague, incomplete, and could apply to almost anything at all besides educational research. Still, the goal is to gain a thorough understanding of bricolage and how it relates to bric-a-brac. This confirms the relationship but does not explain how they are related other than through the root word, bricole.

            The next hit in the google search brought up an etymology dictionary and this entry provides better clues about the relationship between bric-a-brac and bricolage by defining bric-a-brac as an obsolete French word that traces back to 1840, “à bric et à brac (16c)” meaning “at random, any old way,” “a nonsense phrase”  (Online Etymology Dictionary, 2010). Unfortunately, this dictionary did not have bricolage in its database, so the quest continues.

            There were several entries in the search that did not offer anything exciting or new, but down the page a bit was this interesting definition of bricolage in relation to art and photography: “bricolage—an improvised creation or seemingly so—something made from whatever materials happen to be available. From the French bricole, meaning trifle, and which the French used even earlier to mean catapault. Bricolage may be related to bric-a-brac” (ArtLex, 2010). Here, the definition of bricolage links directly back to one of the bric-a-brac terms described previously, “trifle,” and alludes to the possible relationship with bric-a-brac. Even more interesting is the association of the word “catapault,” which, in English is catapult and means, according to The Oxford Dictionary, to hurl or launch from a catapult,” or “to fling forcibly.”

            Scholars familiar with Kincheloe’s work might be interested in this idea of using the bricolage to “fling forcibly” as derived from the word “catapault.” His work, as developed out of the bricolage has often been described in this manner and he has been referred to as the lion (as well as the heart) of critical pedagogy (Edubabbler, 2008). Thus, as this research unfolds, it represents how the bricolage can be approached even during the most basic type of research (thus, can easily be used by children, as Kincheloe had contended). By using intuition and improvisation by which the term “bric-a-brac” was selected for research, a more powerful and meaningful definition of bricolage has been uncovered—catapult—signifying the power of Kincheloe’s conceptualization of the bricolage.


Bricolage: “Take Me to the Opera”

Continuing down the Google list I encountered a very interesting article by Paul Atkinson (2010) relating the bricolage to opera performances. In this article, he examines the mundane and daily aspects involved in preparing for an opera and how the bricolage applies here, such as how props are created. He states, “I take bricolage here to refer to a kind of practical work in which the artisan or craft-worker uses whatever comes to hand in order to create practical solutions to problems of construction and repair. It carries connotations of ingenuity, and improvisation” (p. 7).  However, the metaphor is extended “to capture the dramaturgical work whereby cultural bric-a-brac is assembled in the process of creating an opera production through the rehearsal period” (Abstract). Again, the word bric-a-brac appears in relation to bricolage. As he extrapolates:


Here I extend the idea of bricolage beyond the purely material uses of objets trouvés and artisanal ‘making do’; I use the term to capture how operatic directors and performers can search for whatever everyday meanings, motives or metaphors can be invoked to make the dramatic action plausible and coherent. (Atkinson, 2010, p. 7)


Atkinson (2010) takes the concept a step further, stating,


There are several senses in which the work of the opera company rests on bricolage, in both a material and an interactional sense. In the process of creating an opera, there are multiple processes of translation or transformation to be accomplished. There is a process of improvisation in these acts of translation: that is, the practical artisanal work involved in using what is at hand, improvising effects and generally finding ways of turning ideas, verbal or visual, into practical objects and artefacts. (p. 7)


He further explains that “there is a sense in which all performances and rehearsals are acts of bricolage” (p. 10). Taking it to the interpretive level, he contends that the singers and director both are engaged with a “kind of interpretive work,” a critical component of the research bricolage. He places this in the context of a “cultural bricolage” and interpretive act, which provide a “mechanism whereby social action is motivated and rendered accountable” (p. 17). He explains:


In pursuing the mundane metaphors and motives directors engage in is a kind of cultural bricolage, drawing on their own repertoires for exemplars and similes. In order to ‘find’ a way of making sense of the opera, they invoke artistic images, literary antecedents, mass media, and, most commonly, they enact everyday vernacular iterations in order to suggest possible ways of acting. To that extent, therefore, there is an engaging reversal of Goffman’s formulation of the dramaturgical metaphor with which I began. Goffman invokes the theatre in making sense of everyday life. By contrast, performers and directors use their own constructions of everyday life in order to make possible the conditions of performance. Orzechowicz (2008) has suggested that stage actors and directors are ‘privileged emotion managers’; operatic performers and directors are also experts in the dramaturgy of emotions and intentions. (Atkinson, 2010, p. 10)


            The extensive quotes are justified for exquisitely capturing the heart of Kincheloe’s critical complex bricolage and why it can be used in any context, including everyday living. When we as performers and the directors of our own lives become adept at using whatever we have around us—the bric-a-brac, so to speak—then we can construct our own everyday lives such that we can all perform and dance joyfully. We are all stars, in other words. The critical complex bricolage as Kincheloe conceptualizes it goes much deeper, of course, and it gives us power to override dominant power in many different life situations we may find ourselves immersed in. But nevertheless, we need to start somewhere and the opera context gives us that start by defining the bricolage in multiple contexts within one domain and it brings to light an emotional dimension, an important aspect of the multidimensional critical complex bricolage.


The Internet Highway: A Fractal-Like Metaphor for Bricolage

            One more excerpt from this current epistemological road trip provides an interesting way to view the bricolage in relation to the Internet. The Internet is significant as a metaphor for the research bricolage, of course, because as Kincheloe (2008b) explains, it is a fractal—one of those evolving entities that is hyper-dimensional in function. Thus, this observation from another blogger is relevant in this context. Tumblr (2010) states:


Out with globalization then? And in with bricolage!


It’s a thought I’ve been chewing on much lately, in fact it kept me from sleeping the other night.  I turned to my boyfriend and exclaimed, “I don’t get it! The internet is this fast-forward manifestation of an accelerated collective consciousness, and YET! it is also the greatest tool of fragmentation, lending itself to individuals, small groups and collectives to define themselves as apart from the rest.


Thus, by taking this totally improvisational approach to defining bricolage for which the above was an accurate account of one session of research, the study about opera was uncovered that explains the bricolage in concrete terms while also illustrating the power it provides for emergent action or “enactment,” which, in the example, is represented by the opera practice and performance. Of course, it does not end there due to the potentially catalytic effect the opera exerts on the audience and actors after the performance. While a deep analysis is possible here, for the moment this provides an accurate cursory understanding of the multidimensional critical complex bricolage and the fact that action is the outcome. The observation from the Internet discussion by Tumblr (2010) that fragmentation can result from bricolage perhaps provides insight into why Kincheloe took it to a new conceptual level and developed criteria to guide new bricoleurs who are just getting started.


The Value of Improvisation: Expanding the Definition

            There were two reasons this improvisational research approach was taken to define bricolage. First, having read so many definitions of the bricolage in education literature, outside of Kincheloe’s (2005a, 2008c) unique definition is the observation that they are all the same. They rehash the same words and metaphors, revealing little about the research process, experience, products, or effects. Thus, in the same vein that the term postmodernism has come to mean anything and everything and yet researchers take it for granted that it is known what they mean when they use the term, bricolage research is in danger of coming to mean anything and everything and falling into the postmodern swamp. This provides more evidence that it is time to clearly delineate what is meant by this form of research and what might be expected of researchers who wish to produce quality, rigorous bricolage research. Kincheloe’s (2001a, 2005a, 2008c) advanced conceptualization does this and his definition of bricolage warrants a deeper analysis as a part of this current research. If it is as powerful as he has portrayed and as signified by his scholarly work, and as more people apply it, then it may, indeed, help catapult the world toward change.


Bricolage As Defined by Researchers


            Upon examining numerous “bricolage” studies, a general trend was noted. The researchers outside of the education domain often defined bricolage more deeply or in a more original fashion than did the researchers in education. Those in education typically reiterated the same, limited definition relating to a handyman, do-it-yourself approach using the tools at hand. This definition is inadequate, particularly in relation to Kincheloe’s complex bricolage as this study demonstrates. This issue is taken up again later in this study, in Chapter 4, where an analysis of bricolage and various metaphors weaves throughout the discourse.

With that background, the following summary of a few samples from bricolage research demonstrate that even though it spans many disciplines, there continues to be a struggle with defining bricolage and not everyone seems to be using it the same way—or even necessarily for good purposes. While I have only presented a few examples and would like to research this more deeply, these examples are representative of the trends currently taking place. I quickly discovered that no one was using Kincheloe’s entire conceptualization or even defining bricolage in the broad way he has done.


Bricolage in Managerial Research

LeLoarne (2005) compares bricolage with creativity in her analysis. She concludes that bricolage is an exploration process bounded by finite resources. Bricoleurs begin with a cognitive map but the map can change in the process. Objects and resources are integrated in new and unexpected ways. The bricoleur’s actions are not planned but occur by “induction” and intuition as they work to solve unplanned problems. Bricoleurs do not know the outcome, thus bricolage “implies an air of ‘mystery’ output: one does not know its nature until the end” (“11.5. Status of the final output,” para. 2). She summarizes, “Bricolage is mostly used in two main managerial fields: Knowledge Management and Entrepreneurship. Whatever are the nature and the context of use of ‘bricolage’ several definitions have been proposed to qualify the term. They all refer to ‘the process of theoretical thinkering by which individuals and cultures use objects around them to assimilate ideas’ (Papert, 1993)” (p.2). Managerial and organizational theories, which have gone through several phases of bricolage research, offer insights for expanding understanding bricolage research (Kamoche, Cunha & Cunha, 2002). At the same time, these theories constrain the conceptualization with their overly mechanistic metaphors, as will be discussed later in this dissertation.


Bricolage in Nursing Research

            In her study, Nursing Bricolage, Aagard (2006) fell back on the standard and often cited source point of bricolage, Levi-Strauss, stating that he “builds on Durkheim’s theories regarding mythical thinking with his concept of ‘bricolage.’ He developed the idea of ‘bricolage’ as a metaphor for the mythical thinking of tribal societies” (p. 53). She continues, defining the term ‘bricoleur’ as being “most closely defined as handyman or jack of all trades. The ‘bricoleur’ is skilled in carrying our many tasks and is not confined to the parameters of one job. The ‘bricoleur’ is constrained to utilizing the tools that are at hand though those tools are shaped and adapted to fit the situation being addressed (Levi-Strauss, 1966)” (p. 53).


Bricolage in Religious Studies

            Katrina Grusell (2010a) stipulates that “Bricolage is the combination of random, available materials to create something new. The term derives from the French verb that means ‘to tinker’ or to ‘putter.’ The bricoleur is a utilitarian that finds value in what’s at hand” (p. 5). She expands this with the concept of liturgical bricolage:


 Utilizing multiple research methodologies, Identity to Praxis: Parish Narrative as Liturgical Bricolage explored narrative research and postmodern design as complementary guides to congregations searching for identity and purpose. Liturgical bricolage is a postmodern design strategy that engages multiple perspectives and expresses a preferred narrative in creative worship. (Abstract)


            Theresa Lantini (2002) uses the term bricolage to replace the term ‘collage’ in relation to the layering biblical allusions. She states, “In pop culture studies, bricolage refers to the process whereby youth subcultures utilize and combine products in ways unintended. . . . Bricolage enables youth to form their identity and sense of meaning through an eclectic intertextuality. . . . In other words, scriptural bricolage functions as an identity-forming discourse” (1.2 “Paramesis through Intertextuality,” para. 2).

            On the other hand, Vasillis Saroglou (2006) is perplexed by the proliferation of the use of the term “religious bricolage” in the sociology of religion to depict modern spiritual and religious trends, and challenges that such trends are taking place on a significant scale.


Bricolage in Fashion and Landscape

             Benningen (2006) defines bricolage as “a French word that signifies an improvised way of putting things together. . . . (in art or literature) construction or creation from a diverse range of things: the chaotic bricolage of the novel is brought together in a unifying gesture. Something constructed or created in this way: bricolages of painted junk” and “in its most basic sense, the bricoleuse uses the means at hand, tinkering towards an art of making something out of what is already there” (p. 10). She does expand her definition of bricolage, citing Kincheloe and Berry’s (2004) work, but still falls short of producing a multidimensional critical complex bricolage.


Bricolage in Social Sciences

Campbell (2002) views bricolage as a cognitive mechanism, defining it as “an innovative recombination of elements that constitutes a new way of configuring organizations, social movements, institutions and other forms of social activity” (p. 15).

            Ainslie Yardley (2008) defines a bricoleur as “a maker of patchwork, a weaver of stories; one who assembles a theoretical montage through which meaning is constructed and conveyed according to a narrative ethic that is neither naïvely humanistic, nor romantically impulsive—but rather one that stimulates an inclusive and dynamic dialogue between the researcher and her audience” (Abstract). 


Bricolage in Literature

            Carter (2000) describes bricolage in relation to rhetoric: “The bricoleur, building his interpretation on uncertain grounds, should nevertheless recognize the political significance of his work. The bricoleur’s reading, which assumes no monolithic truth as its center should contest the very notion of such truth” (p. 7). According to Lauer (2006), “bricolage is both an end result—a text that balances and manages diverse elements—as well as a process by which knowledge is developed in new ways, juxtapositioning elements and bringing them together in ways that develop new relationships” (p. 38).


Summary: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”


            The examples just cited were quite randomly selected for the most part. I received updates daily of new studies during the duration of this project, but quick examination revealed that very little, if any, progress was being made in understanding how to define and use Kincheloe’s form of bricolage. In fact, in some cases, as has been discussed, his theory was taken backward.

            There are, of course, great examples of research that have been completed using bricolage. Kincheloe mentions some of them in his work. In my own research, I found additional examples, such as Eisler’s (1987) book, The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future and, more recently, Lachman’s (2011) book, The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus: From Ancient Egypt to the Modern World. Very promising, is that groups of scientists and researchers from diverse disciplines are coming together, as reported by Melanie Mitchell (2009) in her book, Complexity: A Guided Tour. Natural resource management and environmental sciences have long taken both an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach that, unfortunately, is too often dictated in ways that serve the corporate sector through legislatively-mandated procedures that, upon analysis, do not give an honest opportunity for people’s views to be incorporated (e.g., Eccleston, 2000). Researchers are working to further conceptualize bricolage for natural resource management (e.g., Cleaver, 2012).

Four major issues with how bricolage is being used is concerning and warrants deeper analysis so that these can be circumvented as much as possible to prevent harm. The first is that it is often being applied in surface-level and reductionistic ways in an attempt to find solutions to complex issues that realistically require a more rigorous application. The consequence of this is the hidden dimensions that contribute to oppression and disenfranchisement of the very people critical scholars are claiming to serve do not get exposed and remedied (Kincheloe, 2008c). Nothing changes. Another issue, which has been discussed at great length in this study, is the appropriation of bricolage for the postmodernist notion that “anything goes,” all perspectives are equally valuable, and there is no need for multidimensional critical analyses or rational thinking. This, of course, swings all across the board in that some may ascribe to this view more moderately, while other scholars may ascribe to a more extreme position. In my observations, a nihilistic postmodern ethic as influenced by popular culture is pervasive in certain segments of society or in relation to particular ideologies. A third major issue is the use of bricolage as a means of serving the agenda of the transnational capitalists and their unrestrained free market profit machines. Marketing, perhaps, has taken bricolage to the limits in order to learn about consumers. And finally, a fourth concern is the use of bricolage for increasing surveillance, domination, and control of the entire human population. Increasing technological advances and access contribute to all of these concerns. The question comes to mind which seems to rarely be considered from an ethical standpoint: Just because we can do it (with technology), should we? It is distressing to see that with each passing day those in power continue to choose to leave ethics behind for the “greater good” of the profit-generating power-and-control machine.

            These concerns are pointed out not because they will be covered in this research in depth (I hope more people will research them) but because this study demonstrates how using the multidimensional critical complex bricolage can put greater power back into the hands of the people. It can assist us with uncovering complex dynamics that affect us in our daily lives which might not be in our best interest. With the rigorous use of bricolage, we can find better, more loving pathways for solving the issues of oppression and other pressing problems on earth.


Bricolage as Defined in Education Research

            Helms, Irby, Lara-Alecio, Guerrero-Valecillos, and Cox (2009) define bricolage as “do it yourself (jobs); patched up job. Bricoler—to do odd jobs; to do DIY jobs; to potter about; to fix up; to tinker with; to doctor, fix. Bricoleur, -euse—handyman/woman, DIY enthusiast” (p. 4). They went on to explain that the term was expanded, based on Levi-Strauss’s cultural work:


Denzin and Lincoln (2005) expanded the original meaning to include the notion of handyman/handywoman making do with the tools at hand. Educational researchers—most notably Kincheloe and Berry (2004)—set out to further develop the emerging concept of bricoleur. Echoing the themes of the 2009 Annual Conference, Lincoln (2001) observed that the evolving bricoleur ‘is searching for the nodes, the nexuses, the linkages, the interconnections, the fragile bonds between disciplines, between bodies of knowledge, between knowing and understanding themselves.” (pp. 693–694)


Burton (1999) uses the term “bricolaging” in relation to “tinkering” on the Internet (p. 43) and Fedory (2005) uses the bricolage to “dismantle” a standardized arts curriculum. Fedory explains, “Bricolage uses multiple theoretical lenses such as discourses in postisms and a variety of methodological tools such as hermeneutics and deconstruction to expose ideological and hegemonic discourses in the text” (Abstract).  In addition, “A bricolage emerges from the activity of a bricoleur who doesn’t plan in advance, but uses whatever theories, methodologies are at hand to get the job done” (Abstract).

Further investigation into education research reveals that there is confusion over how Kincheloe’s bricolage should be applied. While bricolage is no doubt idiosyncratic to a degree, there must be some sort of process that ensures rigor, or the bricolage becomes a simple narcissistic, superficial self-reflexive activity which provides little in the way of new knowledge to improve education and other social conditions, or it becomes a mechanical exercise that takes on the very linearity it was designed to avoid. It was found that educational research bricolage and thus the researcher-as-bricoleur has become conflated under qualitative research in such a general manner there is no clear differentiation—it has simply come to mean, in many cases, using multiple methods, even if haphazardly—that is, even if the results do not provide answers.  Bricolage, like postmodernism is beginning to mean everything and is in danger of meaning nothing. This is, assuredly, exactly what Kincheloe’s theory was devised to escape, as will be shown as this research proceeds forward. His conceptualization may be the “knight on a white horse” coming to the rescue after all.

Some of the common textbooks used for education research courses do not mention bricolage, although this will have to change since so many researchers are moving toward bricolage. Denzin and Lincoln (2008) provide, “The many methodological practices of qualitative research may be viewed as soft science, journalism, ethnography, bricolage, quiltmaking, or montage. The researcher, in turn may be seen as a bricoleur, as a maker of quilts, or, as in filmmaking, a person who assembles images into montages” (p. 5). This conflation was placed directly under the title of the section in which it has been placed, “The Qualitative Researcher as Bricoleur and Quilt Maker” [authors’ emphasis], which further links bricoleur quite soundly as being a one dimensional “quilt maker.” This is repeated further into the text after a stream of word bytes that are meant to describe bricolage as researchers have come to describe it; however, what is provided is an incomplete and fragmented picture. While his critical bricolage work was mentioned under the segregated label, “interpretive bricoleur,” it is unfortunate that Kincheloe’s conceptualization became lost midst the citations of other researchers, without mentioning that he had formulated a conceptualization in 2005 that had advanced his initial 2001 formulation (p. 8).

These definitions, mere word bytes, as stated, do little to clarify bricoleur or bricolage and even though Kincheloe (2001) was listed among the bricolage researchers none of the quotes cited came specifically from his work. Why the omission, bricoleurs would be asking at this point. Kincheloe has painstakingly attempted to pull the bricolage out of the mire and yet his conceptualization has been conflated and essentially not mentioned, except through what those of us who are often pushed aside refer to as a token gesture. The bricoleur might be asking, are there political, economical, and social reasons to keep bricolage conflated and tied to postmodernism and “crazy quilts”? Why is postmodernism even still around? Why do so many people latch onto it? Is this bricoleur missing something in the equation?

After providing this string of disjointed definitions, Denzin and Lincoln (2008) explain further, “There are many kinds of bricoleurs—interpretive, narrative, theoretical, political, methodological” (p. 6). Again, they miss the entire point of Kincheloe’s work by segregating bricoleurs by “type,” specifying that these are types of bricoleurs rather than types of research that bricoleurs can choose from and that Kincheloe recommends them all—even in one bricolage study. What happened to interdisciplinarity? What happened to rigor? The reality is that it requires researchers to run through all of these dimensions and more, by Kincheloe’s assessment, in order to ensure rigor of the research process. Something that has not escaped attention here is that after Kincheloe formulated his first conceptualization in 2001, it was reviewed by Lincoln (2001), along with McLaren (2001), and Pinar (2001), after which he had reformulated it taking into consideration their comments and recommendations.

A critical complex bricoleur would be asking why is Kincheloe’s work left out of the discussion? Why have bricoleurs become objectified so as to be represented by forms of research and given labels? Why are these things happening within a “critical” group of scholars? This is a powerful reminder of an observation Kincheloe (2008b) had made about the “critical elite.” He has noted:


When critical scholars establish an exclusive ‘critical elite,’ they have fallen prey to the same power inequalities that motivated the founding of critical pedagogy in the first place. When such domains of exclusion take shape around categories of status, class, race, gender, sexuality and /or institutional affiliation, critical scholars have no moral or intellectual authority to produce knowledge in relation to the traditional concerns of education. (Kincheloe, 2008b, p. 127)


To make matters worse, Denzin and Lincoln’s (2008) discussion of bricoleur and quilt maker proceeds to water down the complex notion of bricolage even further as they have repeatedly cited authors who describe the bricoleur as a “maker of quilts, [who] uses the aesthetic and material tools of his or her craft, deploying whatever strategies, methods, and empirical methods are at hand’ (Becker, 1998, p.2)” (p. 5). They further conflate the concept bricolage by associating it with montage, explaining, “In montage, several different images are juxtaposed to or superimposed on one another to create a picture.” During my research, I found many bricoleurs who considered their work to be a “montage.” While montage and juxtaposing can certainly play a role in Kincheloe’s form of bricolage, the rigor he is calling for asks much more of the bricoleur. Instead of simply allowing the gestalt effect to stand alone or engaging in only surface-level interpretation, the researcher goes further by exploring dialogically through various analytic discourses multiple interpretations that may be afforded, taking into consideration multiple variables and using multiple methods of exploration, thus seeking out previously unseen (hidden) dimensions and relationships. Bricolage as it has been defined here is a mundane daily fact of life, work, and education— it is not a form of research. Complex criticality has just been flushed down the toilet. Multidimensional critical complex bricolage is devised to escape superficial notions such as collage, montage, gestalt, and simply using the tools at hand. It is something much bigger and more powerful. It has taken these simplistic notions up the stairway to heaven.

Denzin and Lincoln (2008) conclude, “The qualitative researcher who uses montage is like a quilt maker or a jazz improviser. . . . In texts based on metaphors of montage, quilt making, and jazz improvisation, many different things are going on at the same time—different voices, different perspectives, points of views, angles of vision.” Denzin and Lincoln (2011, 2012a, 2012b, 2012c) did not update or change these metaphors for bricolage with their new editions of their textbooks, and worse, Steinberg and McLaren have dragged Kincheloe’s work backwards with their article, “Critical Pedagogy and Qualitative Research: Moving to the Bricolage” which is included in the textbook and which sports Kincheloe, himself, posthumously as author along with them (Kincheloe, McLaren & Steinberg, 2011). Considering that Kincheloe had removed all traces of Marxism from his theoretical work as previously mentioned (Pinar, 2010) and considering that during my own research I discovered there were very good reasons for doing so (see Argonza, 2008), I seriously question whether he would have agreed with Steinberg and McLaren’s contention that “Standard judgments against Marxism as economist, productivistic, and deterministic betray an egregious and scattershot understanding of Marxist epistemology, his critique of the political economy, and Marx’s dialectical method of analyzing the development of capitalism and capitalist society” (p. 165).

I see no justification in unilaterally decreeing Marxism as “foundational for any critical research” and, in particular, in relation to Kincheloe’s work (p. 165) Obviously, Kincheloe did not hold that position as many people already know, and truthfully, I trust his judgment on this matter. Having researched the roots of Marxism and the general public demeanor toward Marxism, I can only see that it takes away from Kincheloe’s theory, although he had not objected to using it as a window for providing perspectives if people are that much in love with it. He had even invited Marxist critiques of his own work (e.g., McLaren, 2001). Sandy Grande (2004) raises important questions in relation to Marxists and their “socialist commitment” [citing  McLaren & Frahmandpur, 2001, p. 306)], including questions about assuming that “the ‘egalitarian distribution’ of colonialized lands constitute greater justice for Indigenous peoples” and how it can be considered “liberatory for American Indians” as long as “power, exchange, and labor remain tied to whitestream notions of property” (p. 49). As much as Kincheloe has stressed Indigenous perspectives, it seems blatantly wrong to form a quilt of his work by juxtaposing out-of-context “cut-and-paste” excerpts from his critical bricolage articles alongside Marxist dialogue that is fixated on Western notions of property, economics, and materialism, as has been done with his work after his death.

Thus, in qualitative research there has been a conflation of bricolage, montage, and multiple methodologies, along with the metaphor “quiltmaking” (Rahman, Scaife, Yahya & Jalil, 2010), and the current literature has taken Kincheloe’s conceptualization of bricolage backwards. There are further examples in the literature, which will not be addressed because the results provided by this current research project speak for themselves and hopefully people will critically examine any work published posthumously in Kincheloe’s name. It is clear that publishers have very loose standards, including how they define “editor” since a deceased person can still be listed as editor or author (and I confirmed this via emails to the American Psychological Association; the “loophole” is created by the way contracts are written combined with the Western view of “intellectual property”) (APA, personal communication, June 3, 2011). As a critical bricoleur, these acts toward Kincheloe’s monumental work are destined to be analyzed politically, economically, socially, and any other way that is deemed necessary to gain an understanding as to why Kincheloe’s brilliant work has essentially been trashed and how it can be repositioned as the powerful process for learning, problem solving, everyday living—and as the rigorous research process that it provides. Long live the multidimensional critical complex bricolage!

            This has been a very preliminary foray into how bricolage research is currently being defined. It is amazing how often education scholars simply parrot over and over again the same definitions and the same metaphors, uncritically citing their peers—and this was especially found to be true for the definition of bricolage. Although a few other metaphors were discussed, such as a crystal with each view of the subject being a facet and cubist artwork (Denzin & Lincoln, 2008; Kincheloe, 2005a), sadly, the emphasis was placed on quilt making, with Kincheloe’s work left out of the picture. Other obstacles for the multidimensional critical complex bricolage are the influence of the link between bricolage and postmodernism, particularly promulgated by religious, education, and literature research, and by those who continue to earn revenue off Kincheloe’s name. It is apparent that bricolage, much like postmodernism has come to mean anything and everything. Kincheloe’s work is destined to lead to a redefinition of the research bricolage and create new metaphors for the complex process he had conceptualized.

            Fortunately, there are researchers who see the value in taking his work to the next level. Berry (2006) discussed the need for making progress applying Kincheloe’s work in relation to one of her graduate students who had completed a bricolage study, the only study found to date that has attempted to apply the process as developed in 2004. It was not deemed rigorous philosophically or in terms of knowledge production. According to Berry, the researcher had “simply applied several post-discourses in addition to four other theoretical and methodological areas to his text being researched. It read like an encyclopedic rehash of the areas he selected instead of creating new knowledge for inclusion and social justice” (p. 102). Berry humbly accepted responsibility for the results of trying to help a student squeeze a nontraditional mode of research into the traditional requirements of the university. As she explained, they were both caught in the space between two “moments” of research, the “modern and the bricolage” (p. 102).

In relation to moments, Denzin and Lincoln (2008) have defined the historical stages of the development of qualitative research as “moments” with each moment consisting of distinctive characteristics. The time frames are based on certain criteria, assumedly, but there is flexibility and overlapping of moments. Currently, we are in what many may consider the “ninth moment” or what the Mayan calendar refers to as the “ninth wave.” Kathleen Berry (2006, 2011) proposes that the ninth moment of research should be focused on taking Kincheloe’s bricolage work forward. I agree and that’s exactly what this study has set out to accomplish. In fact, it is time to catapult forward and dive right into the 13th wave.


The Critical Complex Bricolage: What’s Holding Up Progress?


            One thing that has held up progress in educational bricolage research is the restriction to traditionally-accepted modes of research (Kincheloe, 2005; Berry, 2006). Change is hard, especially when it comes to research, which has a long history of rather virulent disagreements over paradigms. Other restrictions that hamper progress include the requirement of citing only education scholarly and peer-reviewed literature, often with the stipulation that it must be “recent” (generally within the past 5–10 years). The exceptions are specific, accepted, and sanctioned “seminal” works. A bricoleur would be asking why is new knowledge that has been produced under the recent severe sociopolitical and educational constraints of “the Empire” better than “old” knowledge? And of course, the peer expectations and citing primarily within specific domains severely restrict the ability to see a broader picture for complex research problems. These research traditions need to be challenged and it is Kincheloe’s bricolage that sets the impetus for doing so.

As can be observed, discouraging interdisciplinary research restricts the flow of transferrable knowledge that might be useful in the education domain, and restricting dates to only recent publications tends to result in more positivistic literature being used because it has been the recent governmental focus and where federal research funds are being spent. Researchers are also required to specify what are oftentimes restrictive positions, paradigms, philosophies, and worldviews which must be adhered during the course of the research. Too often researchers cite other researchers within their paradigmatic group (their “friends”) uncritically and they stop there. If the scholar being cited has a PhD and has done research, end of story. There is no need to dig deeper or search for more profound meanings or for the possibility that the scholar may be providing misinformation or be motivated for reasons other than improving education or may have missed a critical dimension of the problem. Often the dissertation initiation project requires the use of traditional practices, which simply facilitates this uncritical thinking. Don’t get me wrong; when researchers have ideas worth citing, they should be cited, but if they present information that does not hold up to a critical review, then this, too, should be a part of the research process, especially if the other researcher is a friend. And I have seen too many cases of so-called seminal authors being given credit for “new ideas” which are not new ideas at all. For example, much of Paulo Freire’s work that gets parroted over and over again, ad nauseum, is not new at all. It becomes a “friends club” and either you are in or you are out. The way researchers often define bricolage, for example, by parroting the same information with very few people even so much as conducting a deep etymological investigation of the word is a perfect example of this lack of criticality. And as Richardson (2011) points out, these customary practices serve to maintain an elite culture of education scholars that impedes the ability “to end colonialist relations of denomination” (p. 19). We must do better. Maybe paradigms can be eliminated. Maxwell (2011) and others argue that the use of research paradigms limit validity. While philosophies, assumptions, and theories are all useful as lenses to aid understanding, Kincheloe argues for as many lenses as possible.

            Another obstacle for many researchers is the emphasis on formulaic empirical, quantitative research and the rigid, linear, template form that studies are to take for dissemination purposes. Bricolage research cannot be restricted in this manner, as was expressed by Berry (2006) when she discussed the linearity of the bricolage dissertation her student produced. A linear template will most likely produce a linear study, which is the antithesis of bricolage. As Berry (2006) and Fedory (2005) had discovered, the restrictions imposed actually impeded knowledge production. How convenient for the “machine.”


Kincheloe’s Definition of Bricolage


Now that the definition of the bricolage has been presented from an etymological, historical, and various researchers’ perspectives, it is time to go to the true source for the definition of the multidimensional critical complex bricolage. Due to the complexity of his theory, the definition is articulated here but continues in greater depth with an analysis in Chapter 4. Kincheloe (2001a, 2005a, 2008c), of course, had recognized that the bricolage was increasingly being applied in multiple disciplines to address the growing complexity of social and educational issues, and if used rigorously and critically, it offered great potential for research. He also recognized the need for taking this process to a more rigorous, multidimensional level than was being applied or it was destined to become useless as a viable form of research. As has been discussed, bricolage is increasingly being linked to postmodernism (e.g., Arikan, 2011; Denzin & Lincoln, 2008; McLaren, 2001; Hayes, Steinberg & Tobin, 2011).  In fact, some postmodernists are latching onto the term and calling it their own, even though bricolage has been around since humankind. Thus, Kincheloe (2005a) presented his advanced conceptualization of an interdisciplinary, multimethodological, multitheoretical research bricolage for education and the social sciences to resolve the issues with how bricolage was conceived and applied. This complex form of bricolage involves synthesizing multiple and diverse perspectives and it is simultaneously creative, drawing on affect and desire, and rigorous, drawing on intellect. According to Kincheloe, it develops “higher order” critical thinking skills. Kincheloe (2005a) describes his conceptualization:


On one level, the bricolage can be described as the process of getting down to the nuts and bolts of multidisciplinary research. Ethnography, textual analysis, semiotics, hermeneutics, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, historiography, discourse analysis, combined with philosophical analysis, literary analysis, aesthetic criticism, and theatrical and dramatic ways of observing and making meaning constitute the methodological bricolage. In this way, bricoleurs move beyond the blinds of particular disciplines and peer through a conceptual window to a new world of research and knowledge production. (p. 323)


Kincheloe (2001b) contends, “As we pursue modes of thinking that account for changes and interactions in the physical, social, and psychological domains, we begin to gain dramatically different and more complex perspectives on that which surrounds us” (p. 296). In other words, bricoleurs develop to the ability to think in more holistic terms about complex problems to uncover the multiple, hidden dimensions of problems, a necessary task if one is to find viable and effective solutions. Kincheloe (2005a) also stressed the importance of a philosophical dimension to the research and clarifies:

I use the phrase philosophical research to denote the use of various philosophical tools to help clarify the process of inquiry and provide insight into the assumptions on which it conceptually rests. . . . philosophically informed bricoleurs begin to document the specific influences of life history, lived context, race, class, gender, and sexuality on researchers and the knowledge they produce (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000; McLeod, 2000; Zammito, 1996). (p. 336) [author’s emphasis]


During this process, bricoleurs make use of historicity, critical constructivism, critical hermeneutics, comparative epistemology, critical ontology, and other methods, in order to understand the effects of power and how it has shaped knowledge and in this way they can begin to identify potential “counterhegemonic action” (p. 338) [author’s emphasis].  As Kincheloe (2008c) points out, “We learn from Vedic traditions, Islamic insights, the knowledges of East Asia, Hebrew practices, African philosophies, and indigenous ways of making meaning from around the world. These border epistemologies help us change the knowledges we produce, not simply invert them” (p. 192) [author’s emphasis]. He cautions that through critical complex epistemology we must not romanticize any particular worldview and “we avoid fundamentalism at all costs” (p. 193). The goal is to engage in interrelationships for the purpose of knowledge production. “In this multilogical epistemological pluriverse the border epistemology that is created views itself as an agent of connection that builds trading zones for multiple forms of knowledge” (p. 193). In other words, this provides people greater freedom and an appreciation for other ways of perceiving beyond their own personal experiences. Working together in “critical knowledge networks” and “multilogical communities,” new knowledges can be constructed and a better world can be created as actions emerge that stop subjugation and suffering (Kincheloe, 2008c).

It is important for researchers to bracket, in the phenomenological sense, their own experiences and subjectivity in order to gain a critical understanding of the knowledges they encounter from multiple vantage points. “Rigor,” Kincheloe emphasizes, “I assert, is impossible without such knowledge and discernment” (Kincheloe, 2005a, p. 336). And as he had pointed out, the complexity of educational and social research and their multidimensional nature demands rigor. Because Kincheloe has repeatedly highlighted the importance of the multidimensionality for his rendition of bricolage research, as well as the incorporation of complexity and criticality foundations, again, in order to differentiate his conceptualization from other forms of bricolage and emphasize the importance of these aspects, it is denoted, as previously expressed, as the multidimensional critical complex bricolage.       

 The critical constructivist world view Kincheloe (2005b) had developed, which he cites as being a unified world view and which has been adopted for this study is an eclectic, advanced synthesis of multiple theories and philosophies including critical theory, feminist theory, chaos and complexity theories, enactive theory, indigenous world views, among others. Critical constructivism and the twelve points Kincheloe developed to describe this world view are explained in greater detail later in this chapter and the key points are summarized in Table 1: Key Points of Kincheloe’s (2005b) Critical Constructivist Worldview.



FIDUROD and the Postmodern Condition


            The modernist world has evolved, or perhaps de-evolved is a more apt description, into what many refer to as the “postmodernist condition” (Callinicos, 1990; Kincheloe, 1993, 2001b; Sokolowski, 2000). The descriptions of postmodernism and what constitutes the “postmodern condition” vary among authors and practitioners/believers, and there has been great division among scholars in education over these differences. In order to counter the view that it comprises a viable philosophical perspective, even though it was adopted by many academicians during the 1980s, Callinicos (1990) points out that “lead producers of discourse such as Jean-Francois Lyotard and Charles Jencks offered definitions which were mutually inconsistent, internally contradictory and/or hopelessly vague” (p. 2). It is important to note that Kincheloe has never stated in his work that he ascribed to a “philosophy” of postmodernism and has clearly defined how he used the concept. He was well known for his synthesized eclectic worldview, critical constructivism, a strong philosophical standing that serves to ground his theory and research, but an eclectic philosophy does not equate to postmodernism. Even though Kincheloe has written in terms of a continuing modern area and has clearly not thrown aside science, rational thought or empiricism, some education scholars misinterpret or misunderstand his work and align it with an imaginary “postmodern era.”  However, Kincheloe (1993) has argued against there being a postmodern era as well as being against what he and McLaren have referred to as a “ludic postmodernism” that operates in some realms of education (Kincheloe, 1991; McLaren & Kincheloe, 2005). Both he and McLaren were apparently attempting to disconnect themselves from being considered proponents of postmodernism.

To complicate matters, emerging during the hay day of “postmodernism,” poststructuralism, “a social theoretical position emerging from within French structuralism in the 1960s, in response to structuralist claims to objectivity and universalism” (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 69), often became appropriated in support of the growing numbers of educators and other postmodernists, according to Callinicos (1990). But Callinicos argues that it is difficult to make a sharp distinction between a modern or postmodern era even in the arts, where it is most often delineated. Callinicos views postmodernism as a symptom of modernism, not as a break from past modernism, and describes its roots as a “combination of the disillusioned aftermath of 1968 throughout the Western world and the opportunities for an ‘overconsumptionist’ lifestyle offered upper white-collar strata by capitalism in the Reagan-Thatcher era” (p.7).

As far as poststructuralism, Callinicos is not convinced that the leading philosophers, Deleuze, Derrida and Foucault would claim that a postmodern era was evolving, and concludes that postmodernism was counter indicative of an intellectual movement. This view by Callincos is more representative of what one can observe, that is, what can be seen as the worst possible elements of modernism played out to their death. Kincheloe (2008c) referred to symptoms of this form of modernism as thanatos, contending that “Education that serves thanatos must be an act of regulation and control. The mind must be regulated, not expanded; curiosity must be crushed, not enhanced. In a regulated, colonized, thanocentric society, individuals need to be in their proper place, at the expected time, doing what they have been told to do” all for the benefit of the empire or ruling class (p. 101). Postmodernism, as counter-intellectualism played right into the hands of thanatos.

Sokolowski compares today’s so-called “postmodern era” with what is referred to as the era of modernity. Modernity can be explained as a focus on rationalism during the Enlightenment period and the subsequent influence it has had on society and culture. The rationalism of the Enlightenment era transmuted from being used as service to knowledge, according to his explanation, to being as service to will—“the will to rule, the will to power” (p. 202). Thus, contrary to the idea that postmodernity marks the end of the modern era as some people believe, according to Sokolowski, it is in actuality the expression of the “deepest impulse” of modernity (p. 20).

Kincheloe (2004c, 2008b), in agreement with Sokolowski and Callinicos, also considers this current era as a continuation of modernism and frames what is happening as a form of a “backlash” following the various movements of the 1940s, 1950s and the 1960s when the Vietnam War ended. This backlash was a reaction to gains made around the world for people who had traditionally been marginalized and denied equal rights. Following this period the upper white-collar, Western white male perceived they had lost many of their privileges. As Kincheloe describes within his various works, this backlash can be observed in politics, society, culture, psychology, economics, religion, education, and in the continuing dominance of Western epistemology for the purpose of recompensing for the perceived losses of the white male upper middle class. Kincheloe (1993) had recognized that there was an “educational manifestation of that [postmodern] condition—the cognitive illness” as he calls it—a “pathology of thinking [that] threatens the very survival of the human species” (p. 28) [author’s emphasis]. Thus, he frames today’s era as the continuation of the modernist period and has coined the symptoms as a “rational irrationality of Western epistemology,” providing the acronym, FIDUROD with the letters representing its attributes—Formal, Intractable, Decontextualized, Universal, Reductionistic, and One Dimensional (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 89, 21–25). This mechanistic epistemology “is used sometimes unconsciously to shape the knowledge that permeates Western and Western-influenced cultures” (p. 22). He explains:

The narcissism that emerges from a system of ideas that focuses primarily on the autonomy, self-centeredness, and economic self-interest of the individual produces anti-social behaviors that undermine the well-being not only [of] Western societies themselves, but of diverse peoples around the world. An examination of the history of Western education reveals that this egocentric dynamic has been the foundation on which the curriculum has rested. . . (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 251)


Misconceptions about postmodernism are inextricably interwoven with education and various research and discourse techniques and it has come to be widely accepted as a movement, philosophy and even worldview. For example, because poststructuralism has become linked with postmodernism as Callinicos (1990) had pointed out, when a person merely refers to or uses poststructuralism they often become associated with postmodernism. Since poststructuralism is an analysis process often used by bricoleurs, it must be clearly delinked from postmodernism. In fact, while many scholars consider Foucault a postmodernist, when asked about his thoughts on postmodernism shortly before his death, Foucault “sardonically replied, ‘What are we calling postmodern? I’m not up to date?’” (Callincos, 1990, p. 5). Clearly Foucault did not see anything new or noteworthy with the conceptualization of postmodernism. Without intending to be insulting to anyone, perhaps the very conceptualization of postmodernism as some sort of philosophy, albeit, indefinable and incoherent, is the epitome of the rational irrationality and the cognitive illness Kincheloe wrote extensively about.

Consequently, education philosophy textbooks and courses teach postmodernism as something tangible that can defined and practiced, which is not helpful. For example, Gutek (2004), in the book, Educational Philosophy and Changes, a commonly used textbook for educational foundations in philosophy, situates postmodernism as “an influential contemporary philosophy” and proceeds to make an attempt to provide a definition:

To define postmodernism, we need to examine the words, post and modernism. The word post has several meanings, each of which can be applied to this philosophy. As a prefix, post means coming after, later, or following in time. So the obvious meaning in this context is after or following the modern period in history. Post used as a noun refers to a timber that is used to support a structure; posts also can refer to the timbers or poles that mark a boundary. As we shall see later in the chapter, Postmodernists are inclined to reject the existing theoretical posts that are used to support philosophical structures; they also want to pull down the fences or boundaries that they believe separate fields of thought or subjects from each other. (p. 121)


            While this oversimplified and almost comical definition, along with the contention that postmodernists believe that the “modern era ended in the latter half of the twentieth century” (p.122), the implication that Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault are considered contemporary “postmodern” philosophers (pp. 125–127) and the over-generalization that postmodernism as a philosophy has informed critical theory (p. 309), especially given critical theory has multiple manifestations, is an example of what naïve learners are up against if they accept at face value the “knowledge” they are paying for through high cost university education and overpriced textbooks. While a general foundation in philosophy, a discipline that is neglected throughout school, is necessary, misinformation and obfuscation prevents taking knowledge to the next level without rigorous research, thus pointing to the need for all to become the adept bricoleurs Kincheloe (2005a) is calling for.

            To clarify Kincheloe’s (2001b) perspective, he maintains that it is important to keep in mind the distinction between the postmodern condition, which we can observe as the continuation of Cartesianism (FIDUROD), and postmodernism as a perspective from which to view and analyze what we see, critical postmodernism, which he has replaced with “counter-Cartesianism” as well as “epistemology of complexity” in his apparent wish to prevent having the postmodernist label assigned to him (pp. 95–96). Counter-Cartesianism, he states, “analyzes social, philosophical, and educational forms previously shielded by the authority of modernist science. It does not attempt to throw out Western science but to understand its limitations and the underside of its application” (p. 95). Kincheloe further developed and renamed this form of epistemological analysis, critical complex epistemology in his last book, Knowledge and Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction and it is an important philosophical component of the multidimensional critical complex bricolage.

“The postmodern condition is difficult to understand and must be carefully clarified” Kincheloe (2001a) had asserted and he provided the characteristics as being (1) The increased importance of the sign—the image—in moving everyday life and the sociopolitical sphere; (2) An exaggeration of the power of those who hold power and its use of information to colonize human consciousness; (3) The fragmentation of meaning and the subsequent production of social vertigo—the depoliticization of perception; (4) The growth of cynicism in a climate of deceit; (5) The celebration of surface meanings; the validation of shallowness; (6) The substitution of fascination for analysis; the age of spectacle; (7) The reorganization of capital/economic power in a global context—technocapitalism is supported by a new social Darwinism; and (8) The change of change: everything is different or at least feels that way (p. 62).  He explains these in great depth in this book, Getting Beyond the Facts: Teaching Social Studies/Social Sciences in the Twenty-First Century, as well as how Western “FIDURODian” epistemology perpetuates the continuation of this trend in his book, Knowledge and Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction.

While the disagreement over what constitutes postmodernism as a philosophy is not likely to be resolved soon, what can be delineated more precisely is how and why Kincheloe used the term at all and why he divorced himself from it completely with his conceptualization of the critical complex epistemology and the multidimensional critical complex bricolage in his later works. This is important because what can be observed today is a condition that continues in its ever increasing heightened state marked by extreme social injustices, destructive wars with their human “collateral” damages, an unrestrained free market economy resembling the Gilded Age, and mind-boggling environmental destruction, the very problems his conceptualization of the bricolage is designed to help solve.

Thus, we have a world and its peoples bombarded with environmental destruction, wars all over the world, killing framed as “collateral damage,” poverty, illness, social problems, and innumerable gross injustices. Many people are feeling hopeless, cynical, or apathetic and have given up on imagining what could be, because it is easier to succumb to what is in their daily struggle for survival. Thus, people have become as cogs “in the engine of the mechanisms of dominant power that harm people” perpetuating their own demise (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. xi). The numbers of social, cultural, educational, environmental, political, psychological, religious, and everyday living problems continue to increase and grow in complexity. Life, for many, has become much like traversing a road not chosen and one that is riddled with hoops and hurdles to jump over, dramas to escape from, fires to put out, and landmines to navigate. One wrong move or inaction when a move is needed can lead to a cascading avalanche of consequences in this intertwined world of complexity that Kincheloe often compares to the matrix in the movie with the same name. Usually the cascading avalanches fall inequitably, engendering harmful effects based on class, race, gender, age, ability or some other contrived way people have been divided.

Indeed, as a nation, as a global community, and as a race of human beings we have gone nowhere if progress is indicated by civilized people living harmoniously together, taking care of earth, nowhere that can rightfully make people proud to say they are members of this “human” race given the greed that has manifested multiple wars in the “global theater”—the stated mission of the neoconservatives and once posted on their web site. We were provided warnings that should have been heeded when President Roosevelt spoke of the impending military industrial machine (MIC), when President Truman proudly sat at his desk with the wooden plaque, stating “the buck stops here,” when Dwight D. Eisenhower took issue with the “Peppermint Twist,” and when President Reagan spoke of the “New World Order.”

The speaking of landmines is not mere rhetoric; they are remnants and reminders of war, and the weapons of choice for continuing militaristic control over people, and they literally kill people daily in Korea, Cambodia, Iraq, Africa, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world (AFP, 2010; Vines, 1998). The Iraq Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2010) announced a new photo gallery depicting Iraqi landmines victims that opened at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. And as unbelievable as it might seem, as recently as June, 2010, landmines were reportedly proposed as a measure to prevent people from crossing the Mexican-US border by Congressional candidate, Tom Mullins, in an apparent bid for the right wing vote (AP, June 15, 2010)  even as technicians are being killed trying to clear them in other countries (MAG, 2010). In the meantime, the Department of Defense (DoD) is investing millions of dollars for the MCV910-2 Area Mine Clearing System Vehicles manufactured by a transnational US firm (a firm that has the privilege of both operating in the US and benefitting from low wage labor from elsewhere) (O’Dwyer, 2010). One has to wonder if this move on the part of the DoD might be related to the $1 trillion in iron, copper, and gold discovered in the mine-infested lands of Afghanistan (Ross, 2010), the increased troops to Afghanistan, the support of CEOs of transnational MIC corporations with generous bid arrangements that, as McLaren (2007) frames these types of actions, “loot the citizenry” (p. 296). While ordinary U.S. citizens sit in front of their televisions and go about their daily lives in a cloud of “hyperreality,” freedom of speech on the Internet and in other media, which is the only hope for keeping up with and circumventing this irrational rationality, is quickly being usurped (Calabrese, 2010). Calling it what it is, it is a crazy world.

Americans continue to sit glued in front of televisions, movies, video games, the Internet, and other media on a daily basis, “connected” as they are shut off and numb to the reality of the human pain and suffering that goes on in their own neighborhoods, much less all over the world. Years of education do not magically fix these problems, nor do they manifest the “American Dream” that has been promised if one just works hard enough and smart enough. As McLaren and Jaramillo (2007) have observed, people serious about living a laudable life are simply “unwanted guests at the banquet known as the American Dream” (p. 5). Thus, it appears that no matter the amount of education which has always been considered the ticket to that American Dream, for certain classes of people increased powerlessness is produced, along with increasing poverty, harder work and longer hours for less pay, unemployment, repossessed homes, and a growing “ineffectiveness.” A higher degree does not ensure greater pay or the power to create change—if a person can even gain access to that education. In reality, those who have experienced the pain and disempowerment and sincerely wish to create change find that commoditized education for the poor and disenfranchised renders them no more powerful than before, and often less powerful due to the mounds of debt that pile up as a result of sky rocketing tuition and textbook costs before they can get through the gates. The slanted education provided due to the cozy relationships between members of what Giroux (2007) describes as an even more powerful MIC—the  MIAC—the military-industrial-academic complex renders the climb up the hierarchical ladder to a better life as nothing more than a pipedream. Why is this?

Why doesn’t education solve these issues? Considering the interrelationships of this complex, it would be a greater surprise if it did. Where is the knowledge that is supposed to get us all out of this mess? Knowledge is power, as Foucault (1980) has demonstrated, but for most people knowledge is unreachable, indecipherable, protected, hidden behind the curtains, and locked away in Pandora’s Box it seems. The bombardment to our senses of what is labeled, disseminated, reconstituted, polluted, convoluted, and perpetually reiterated as “knowledge” during this technology and Internet-dependent “information” age, whether it comes from educational institutions serving the corporate, military, industrial, academic—and prison machine (Giroux, 2007), or whether it comes from the Internet or other mass media only adds to what is a growing fog of obfuscation, misinformation, disinformation, confusion and chaos. Worse, it is leading the world’s population down the path toward increased division, animosity, greed, selfishness, hate, wars, environmental destruction, and the competitive win-lose actions with no recourse, remorse, or moral justifications during this, what some people proudly proclaim is a “postmodern era.” As McLaren and Jaramillo (2007) frame it, “It is as if human decency has been sucked into a vortex of political imbroglio” (p. 3). There is no truth anymore. How can there be justice?

Some of us still believe there is truth and that the “truths” fed to us must be exposed for the lies they are so that we can reclaim a truth that aligns more closely with reality as it is experienced. It is only then that we can change that reality and alleviate human suffering. But how do we sort through the masses of “information,” the precursor to knowledge, in order to find answers and real livable solutions—that elusive “truth”—so that all people can be human again? Can we do it? Should we do it? And who at the helm of this gigantic sinking education ship would look at someone coming along with great, genius knowledge as a dispensable being and throw them overboard? Tragically, it has been done over and over again to protect turf as well as for personally possessed, self-serving knowledge that no one else should be allowed to know, claim, dispense, or even hint about to lesser beings—the droids, sheep, cattle or, as Marx framed it, the “proletariat.” Of course, it is a given that those entities in the gallows of this sinking ship are not privileged to have access to hidden knowledge—the Golden Chalice that many have alluded to, but no one has yet put all out there for everyone to see and partake of.

What is the Golden Chalice? Even the answer to something deceivingly simple has proven elusive and takes the seeker down misleading and dark pathways. The Internet, the university libraries, and the “government” (which is composed of the top 50 multinational corporate entities controlling the world economy, resources, the media, and education) shield our eyes from knowledge that just might enlighten us and empower us to make changes in the world that would benefit us, so that we no longer need to serve as “human resources.” And should we be fortunate enough to get our hands on real knowledge—that time-and-people-tested knowledge that holds true today as much as it did, say 1000 years ago (or even 40 years ago), it is much too old to be considered “worthy” knowledge for citing in a scholarly work such as a dissertation—or it comes from a “lesser” being or from an “uncivilized” culture that does not have the “advanced” thinking skills of the cultured, Western white men who head the global government (effectively, already a New World Order), and the gigantic Murdoch-style corporate media machine—the newspapers, the mass market and educational publishing companies, and of course, the television, movie, and now the Internet indoctrinating, mind-molding machines that have created this postmodern “hyperreality.” We live in a world dominated by a FIDURODian epistemology and psychosocial illness—and nowhere is it more obvious than it is in the realm of education.

            To encourage our distancing from real, time-tested knowledge, and to perhaps divert our attention from the flood of chaotic information on the Internet, the new trend in education is toward memorization and rote skills rather than learning how to problem solve and to “problem find” which Einstein had demonstrated is a superior approach to learning. Due to the 2001 enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act under President George W. Bush, standardization is in full force and spreading like a weed into college level courses—doctoral level, even—in the form of ever more standardization and scripted teaching.  Welcome to the world, droids. Evidently, to really make it simple and easy, everyone has to know the exact same “knowledge.” Spending time on the memorization of decontextualized facts ensures that the brain is occupied so that not too much real, in-depth, meaningful, analytical, critical, creative thinking is going on. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately if it results in change) memorization is not so easy for many people. Of course, there are paved roads for these people, too: the lowest-paying jobs, the military, or if they can’t handle those, there is always prison where they can keep one of the top fifty multinational firms profitable. As many have written, the road is paved from high school to prison for certain groups of our young. Sadly, with the current high unemployment, this is even truer today.

Thus, the dominant power’s FIDURODian epistemology has shaped educational research methodologies so that researchers can discover and measure the effectiveness of the “best” brain cram methods for classrooms. Hello, Cartesian-Baconian-Newtonian science and the draconian ways of viewing and treating people. What happened to Einstein, quantum physics, and nonlocal space? They are omitted from today’s college level physical science textbooks. And so the “old” war is being waged again. The very people who should be working together and seeking solutions are either numb and disenchanted or they are divided by disagreements, volatile and warlike at times, over qualitative and quantitative research approaches, disciplinary or interdisciplinary approaches, this paradigm or that paradigm, or they are struggling to “publish or perish” in order to feed the family or to meet their postmodern narcissistic needs for recognition. They are separated by huge fault lines and they have no qualms about throwing people into the deep abyss who dare speak out, such as upcoming new scholars who contest their status quo, or who unwittingly step over unseen borders and boundaries, simply because they cannot decode the “tacit” rules. They heartlessly throw novices overboard just to get them to be still or simply to limit the number of successful people in the competition for center stage. And the vilest thing of all, knowledge is jealously guarded from those imprisoned in the lower class. I have always known knowledge was being hidden. I mistakenly believed more education would provide access to that hidden knowledge.

While I wonder in my uneducated naiveté what this knowledge is that is being protected and whether there is, in fact, any real knowledge any longer at all given the massive destruction of ancient libraries, cities, and cultures to stop the flow of knowledge in concert with the massive fornication of sacred knowledges, my real question at this point in time is who in their right mind would even choose to be on that sinking education ship? It seems clear that it’s time to build new ships or at least life boats from which it’s safe to construct knowledge. Kincheloe’s (2005a) multidimensional critical complex bricolage offers hope for picking up the pieces of knowledge from wherever they can be found to reconstruct new knowledges that can serve humanity far into the future. It is safe to assume, providing Kincheloe’s research and education process is applied rigorously as he had presented that this dissertation will in fact produce or reconstruct some of that jealously hidden knowledge, and/or produce something entirely new—thus, apparently the rationale behind the title for my dissertation: Did Joe Lyons Kincheloe Discover the Golden Chalice for Knowledge Production?, which was handed down to me from the cosmos (No, I did not come up with that title, Clinton; I really did not). Of course, the bricoleur would be critically asking, what is the golden chalice? How does it represent knowledge production?

Kincheloe’s multidimensional critical complex bricolage is the antithesis of positivistic, quantitative, politically and power inscribed knowledge production that has created so many of the problems facing education, but it is important to point out, it does not exclude quantitative research, positivism, empiricism, or rational thought. Bricoleurs recognize the value of positivistic research in certain contexts in relation to educational and other disciplinary research. As Kincheloe always framed it, we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Still, today, increasing corporate involvement in education exerts a powerful push for educators and educational researchers to think in terms of an entrenched, rigid form of positivistic problem-solving with the ultimate goal of increasing test scores. This limits the acquisition of a deep understanding of the complex issues we are facing in the world at the very moment in history it is crucial that researchers take a broader, deeper, more holistic approach. As stated previously, Kincheloe (2008c) described in great detail this particularly intractable form of Western epistemology that currently dominates research in his book, Knowledge and Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction, labeling it, “FIDUROD” (Kincheloe, 2008c, pp. 21–25).

            Taking the stance of intractability and its accompanying reductionistic tendencies renders researchers incapable of fully understanding the complexities and intricacies of the problems in education in order to find viable solutions—and policies or procedural changes are seldom an immediate option when confronted with complicated problems consisting of multiple dimensions of complexity for which the policies no longer work or apply.  Many researchers are calling for mixed methodologies that may provide greater power to gain thick and detailed understandings of the problems confronting them today, but they are still entrenched in linear, reductionistic mores. The multidimensional critical complex bricolage takes qualitative research to the next level by providing the means of identifying problems that need resolution—problems that remain invisible until they are exposed through fresh views from many angles and perspectives and a critical, philosophical analysis (Kincheloe, 2001a, 2001b, 2005a, 2005b).

Some of the issues specifically related to education research for which timely remedies are critically important include: Researchers must overcome their differences in paradigms and mend the deep fractures that keep them from working together by realizing there are multiple paradigms and all views, “right or wrong” provide another facet to understanding; increased funding for qualitative research; the end of the dumbing down of education that focuses on memorization rather than rigorous learning; encouraging teachers to creatively teach again, educing the full potential of all learners instead of forcing scripted lesson plans, perpetuating myths about intelligence with attached labels and constructing barriers to higher order cognitive abilities; promote technology and the Internet for deep research and knowledge production that everyone has equal access to, instead of for quests for factoids and preselected knowledge; apply a critical constructivism in learning environments to create and invent knowledge, rather than to meet predetermined outcomes; acknowledge, honor, and incorporate the multiple worldviews and ontologies of this increasingly globalized world of education.

We can’t solve these problems from where we’re at. Currently, most researchers are using the same minds that created these massive problems in their attempts to solve them. Did we learn nothing from Einstein?


A Knight on a White Horse:

Kincheloe’s Multidimensional Critical Complex Bricolage


In an education system that is dominated by the FIDURODian epistemology, even critical thinking skills are “uncritical” (Kincheloe, 1993). Education based on a back-to-the-basics, standardized curriculum in which learning is primarily lower level memorization skills does not promote the higher order thinking needed today. Unfortunately, power blocs that exert control over education that keep education dumbed down can manifest in some surprising and unusual ways, and they morph and change, as Kincheloe (2008c) has pointed out. For example, surprisingly, Western scientists and Christian fundamentalists, in spite of their disagreements over evolution, work together teaching Western “truths” in relation to politics, European-based cultural norms, and the free market system (p. 99). This is causing untold amounts of conflict and human suffering both at home in the U.S., which Kincheloe refers to as internal colonialism, and in other countries where these practices have been injected or adopted in spite of differing worldviews and religious beliefs of the people in those countries. These unjustified and often criminal actions and so-called “pre-emptive war” tactics continue to incite religious and ethnic conflicts in multiple parts of the world.

Kincheloe suggested, along with his multidimensional, multiperspectival approaches to teaching, learning, and researching that incorporate critical and complexity theories, an approach that also injects love and ecumenicalism into the equation. In this way, he has defined his own idiosyncratic version of critical pedagogy: “A critical pedagogy that constructs knowledge and formulates action based on Eros with its drive to alleviate human suffering serves as a counterpoise to the empire’s positivistic thanatos” (Kincheloe, 2008c). Kincheloe practiced and was renowned for this form of immense love for people.

Understanding the dynamics manifested by FIDUROD can help open doors to new possibilities and this understanding is enhanced with a critical ontology and critical complex epistemology. By considering multiple ontologies and perspectives, doors open for creative possibilities. Researchers are no longer restricted to a one worldview epistemology from which to analyze problems. As Kincheloe contended, every perspective reveals some things and hides others. While Kincheloe (2005a) states that his multidimensional critical complex bricolage was not a “knight on a white horse,” he also affirmed that it is a powerful process for finding our way out of the quagmire the world is in today. In relation to Kincheloe’s advanced and complex work, a statement made about Lev Vygotsky, whose work had some influence on Kincheloe’s work seems relevant here. Guillermo Blanck (1990) had observed that one of Vygotsky’s favorite quotes was a line from a poem by Tyutchev, “Not everything that was must pass” and it was contended that this could very well serve as a metaphor for Vygotsky himself because researchers today are just beginning to understand the full significance of his work. Blanck concluded by concurring with Jerome Bruner (1987) who had stated, “Vygotsky speaks to us from the future” (p. 31)[emphasis added].

I was struck by how this very same statement applies to Joe Lyons Kincheloe. He was distinguished as a true genius and his work is so advanced that like Vygotsky’s work, it might be viewed as a gift to the world from the future—but the future is now for many of us today. The multidimensional critical complex bricolage opens doors for a multitude of alternative research processes that provide an escape from the ongoing battle between qualitative and quantitative methods. This may give the push qualitative research needs. If people take time to learn and experience the power of this form of research, it would result in more rigorous bricolage.  It is time for those who wish to receive the gifts to open the gifts from “the knight on the white horse” (Kincheloe, 2005a).


Theoretical and Philosophical Grounding for the Study


            I have adopted Kincheloe’s theoretical and philosophical grounding for this study which was initially summarized in Chapter 1 in the section titled “Kincheloe’s Sound, Long-Standing Eclectic Philosophy.” Here, the grounding for this study is presented in greater depth and a summary description of his “unified world view” that supports the research is provided. One might ask, how can a new researcher adopt such a complex philosophy at will? As the analysis will show, it has been a rather unique set of experiences that have led me to feeling that I have at least a good cursory understanding of this philosophy. And as I engaged in the research, I gained more understanding.

Love: Eros, Agape, and Philia

              Love is the foundation of bricolage research. Kincheloe presents this in his work in many contexts, which will be discussed throughout this study as relevant. Kincheloe, or Joe, as he preferred to be called, was as renowned for his unconditional love as for his powerful critical theory. Peter McLaren (2008) wrote a tribute on his website, upon Joe’s passing, stating, “He was a humble and gracious man, and one of the most generous human beings to grace the planet. His capacity for love was monumental. He was also one of the funniest people I have ever met. Joe’s life helped transform the world in ways many of us can only dream of.” Joe had dedicated his entire life to education and helping people get their start in academic publishing. He was very skilled at acquiring book contracts, particularly for series and he was instrumental in helping many new scholars publish their first books. Midst all of the help and support he provided for so many people, he was still able to write and publish numerous books as a single author. Thus, scholars who knew Joe have testified on more than one occasion he practiced what he preached when it came to love, dedication, and integrity. 

            Eros, radical love, and the “power of love” is woven throughout all of his work, if not in words specifically, in spirit. His repeated mission was “the alleviation of human suffering.” In his last book, he continued the theme throughout, and in relation to the positivistic “myopic” view of the universe as “mechanical” and “nonconscious,” he wrote: “I find it difficult to accept such a meaningless universe when I’ve seen the power of love . . . to change lives and to bring about justice” (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 122). Kincheloe clearly had embraced the full Eros form of love within his research, writing, and teaching.

            While there is a common misconception that the Eros form of love primarily relates to sexual love, this is a conflation of the concept to huge proportions. Essentially, to the ancient Greeks, Eros embodies the entire living, sensual, and physical world. Eros is the life force energy that flows through all things, living and nonliving; it is the love of everything; it is the love of life, itself. In education, Eros Love is associated with the love of learning and teaching and it fuels the passion to strive toward ever higher levels of knowledge, to seek out truth. Omitting Eros Love from the English language stripped this full expression of love, the life force energy that runs through us all, that fuels passion for life. Eros, according to Plato, drives people toward union with one another, toward the achievement of ethical goodness, and the seeking of truth (Noddings & Shore, 1984).

The other two forms of love that derived from the Greek language, agape and philia, like Eros, have conceptual meanings that expand greatly beyond what most people understand. Agape love has come to be viewed as a brotherly/sisterly love or a divine form of love among Christians, for example, eliminating any chance of physical or sexual connotations. However, according to Noddings and Shore (1984), “In its earlier form, agape referred to an unselfish, caring feeling of one individual for another, irrespective of sex, age, or other differences” and did not have the Christian religious association (p. 156). The third form, philia, is “closely tied to the ideas of friendship, brotherhood, and comradeship” (Noddings & Shore, 1984, p. 156). Noddings and Shore point out another educationally significant meaning of philia, describing that “philia refers to a natural force uniting discordant elements and movements. Isocrates envisioned philia as the drawing together of seemingly incompatible substances to create a new entity,” (p. 156). This concept of uniting discordant elements is relevant to the action of the bricolage as are all the possible dimensions of love.

All three forms of love are complex and broad concepts. Love was an essential component of ancient Greek education and there was great love between teachers and their students. It is clear that Kincheloe embraced all forms love in their fullest capacity by his words, his actions, and his impeccable integrity. It also permeated his work. For example, it is easy to see how his multidimensional critical complex bricolage with its quest to seek as many perspectives as possible may be the very embodiment of philia love that Noddings and Shore (1984) had defined in that it compels the dialectical bringing together of seemingly discordant parts such as ideas, opinions, and philosophies, and, ultimately, people.

As Tobin (2010) described, Kincheloe had clarified in a personal conversation about the bricolage, “I argue ad nauseum that even in theoretical discourses that might find direct contradictions between them, there is much to be learned from good ideas wherever they emerge” (p. 406). Does his bricolage incorporate a very real force of love that brings discordant things together? It brings to mind the concepts of energy and opposing forces that are brought out in Hermeticism. This is an interesting link, because it is known that Kincheloe was skilled at and stressed the importance of hermeneutical analysis incorporating these concepts, thus this may prove an interesting avenue to explore. In addition, Kincheloe discusses Eros Love throughout his work and he clearly viewed it as being the remedy for the thanatos that dominates so much of the world today. In his last book, he states:


The positivist tradition has always been characterized by a darkness, a lack of respect for life force—an embrace of critical theorist’s Herbert Marcuse’s (1955) notion of thanatos (death instinct) in lieu of his eros (life impulse). . . . A critical pedagogy that constructs knowledge and formulates action based on eros with its drive to alleviate human suffering serves as a counterpoise to the empire’s positivistic thanatos. (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 100)


            Anyone who had the privilege to work with Joe also would have readily observed the third form of love, philia—his comradeship, his unconditional acceptance, and his generosity by which one might discern that he truly believed that we are all brothers and sisters and what we do for others we are ultimately doing for ourselves as well.

Interestingly, and perhaps shortsighted, in spite of their discourse regarding the deep meanings and overarching conceptualizations of the three forms of love that the Greeks recognized, Noddings and Shore (1984) chose the agape meaning of love as a basis for their recommendations for incorporating love into education.  After knowing Kincheloe and experiencing the deep love he had for his students, one can quickly discern how void of love education so often is otherwise. Limiting the expression of love in an educational context to a watered down version of agape love is not much of a contribution to the important act of adding love to the equation, although at least it’s a move in the right direction.


Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy

            Kincheloe (2008c) has formulated his own advanced version of an evolving critical theory and a critical complex pedagogy. After the previous discussion about how enmeshed his conceptualizations are with love it is easy to conceive that he would do the same with his critical pedagogy. He wrote:


Critical pedagogy believes nothing is impossible when we work in solidarity and with love, respect, and justice as our guiding lights . . . such a love is compassionate, erotic, creative, sensual, and informed. Critical pedagogy uses it to increase our capacity to love, to bring the power of love to our everyday lives and social institutions, to rethink reason in a humane and interconnected manner. . . . A critical knowledge seeks to connect with the corporeal and the emotional in a way that understands at multiple levels and seeks to assuage human suffering. (p. 9)


He goes on to explain that the role of teachers, thus becomes one of using critical pedagogy to guide their work in ways that aid empowerment. His critical pedagogy is grounded on justice and equality; the knowledge that education is political; the dedication to alleviating human suffering; basing curricula on generative themes that are central to students’ lives and experiences; the view that teachers are researchers and continue learning about and alongside their students; concern about oppression and subjugation; social change balanced by intellectual development and rigorous learning; the awareness that science and technology can be misused for power; commitment to identifying power, its misuse, and its harmful effects; understanding complexity in relation to rigorous and transformative teaching and learning; and understanding how neo-colonialism impacts knowledge and education (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 10).

This has been a simplified summary, and an understanding of his vision for critical pedagogy is not complete without an understanding of how it is linked to epistemology and complexity, as well as to his critical complex psychology. He also speaks of “an evolving criticality that listens carefully to feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonial, and indigenous voices and incorporates their voices into the critical canon” (2008c, p. 27). Kincheloe (2008c) continues, “Thus, criticality and the knowledge production it supports are always evolving in relation to African, Asian, Latin American, and indigenous peoples’ insights, always encountering new ways to irritate dominant forms of power, to provide more evocative and compelling perceptions of power and oppression” (p. 27).  Further discussions relating to these concepts follow.



            Kincheloe’s (2008c) critical theory, which demands much of both teachers and learners, naturally leads to the incorporation of advanced applications of epistemology, “the branch of philosophy that analyzes the nature of knowledge and what we believe to be true” (p. 15). As he conveys, what we call knowledge shapes how we view the world, thus it becomes crucial to get beyond traditional mechanistic views of what constitutes knowledge. He writes, “In this context students as odd as it might sound become epistemologically informed scholars. As such, they are challenged to analyze and interpret data, conduct research, and develop a love for scholarship that studies things that matter to the well being of the people of the world” (p. 11). This empowers them to identify oppression and paths to liberation. Thus, Kincheloe’s critical pedagogy is an “epistemologically conscious critical pedagogy” (p. 13).


Critical Complexity: The Cure for a FIDURODian Epistemology

As mentioned earlier, FIDUROD is an acronym for the dominant Western epistemology in operation today. Kincheloe (2008c) had developed this framework in order to bypass the arguments that ensue when a scholar critiques what is happening in the world using the term positivism. It was an interesting move on his part because it potentially helps neutralize the emotional reactions emanating from positivists while he presents a multitude of ways and contexts the features of FIDUROD disrupt and control the lives of people. FIDUROD, as he discusses, causes untold suffering and creates an enormity of global problems, including wars and irreparable environmental devastation. As he stated, “While it is true that many philosophers of science have dismissed positivism, important aspects of the epistemology continue to exert their influence in the way we produce knowledge and value knowledge in various institutions from the military, the economic, to the educational” (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 22). This epistemology affects Westerners and Western-influenced peoples in ways they may not be aware. This move by Kincheloe helps us all set aside our initial assumptions about positivism.


FIDUROD: Phenomenologically Bracketing Positivism

As Kincheloe (2008c) often expresses, it is important for researchers to “bracket” or set aside their initial concepts and reactions and be open to seeing other ways of viewing phenomena. Using the invented term FIDUROD along with clear explanations and examples of its attributes and manifestations helps people who are supporters of strictly positivistic methodologies as well as those who believe the issues with positivism no longer exist to do this bracketing. It is also interesting that, in addition to referencing love, he also chose to use humor in presenting this, which is another effective technique to help people detach emotionally from their views on positivism. The title of the subchapter for his presentation is “Playing With the Queen of Hearts: The Joker Ain’t the Only Fool In FIDUROD.” That is humorous enough, but the critical complex bricoleur would ask herself, “Who is the other fool in FIDUROD?” There is an answer to that question (as well as many possible interpretations) which the cosmos finally released to me after I had experienced frustration over the challenge (I just “knew” there was something about that word that was invented by someone influenced by Hermes). The solution is funny, and this is just one example from many scattered throughout his work, exemplifying Peter McLaren’s (2008) contention that Kincheloe was one of the funniest people he had ever known. The humor is another dimension to Kincheloe’s work which warrants study for what we could learn about using similar techniques. There was always purpose behind the strategies Kincheloe selected for his bricolage.

The following presents merely a summary of the attributes of FIDUROD, which is, in reality, a very complex conceptualization. The reader is encouraged to consult Kincheloe’s book Knowledge and Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction for the in depth presentation and multitudes of examples that show how effective this epistemology has been at usurping our freedoms and treating us less than human: F—Formal—rigid adherence to a particular research method; I—Intractable—grounded on the idea that truth does not change; it does not acknowledge an ever-changing world; the adherence to intractable procedures; D—Decontextualized—considers a phenomenon outside of its diverse context; not recognizing there are multiple, complex contexts; U—Universalistic—the idea that using strict research methods leads to a one true epistemology which can be applied universally; R—Reductionistic—focusing on what can most easily be measured and failing to account for the multitude of other factors that shape the nature of knowledge being produced; assuming linearity and similarity; OD—One Dimensional—knowledge produced is based on the belief that there is only one true reality that can be discovered and described (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 23). Thus, the first and second parts of his book describe FIDUROD, providing a multitude of examples and contexts using the metaphor of a water spigot for knowledge that has been nearly shut off for the masses through this power-entrenched epistemology.


Adding Complexity Theory to the Mix

            “What’s complex about our notion of complexity?” Kincheloe (2001b) posed to the readers of his book, Getting Beyond the Facts: Teaching Social Studies/Social Sciences in the Twenty-First Century, Second Edition (p. 283). In this book he had painstakingly laid out a detailed formulation of a critical complex epistemology, which he took to the next level in his last book, Knowledge and Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction (Kincheloe, 2008c). It is beyond the scope of this current research to detail all but the highlights here.

            Kincheloe (2001b) presented 15 basic principles for an epistemology of complexity in the textbook he wrote for social studies teachers. It is a general discussion that applies to all teachers and researchers who want a better understanding of complexity as it relates to knowledge and knowledge production. Summarizing the 16 general principles (for which he provides extensive discussion), they include: 1) Knowledge is socially constructed; 2) Consciousness is a social construction; 3) Power serves to construct “truth” and plays a role in consciousness construction; 4) Research should focus on consciousness even though it is hard to measure; 5) Logic, emotion, and empathy play an important role in the process of knowing; 6) The knower cannot be separated from the known; 7) “Our view of the world is grounded on the perspectives of those who have suffered as the result of existing arrangements” (p. 244); 8) There are multiple realities that are constructed by our location in the web of reality; 9) We come to understand where we are located; 10) Understanding where we are located aids us in producing our own knowledge; 11) Knowledge is produced for social action; 12) We have an appreciation of complexity and a desire to overcome reductionism; 13) All knowledge is “in process” and is a part of a larger process; 14) Critical hermeneutics has a large role for interpretation and connecting research to solving everyday problems; 15) Learning and knowledge need to be made relevant to personal experience; 16) Critical ontology is incorporated through self-reflection, historical knowledge, seeking pre-modern, indigenous epistemologies, cosmologies, and ontologies (pp.198–315).

            How does one condense very complex epistemological concerns and a description of a critical complex epistemology? What are the ingredients that go into this eclectic mixture? First, it seems important to differentiate it from traditional forms of critical pedagogy.


A Critical Complex Epistemology

            Is critical pedagogy on the way out? For example, there are many arguments contending that Freirean critical pedagogy as practiced by mainstream and not-so-mainstream teachers should be put aside much as we did the horse, whip and buggy. Freire’s (1970/2007) work, which has formed the foundation of some forms of critical pedagogy has perhaps been run into the ground but continues to be milked for financial gain (and control?). While his work has made contributions and has made people think about the issues of oppression and the importance of what he termed “radical love,” his sincere wishes were that people go forward and not stay stuck on his work. Considering that forty years of attempting to apply Freire’s ideas have obviously not worked to resolve social justice issues, it seems that the reasonable and even the smart thing to do is to move on to something better, which is what Kincheloe’s theoretical work offers.

Why does Freire’s work continue to be pushed in certain education domains (and not others)? Why is it being pushed even more heavily now than ever in the past? What has Freire’s work contributed that is really new? What is the historical context in which his work was originally developed? Why has it not worked? Has it been applied?  Additionally, Kincheloe has maintained that the Frankfurt School critical theorists had not developed a “unified approach.” Is it time to move on? Why hasn’t Kincheloe’s work been applied? (Gibson, 1994; Kincheloe, 2008c).

As Kincheloe (2008b) wrote in his revised version of the book, Critical Pedagogy Primer, “Over the past few years I have written too many second editions to books that begin with words such as ‘When I first wrote this book in ____ I had no idea that it would be more germane to the political and educational world of ____ than it did when I wrote that first edition.’ Yet, here I am again, writing the preface to the second edition of the Critical Pedagogy Primer that could easily begin with the exact same preceding words” (p. vii). In other words, not only has nothing has changed, but the educational and political climate has deteriorated even more. It is noteworthy, as well, that in this book Kincheloe provides biographies of a number of leading critical pedagogues. He does not include his own biography. Why is that? (Bricoleurs always look for what is missing.)

Kincheloe’s (2008b, 2008c) version of “critical pedagogy/critical complex epistemology” is a broad leap to that something different and better. As can seen by the quotation, he is moving forward from critical pedagogy to critical complex epistemology/pedagogy (or an “evolving critical pedagogy” as he frames it). In his last book, he seems to leave options open if people want to continue to call it “critical pedagogy” but his more emphatic message is that critical pedagogy, or teaching in the traditional sense will have a smaller role in education of the future, and greater focus will be placed on understanding a critical complex epistemology so that researchers, teachers, and learners are able to produce their own empowering knowledge (Kincheloe 2008c). In his book, Critical Pedagogy Primer, he expresses the need to go above and beyond critical pedagogy, stating, “Although a critical pedagogy that teaches Western logic is inadequate, a critical pedagogy that teaches only how to discern the political inscriptions of texts and academic practices is also not enough. There is more to learn, more to be addressed, more to do” and he frames this “more” in terms of a “deep critical pedagogy” in which researchers learn to question their own assumptions, views of life, and notions of who they are (p. 173). Important to gaining multiple perspectives that can aid in accomplishing this feat, he reiterates throughout his work the incorporation of multiple ontologies and subjugated knowledges. Without this deeper approach to critical pedagogy—without an “evolving critical complex pedagogy”—the act of teaching is not likely fully aligned with teachers’ or researchers’ philosophical views or ways of “being” in the world, a hypocrisy that does not go unnoticed by the very individuals critical pedagogy ostensibly is meant to empower, the oppressed and subjugated peoples of the world. Critical pedagogues, just like the proponents of any ideology can construct their own version of status quo and oppress people. The safeguard to prevent this has been installed in Kincheloe’s deep critical pedagogy and further grounded with complexity theory and his critical constructivist unified world view.


Critical Psychology of Complexity

            While it is beyond the scope of this current research to fully describe Kincheloe’s critical psychology of complexity, a few key aspects will be summarized as they relate to his multidimensional critical complex bricolage. First, it will be pointed out that the critical psychology of complexity expands and presumably replaces/supplements the previous concept, “postformalism” as it also overhauls and rewrites many aspects of educational psychology. This is, of course a bold proposition and positions the critical psychology of complexity precariously in an educational and sociopolitical context. 

It does not go unnoticed that by moving away from a “post” word, in this case, postformalism, Kincheloe (2008b) is again disconnecting from the postmodernism association that so many people had tagged him with, perhaps partly as an attempt to circumvent this issue. Again, with the term “postformalism” (which was initially named in relation to Piaget’s formal stages of cognitive development) the issue of a ludic postmodernism raised its ugly head and Kincheloe (2008b) was keenly observant of the issue: “Our critical psychology of complexity and postformalism’s questioning of the benefits of reductionism and rationalism is often characterized as a ‘postmodern’ rejection of reason” (p. 171). In other words, in spite of the sound formulation of the psychology of complexity (which does not reject reason) it has been rejected or criticized based on its association with a ludic postmodernism that irrationally rejects reason. In no way has Kincheloe ever rejected rational thought.  In fact, in his Critical Pedagogy Primer (as well as elsewhere) he addresses this topic in relation to his conceptualization of a new domain of cognitive theory and practice; he clarifies:


we do not simply discard reason . . . . we do not throw out the baby of reason with the bathwater. . . . criticalists need not tie our horse to the hitching post of irrationality characterized by a nihilism and relativism that offer no hope for cognitive improvement or moral action. . . . we avoid these untenable extremes and search for alternate modes of rationality—in other words, new and higher forms of thinking that allow us to understand more so that we [c]an engage in empowered action for our individual and social good. (Kincheloe, 2007a, p. 174)


 Can he be clearer than this?

Thus, it is clear that that among some circles, the volatile battle that began during the Enlightenment rages on today and it is not helpful when people misunderstand Kincheloe’s work and align him with their own obscure and undefined postmodern standing, making the assumption that readers will just know what they mean. The battles seem ludicrous, unless one understands the powerful political and economic motives behind them.  Kincheloe (2008c) provides a deep and wide multidimensional analysis of why modernist social and behaviorist sciences still win out in spite of the damages. Kincheloe (2008b) summarizes a few of the issues: “efficiency at the expense of human well-being; environmental destruction; male-centeredness; a tendency to view humans as just like any other variable in an equation; the devaluation of feeling and emotion; and an overemphasis on dynamics that lend themselves to mathematical measurement and a de-emphasis on those profound human qualities that do not” (p. 171). He has thoroughly analyzed the dominant epistemology that assumes—or demands—that we all perceive the world the same.  Thus, today education continues to operate out of the idea that intelligence and learning is something that can be quantified and the focus remains on standardized learning and multiple choice tests to measure how well “learning” has taken place. He elaborates, “A critical psychology of complexity is aware of many different perspectives, the vantage points of diverse disciplines of knowledge (e.g., history, philosophy, sociology) and transdisciplinary ways of seeing such as cultural studies” (p. 173). Practicing his multidimensional critical complex bricolage for learning and research may be a powerful way to grow this awareness. As he asserts, “a critical psychology of complexity changed the debate about educational reform and the quest for a high-quality education with its understanding that not only is a cognitive ability expressed in diverse ways but that it is learnable” (Kincheloe, 2008b, p. 163) [author’s emphasis]. That diverse cognitive abilities are learnable is not only a hopeful indication of possibilities for the future, it is a great impetus, if we are truly interested in creating a more humane, equitable world to move forward with this work as rapidly as possible.


“Critical Constructivism”: A Unified Philosophical and Theoretical Grounding

The multidimensional critical complex bricolage is grounded in an advanced form of constructivism, critical constructivism, which holds the assumption that knowledge is socially constructed and incorporates multiple theories and perspectives (Kincheloe, 2005a). This philosophy, or worldview, as Kincheloe calls it, not only gets researchers out of their paradigmatic chains, it also transcends traditional teaching-learning paradigms that typically result in misapplying constructivism to ensure students have learned predetermined knowledge rather than truly constructing new knowledge. Critical constructivism synthesizes chaos, complexity, enactive, feminist, poststructural, and other theories for rigorous teaching, learning, and researching. This can aid in knowledge production that embraces the complex, interacting social, cultural, political, economic, and psychological dynamics of the particular environment within which learners and teachers are situated.

            Critical constructivism forms a “unified theory” that pertains to education, epistemology, cognition, and ontology (Kincheloe, 2005b). Thus, beyond being a theory or a philosophy, critical constructivism offers up a whole new worldview. As Kincheloe stated “In Critical Constructivism I argue for a unified theory where all of these dimensions fit together and are synergistic in their interrelationship. . . . critical constructivism becomes a weltanschauung, a worldview that creates meaning of human existence” (pp. 7–8) [author’s emphasis]. This is powerful and it results in greater impact on the multiple knowledge domains because when it is enacted through the critical bricolage, it leads to researchers considering more than simply the object of the research—it leads to a consideration of the very nature of human existence or “being.” Researchers thus remain mindful of their personal interrelationship to the various dimensions of the research object or phenomenon.

It is beyond the scope of this dissertation to describe in great depth this complex foundational worldview which Kincheloe had spent his entire career in education developing. I strongly encourage bricoleurs to read his book, Critical Constructivism, in which he details all of the points. He has presented this unified worldview in various contexts throughout all of his works, thus reading his work aids with understanding it. Engaging in bricolage research also promotes understanding of this worldview, and it becomes a natural perspective with practice.

Kincheloe presents a 12-point framework for his unifying worldview in his book, Critical Constructivism Primer. Because this worldview is new and has synthesized many theories that are essential to the application of the multidimensional critical complex bricolage, it is summarized in Table 1. Key Points of Kincheloe’s (2005b) Critical Constructivist Worldview and a brief discussion follows. This table was constructed, not to simplify a highly complex worldview, but rather to provide an advance organizer for the discussion that follows and for reading his book.

Table 1. Key Points of Kincheloe’s (2005b) Critical Constructivist Worldview









Ch. 1. From Constructivism to Critical Constructivism (pp.  1–40)



Point 1. Critical constructivism is grounded on the notion of constructivism. Constructivism asserts that nothing represents a neutral perspective – nothing exists before consciousness shapes it into something perceptible (p. 8).



Unified theories


Critical theory

A worldview


Introducing the Concept: What Are We Talking About?

Critical Hermeneutics



Point 2. Knowledge of the world is an interpretation produced by people who are a part of that world. Thus, understanding the nature of interpretation is a central feature of being an educated person (p. 17).



Bricolage/ multiple perspectives

Ethnography, Historicity, Social change, Dialectics, Semiotics


Critical Constructivism, Context and Complexity



Point 3. Interpretations cannot be separated from the interpreter’s location in the web of reality – one’s interpretive facility involves understanding how historical, social, cultural, economic, and political contexts construct our perspectives on the world, self and other (p. 24).



Complexity theory

Epistemology of complexity

Consciousness of Complexity



Constructing a Critical System of Meaning


Point 4. The “critical” in critical constructivism comes from critical theory and its concern with extending a human’s consciousness of herself as a social being – critical theory promotes self-reflection in relation to social power and its ability to align our self-perceptions and world views with the interests of power blocs (p. 33).



“Truth” is contingent

Liberation Theology


Ch. 2. Power & Knowledge Production; Critical Constructivist Pedagogical Purpose (pp. 4–80)



Point 5. The key elements of a rigorous education involve understanding how our consciousness is constructed, subjectivity shaped, and identity produced – here rests the theoretical key to critical constructivism: the role of power in these processes of self-production and, in turn, epistemology and knowledge production (p. 41).





Cognitive – Enactivism

Critical Ontology


Formulation of Educational Purpose


Point 6. In this context [as delineated above] critical constructivists begin to raise questions about these constructive processes and their relations to power and its influence on the pedagogical processes – informal cultural pedagogy and formal school pedagogy. Here questions of the purposes of schooling in a democratic society begin to emerge (p. 60).



Resists regulation


Knowledge Base is self-constructed









Table 1. Key Points of Kincheloe’s (2005b) Critical Constructivist Worldview (cont.)














Ch. 3. Epistemology, Ontology and Critical Constructivism’s Struggle Against Reductionism (pp.  81–118)


Point 7. Critical constructivism illustrates how Cartesian epistemology promotes the notion of the abstract individual – an independent agent free from the constructed influences of the social, political, cultural, economic, and historical dimensions of the world. The modernist European concept of self cannot withstand these insights. It is hard in this context to determine where the individual ends and the social begins (p. 81)


Awareness, Free from machine metaphors; Autopoiesis; Critical Ontology/Historiography;

Politics and Power;

Self-construct consciousness/New ways of being



Avoid Technicalization and Simplification


Point 8. Critical constructivists avoid reductionism and the naïve realism that accompanies it. Critical constructivist educators make sure that education does not serve as a force that indoctrinates and stupidifies rather than engages and enlightens (p. 102).


Overcome reductionism and fragmented curriculum


Ch. 4. Representing the World: Analyzing the Construction Zone (pp.  119–142)


Point 9. Critical constructivists assert that understanding the positioning of the researcher in the social web of reality is essential to the production of rigorous and textured knowledge. As long as researchers and consumers of knowledge do not understand where they themselves and other researchers stand in this social web, scholars will have a thin and distorted conception of the research process and the data it produces (p. 119).



Feminist theory

Poststructuralist Analysis

Exposure of Power (p. 121) to Construct Voice

We can remake ourselves (our consciousness)



The Construction Process: Discourse, Language, and Power


via the Power of Difference


Point 10. In the critical constructivist process of reconstructing the self, humans are ethically required to search in as many locations as possible for unique ideas, alternative discourses, new ways of thinking and being intelligent, and producing knowledge – the explosive power of difference (p. 124).


Discourse Analysis

Multiple generative narratives

Postcolonial discourses

The Middle Way/Enactivism

Wide applicability



Ch. 5. Blue Knowledge (pp.  143–170)

Discursive Analysis


Point 11. Critical constructivism works to expose elitist assumptions embedded in existing knowledge. Understanding that dominant power wielders have attempted to hegemonize individuals via the deployment of these knowledges in political, economic, social, cultural, epistemological and pedagogical structures, many will be uncomfortable with the exposé process..


Knowledge to change the world; Non-Western epistemologies

Knowledge is tentative, changing; Discourse and context central dimensions

(p. 143)


Social Theoretical Foundations



Point 12. Critical constructivists value subjugated knowledge. Utilizing the concept of the ‘blues idiom,’ we attempt to expand the concept of subjugated knowledge by drawing upon African American cultural knowledges. The result is a form of subjugated epistemology called blue knowledge (p. 161).


Includes previously excluded knowledge; Multilogical

Pattern-seeking midst chaos


The table highlights the extensive range of ideas Kincheloe was able to weave together into a strong, impenetrable foundation that grounds bricolage in order to come out of the process with new, sensible, powerful, love-based, actionable knowledge that honors everyone in a fair and just way. Because Kincheloe has successfully synthesized so many perspectives, it has been interesting to watch how that plays out among various scholars. We all see what we want to see. We all have our own personal blinders. Thus he has been labeled as a “postmodernist,” “constructivist,” “Marxist,” “mate,” “twin,” “genie in a lamp,” “WASP,” “the Dude,” among many other one dimensional titles.

I bring only a few of my own unique perspectives of Kincheloe to this dissertation, but the reality is that I view him as a complex, multidimensional person. This is brought up here because he has also been labeled in the literature as “constructivist,” and because he wrote the book “critical constructivism,” it is very easy for people to latch onto that label for him. Honestly, if there was a theorist to whom labels do not apply it was Kincheloe. It is time to honor him for what he was able to do—something I have not seen any other researcher or theorist do to the extent he has: He was able to take the good ideas from an incalculable number of perspectives, just as Einstein had suggested, in order to create the strongest theory possible. I lost track of how many times he said he never threw out the baby with the bathwater and the many ways he creatively altered that idiom. He took it seriously. So, yes, there are constructivist elements to his theory, but these constructivist elements, as I have learned in my research, also entwine with ideas from multiple philosophies, sciences, hermeticism, Taoism, indigenous worldviews, linguistics, feminism, and the list could go on and on! Similar to all of his very complex conceptualizations, he has his own “take” on “critical constructivism.”

Labeling is harmful—any kind of labeling that presents someone as one dimensional and unchanging. From my perspective, Kincheloe would have rejected any kind of boxed-in label for himself. That said, he knew people did label him and rather than take offense, I believe he probably found it to be a somewhat humorous side of human nature, even if he did find it frustrating and limiting of human potentialities and possibilities. If I communicate anything at all in this dissertation, I hope it is the brilliance of his theory and how he was able to weave tightly together so many different perspectives. We are all a part of his conceptualization; after completing this study it does seem that Kincheloe was “one” with everyone. It’s almost as if he had found Einstein’s theory of unity and developed a worldview and a research process to enact that theory. The resulting “fabric” of his worldview is airtight, theoretically and philosophically, and it forms a strong foundation for multidimensional critical complex bricolage research.

Thus, what follows is a brief discussion of the 12 Key Points of Kincheloe’s worldview. These points are interspersed throughout his book, Critical Constructivism Primer along with a thorough discussion of each. Additional discussions of some of these key points are interwoven within this study as they are applicable to the research.


Point 1: Critical constructivism is grounded on the notion of constructivism. Constructivism asserts that nothing represents a neutral perspective—nothing exists before consciousness shapes it into something perceptible. (Kincheloe, 2005, p. 8)


Kincheloe also refers to this conceptualization as a “constructivist epistemology” and “an epistemology of complexity” (p. 8).  Knowledge is not viewed as something outside the individual. The cosmos is socially constructed, as is stipulated by other constructivist theories and philosophies; however, a critical theoretical element has been added that acknowledges the role dominant power has in influencing that social construction. Critical constructivism has researchers seeking multiple perspectives, ontologies, and knowledges, as manifested in the research process of the evolving criticality of the bricolage. Everything requires interpretation and no one constructs reality exactly the same way, although one’s “positioning” in the world in terms of time and place has an impact on how reality comes to be interpreted. Thus, it is critical to position the researcher within the research and in relation to the research object. Social and educational research can no longer claim to be “objective” (although this worldview questions the claim to objectivity of any form of research). This moves complex research away from the positivistic methodologies in the social sciences, except for specific applications and applications that are supplemented with qualitative research. Criticality ensures that purpose always includes a consideration for social justice, liberation, and egalitarianism, and as Kincheloe always frames it, for the “alleviation of human suffering.”


Point 2. Knowledge of the world is an interpretation produced by people who are a part of that world. Thus, understanding the nature of interpretation is a central feature of being an educated person. (p. 17)


Because critical constructivism assumes and requires interpretation, critical hermeneutics, ethnography and self-ethnography, historicity, dialectics, deconstruction, and semiotics are processes that are typically used for this interpretation, both in an everyday sense as well as for academic and research purposes. These methods are discussed in greater detail and in context throughout this study, along with discussions of the multiple methodologies, philosophies and theories this form of bricolage encompasses.


Point 3. Interpretations cannot be separated from the interpreter’s location in the web of reality—one’s interpretive facility involves understanding how historical, social, cultural, economic, and political contexts construct our perspectives on the world, self and other. (p. 24)


When explaining this point, Kincheloe has often referred to the “web-like” interactions of these complex forces, as well as using the idea from the movie about the matrix. He also uses ecological concepts, such as strawberry plants as a metaphor for rhizomatic interrelationships between people and the complex forces that interact to construct perspectives about the world, or “reality.” He has pointed out often how linear, rationalistic, reductionistic tendencies of Western knowledge production fail to capture these multitudes of interrelationships, thus giving incomplete and inaccurate views of our world which results in consistently harming particular members of the global society. With critical constructivism and critical bricolage, the goal is to obtain as many perspectives as reasonable for the particular “object” under study in order to gain a deeper or more rigorous understanding by contextualization. The idea of memorizing facts and accepting at face value what is handed down as “knowledge” is no longer viable as the major method for learning or producing knowledge, unless we want to continue to reproduce people who have difficulty thinking and functioning within complex social settings and who are only good at rote learning and directed, robotic tasks. Critical constructivists are aware that knowledge has been produced for specific purposes, by specific individuals, and with various limitations, thus, they work to determine what is missing, misrepresented, or obfuscated as an important part of learning and researching. Kincheloe, who has often been falsely accused of throwing out positivistic forms of research entirely, has been very careful in counteracting that accusation. Here, he states, “Critical constructivism’s complex reconceptualization of research and the knowledge it produces does not mean that we simplistically reject all quantitative forms of empirical science. Many questions of the world and in education involve counting, figuring percentages, averages, means, modes and so on” (p. 26). However, it is often only one part of the picture, so as researchers we must take a step back to get a wider view.


Point 4. The “critical” in critical constructivism comes from critical theory and its concern with extending a human’s consciousness of herself as a social being—critical theory promotes self-reflection in relation to social power and its ability to align our self-perceptions and world views with the interests of power blocs. (p. 33)


Here, he draws on the Frankfurt School of thought that attempts to explore the relationship of consciousness and history, Einstein and his thought experiments that raise new types of questions, and Foucault’s notions of the interrelationships of power relations and history. Liberation theology has a central role in identifying unethical and oppressive conditions, and subjugated knowledges are imperative for providing additional perspectives and understanding. All of these views work together to help reveal dominant power and develop solutions for overcoming oppression. Kincheloe states, “On the basis of this knowledge, of their ‘dangerous memory,’ strategies for overcoming such oppression can be developed” (p. 37).


Point 5. The key elements of a rigorous education involve understanding how our consciousness is constructed, subjectivity shaped, and identity produced—here rests the theoretical key to critical constructivism: the role of power in these processes of self-production and, in turn, epistemology and knowledge production. (p. 41)


Here, critical constructivism eliminates the trap of Cartesian-Newtonian-Baconian thought that places truth in outside reality and removed from historical and social influences. Kincheloe lists the advantages of knowledge production via critical constructivism. The constructions:


provide a richer insight into a phenomenon; provide an interconnected and cohesive portrait of the phenomenon; grant access to new possibilities of meaning; benefit marginalized groups in their struggle for  empowerment; fit the phenomenon under question; account for many of the cultural and historical texts in which the phenomenon is found; consider previous constructions of the phenomenon in question; generate insight gained from the recognition of the dialectic of particularity and generalization of wholes and parts; indicate an awareness of the forces that have constructed it; make use of perspectives of multiple individuals coming from diverse social locations; and catalyze just, intelligent and worthwhile action. (pp. 43–45)


            In relation to Point 6, Kincheloe postulates that we cannot separate ontological knowledge from our experience. As he states, “A critical ontology insists that humans possess inalienable rights to knowledge and insight into knowledge production, to intellectual development, and to political agency in a democratic society” (p. 59). Thus, critical ontology has us seeking new ways of being in the world and in relationship with others that are mutually beneficial and symbiotic. The move is away from a technicist, rule-bound approach to one that is freely creative or as Kincheloe sometimes refers to this process, a “great escape.”


Point 6. In this context [as delineated above] critical constructivists begin to raise questions about these constructive processes and their relations to power and its influence on the pedagogical processes—informal cultural pedagogy and formal school pedagogy. Here questions of the purposes of schooling in a democratic society begin to emerge. (p. 60)


Kincheloe stresses here that it is not conspiracy theories that drive these questions about schooling, but rather the search is for the so-called “common sense” and often invisible ways power has become accepted as cultural norms and values. Educational psychology is examined for the way it measures, labels and classifies that results in the exclusion of certain groups of people through its forces of colonialization. As an example, he cites psychologists’ use of IQ scores as evidence of intelligence. These actions are used to “regulate,” according to Kincheloe, and he points out that teachers are not exempt from this regulation. With the current focus on standardized testing, there are more ways to measure teacher competency or accountability, thus forcing them into increasingly technocratic roles that subvert the use of critical thinking, creative problem solving, and quick decision making. Critical constructivist teachers identify these factors that serve to measure, regulate, and sort and they resist them so that they are able to provide a more rigorous and emancipatory curriculum.


Point 7. Critical constructivism illustrates how Cartesian epistemology promotes the notion of the abstract individual—an independent agent free from the constructed influences of the social, political, cultural, economic, and historical dimensions of the world. The modernist European concept of self cannot withstand these insights. It is hard in this context to determine where the individual ends and the social begins. (p. 81)


            Critical constructivists are very interested in learning how their notion of self has been constructed and discovering new ways of being. With this knowledge, we can actively reconstruct our own consciousnesses which, according to Kincheloe, “demands that we reinterpret our traditions and reinvent our futures together, in solidarity with other self-directed human agents” (p. 83). To accomplish this, we must refrain from viewing humans, human relationships, and the cosmos according to machine metaphors. Indigenous views, in which the entire cosmos and everything in it are sentient, and enactivism, as developed by Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana, provide insight into the connectivity and “cosmological significance” of everything (p. 85). Philip Wexler (2007) brings in wisdom knowledges as a counter to Cartesian ontology, repairing the separation of mind, body and spirit. Combined with autopoieses, “the self-organizing or making of life,” people have much more power to change themselves, even to their own evolution, than was previously believed (p. 86).


Point 8. Critical constructivists avoid reductionism and the naïve realism that accompanies it. Critical constructivist educators make sure that education does not serve as a force that indoctrinates and stupidifies rather than engages and enlightens (p. 102).


As Kincheloe points out, mediocre teaching and learning weakens democratic ways of being by undermining social order. This can happen in a multitude of ways that keep thinking at the lower range of cognition. Knowledge production becomes replaced with a rote process of simply following linear procedures without thinking at all, while critical constructivists are seeking to produce knowledge with critical thought, insight, analysis, intuition, and brilliance (p. 102).


Point 9. Critical constructivists assert that understanding the positioning of the researcher in the social web of reality is essential to the production of rigorous and textured knowledge. As long as researchers and consumers of knowledge do not understand where they themselves and other researchers stand in this social web, scholars will have a thin and distorted conception of the research process and the data it produces. (p. 119)


Here, Kincheloe stresses the importance of understanding how power works at both the “macro (deep structural) and the micro (particularistic) levels” to construct our consciousnesses and our understanding of our positions in society (p. 119). Foucault’s discursive techniques by which we can identify power and our roles in supporting power structures are helpful.

The process of analyzing researcher positionalities reveals points of intersection as well as ways to reformulate what has been taken for granted in relation to systems of control and dominance. Kincheloe emphasizes that this is necessary in order to escape our complicity in which “we harm our most vulnerable citizens, destroy the environment and undermine the quality of life around the world” (p. 121).


Point 10. In the critical constructivist process of reconstructing the self, humans are ethically required to search in as many locations as possible for unique ideas, alternative discourses, new ways of thinking and being intelligent, and producing knowledge—the explosive power of difference. (p. 124)


According to this point, critical constructivists view difference as a “kinetic” force; seeking differences transforms us and ultimately, changes the world. Bateson (2002) explicates this process for nonmaterial systems and the necessity of understanding relationships between, for example, ideas (p. 89). Critical constructivists are interested in using the power of difference for breaking “the lenses of present ways of viewing the world” because of the “heartbreak and suffering” that has resulted from them (p. 141). Critical constructivists, thus, move away from “regressive forms of reductionism” to create quality knowledge that draws on the understandings and epistemologies of marginalized groups (p. 142).


Point 11. Critical constructivism works to expose elitist assumptions embedded in existing knowledge. Understanding that dominant power wielders have attempted to hegemonize individuals via the deployment of these knowledges in political, economic, social, cultural, epistemological and pedagogical structures, many will be uncomfortable with the exposé process. (p. 143)


Those of us who, like Kincheloe, came from “low-status backgrounds” understand deeply how elitist assumptions cause harm. In my experience they often show up as unveiled rules for us (none for them). I refer to them as unveiled, because they are hidden, and then unveiled when the elite want to enforce them. I have been “blindsided” many times. There is the issue of how intelligence is defined and curricula are developed that do not recognize marginalized experiences and subjugated knowledge, Kincheloe points out. Thus, again, critical constructivists bring to the table diverse knowledges that have been previously excluded, which can result in transformation, seeing the world anew, and a multilogical consciousness. According to Kincheloe, “embracing these types of diversities does not undermine artistic or musical quality—it profoundly enhances excellence in these domains” (p. 56).


Point 12. Critical constructivists value subjugated knowledge. Utilizing the concept of the ‘blues idiom,’ we attempt to expand the concept of subjugated knowledge by drawing upon African American cultural knowledges. The result is a form of subjugated epistemology called blue knowledge (p. 161). (Kincheloe, 2005a)


Here, Kincheloe presents his conceptualization of “blue knowledge or blue epistemology” which is based on the blues aesthetic. This relates to the ability to address the suffering in the world, to acknowledge it, to know changes must be made, and at the same time, still be able to celebrate being alive. As Kincheloe states here, “In the midst of this pain, the blues insist, we can celebrate, have a good time, and even get down. That impassioned spirit has appealed to me and shaped my life since I first comprehended it” (p. 161). Blues knowledge induces critical constructivists to produce solutions and take actions that are smarter and more just in the world (p. 169).

            This summarizes some key features of the theoretical and philosophical grounding of Kincheloe’s multidimensional critical complex bricolage. I encourage new bricoleurs to study Kincheloe’s book, Critical Constructivism Primer and his other works to gain a sense of the philosophical grounding of his critical bricolage, as well as to take time to conduct other philosophical research as he recommends. This extra step up front, as well as continuing this philosophical research throughout, will help form a strong philosophical and theoretical foundation for employing the multidimensional critical complex bricolage research process and will contribute to the rigorous knowledge production Kincheloe is asking of bricoleurs.


Review of Kincheloe’s Work: Movin’ on Up


            Kincheloe was a prolific writer whose work requires intertextual analysis in order to cull what is most pertinent to the development of his conceptualization of the bricolage. In fact, one could argue, to gain a complete understanding of his process one needs to perform a multidimensional critical complex bricolage of his works, which is what this current study has, in fact, already initiated. It is clear, however, that even from his earliest writings he was on a mission to convey to people how important it is to hear all voices, to analyze the true complexity of educational issues and disagreements, and to synthesize through discourse and analysis all of the salient points in order to develop solutions which would resolve the issues, alleviate the disagreements and suffering, and provide for a rigorous and meaningful education for everyone. He may not have called it bricolage research in his earliest writings, but it is clear he used the process for his own research and that he continued to develop and refine it toward his advanced conceptualization during his more than forty years in education. He spent countless hours formulating his philosophy and theory in a way that other researchers might understand it and then be empowered to apply it. His purpose was to move past the mere identification of obvious problems and rhetoric, and instead move toward seeking the hidden dimensions of those problems in order to become empowered for taking the right kinds of actions that would solve them and lead to enacting other possibilities for improving education and the rest of our world (2008a, 2008b, 2008c).

As an early example, in his first booklet, published in 1983, Understanding the New Right and Its Impact on Education, he had analyzed the Kanawha County Textbook Controversy which took place between the Left and the New Right, and which had resulted in a bus bombing in 1974. He had argued for administrators and teachers to take time to understand the complexities of both sides of the issue. As he had concluded, “When the complexity of the problem is widely understood, we can see the folly of simplistic, black-and-white answers. With extreme positions exposed, rational and productive interchange of ideas become possible” (p. 40). Kincheloe held firm to this position his entire career, always advocating for all voices to be heard, stressing the importance of viewing issues from multiple perspectives, and believing that by doing so, even the most complex problems can be solved amicably.  In an article written after Kincheloe’s passing in 2008, Tobin (2010) told of an account of a conversation he had with Kincheloe regarding the “incommensurability/commensurability issue” (p. 406). He asked Kincheloe whether in the case in which a particular theory might produce interesting questions to pursue, even if the theory itself were not viewed as “truth” per se, might be a “fruitful way to proceed—not with the idea that the theory is truth, but that for these situations it seems viable” (p. 406). This is exactly the process that Kincheloe had routinely used with some of the concepts associated with postmodernism that has resulted in his work being misunderstood by some of his colleagues, and yet he wrote back to Tobin confirming that it was “the very basis of bricolage.” Kincheloe continued:


the concept of multilogicality i’ve been working with is about this dichotomy. i argue ad nauseum that even in theoretical discourses that might find direct contradictions between them, there is much to be learned from good ideas wherever they emerge. for example, i know that there are dimensions of interpretivism and criticality that some argue are in conflict. yet, the idea of not learning from interpretivist research methods and embedded theories to me is absurd. (p. 406)


            In 2001, Kincheloe published his first formal article conceptualizing his bricolage research approach, “Describing the Bricolage: Conceptualizing a New Rigor in Qualitative Research,” which he presented at the National Educational Research Association. In this article he contended that “no concept better captures the possibility of the future of qualitative research” than the research bricolage (p. 679). His stated purpose was to push the bricolage to “the next conceptual level.” His intent was to transcend viewing bricolage as a research methodology in which researchers select from a menu of options. Thus, his research approach incorporates as many perspectives, methods, theories as practical and as needed. He described his expansive approach stating, “Yvonna Lincoln (2001) delineates two types of bricoleurs: those who are committed to research eclectism, allowing circumstance to shape methods employed; and the genealogy/archeology of the disciplines with some grander purpose in mind. My purpose entails both of Lincoln’s articulations of the role of the bricoleur” (p. 53).

            By genealogy, Kincheloe (2004) is referring to the process of studying and understanding how discipline knowledges have been constructed—their “knowledge bases, epistemologies, and knowledge production methodologies” in a historical, Foucauldian sense. In this way, the understanding can be used to dialectically study the disciplines researchers draw from (p. 53). A Foucauldian approach aids in understanding the ideologies of the disciplines and how knowledge is used to support power structures that maintain hierarchies and the status quo. In relation to Foucault’s (1984) concept of genealogy, Kamberelis and Dimitriadis (2008) explain, “genealogies are not histories of causes but rather histories of effects, and their value lies not so much in what they tell us about the past as in what they enable us to do” (p. 377).

In his 2001 article, Kincheloe provides a definition of bricolage. Because he has included hermeneutics, which is different from all other definitions encountered so far in the course of this research, and because he repeatedly discusses the importance of hermeneutics for interpretation, the assumption is that this is a critically important aspect of his definition of bricolage (and that it needs to be hermeneutically interpreted). Analysis of this definition requires intertextual analyses of the definitions Kincheloe has presented in several other articles and texts and considered in a historical context. This has been taken up in the study and is covered in Chapter 4. Thus, here he defines bricoleur:


The French word, bricoleur, describes a handyman or handywoman who makes use of the tools available to complete a task. Some connotations of the term involve trickery and cunning and remind me of the chicanery of Hermes, in particular his ambiguity concerning the messages of the gods. If hermeneutics came to connote the ambiguity and slipperiness of textual meaning, then bricolage can also imply the fictive and imaginative elements of the presentation of all formal research. (p. 680)


Kincheloe (2001a) explains that all research is “jerryrigged” to a degree and is subjective even though researchers may make the claim of being unbiased. We all hold particular perspectives and viewpoints that shape what we write. Writing texts are an attempt to describe the world from within the world, as he describes it, and we are just too close and enmeshed to see it from an outside, objective position. We are not politically neutral and we all have particular positions, subjectivities within a complex web of interrelationships that we attempt to understand (Gall, Gall & Borg, 2003; Kincheloe, 2008c; Kirby, 2011). The concept, “fiction formulas” is one that Kincheloe has taken up in another work which may provide insight as to what he’s expressing here. In this particular article, “Fiction Formulas: Critical Constructivism and the Representation of Reality,” Kincheloe (1997) notes, “Constructivism has implied that nothing represents a ‘neutral’ perspective, in the process shaking the epistemological foundations of modernist grand narratives. Indeed, no truly objective way of seeing exists. Nothing exists before consciousness shapes it into something we can perceive” (p. 57). In his later work, he expounds on this idea by incorporating explanations of chaos, complexity, and enactive theories from the sciences, which is taken up later in this study.

Kincheloe (2001b) emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinarity, and justifies its use for research. Additionally, he highlights the need to synthesize social theory, epistemology, and interpretive methods when using multiple methods and perspectives. Thus, his concept involves using multiple methods and seeking many perspectives from both inside and outside the domain within which the object or phenomenon under study falls. This compensates for the limitations of scientific, positivist methods imposed on complex social issues or of any single methodology and it avoids reductionism.

Kincheloe’s work, once one gains familiarity with his writing style, is clearly multidimensional, meaning that it can be interpreted on many levels and can be applied in many contexts. A question a bricoleur might pose at this point is whether using his research bricolage is what might construct the form of multidimensional and highly dense work he has written, and if so, how is this accomplished?

Another prominent quality found in his work is a seemingly esotericism that is sometimes simply peppered here and there with particular statements and other times elaborated upon in greater detail. Often these texts have multiple interpretations, including surface-level ones, so that the esotericism may not register consciously, especially for people not attuned to it. He also interweaves complex science explanations so it would again take a deep analysis to fully understand this dimension of his work. In relation to this, his work is highly prescient, and as discussed previously, ahead of the times, as if he speaks to us from the future.

These aspects are mentioned because it is clear that the section in this 2001 article about the bricolage, titled, “The Great Implosion: Dealing With the Debris of Disciplinarity” can be interpreted both in terms of the research act today and also in terms of this research needed at some future date during a time in which “a postapocalyptic social, cultural, psychological, and educational science where certainty and stability have long parted for parts unknown” (p. 681). Is he speaking in terms of the fragmented nature of the disciplines, the “postmodern condition,” the lost cultures and their knowledges, or in terms of some future apocalypse after which all of the pieces will need to be picked up and put back together? He is most likely speaking in terms of all of those things and more. This is the nature of his writing throughout much of his work, which makes his work too dense for some readers and a true treasure for others.

In this particular article, he goes on to say that researchers must “pick up the pieces” and put “them together as best they can” (p, 681). He is referring to the state of research, of course, but at the same time he is likely also referring to his observation that


the old order is now at the beginning of its end. This may not seem like the case as the U.S. wallows in its neo-conservative fundamentalist haze, but we all understand the cliché about the darkest hour. Rethinking the way we produce knowledge and understanding the process by which such informational distortion deforms our perception of self and world may be the practical ways to hasten the crack of that new dawn. (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 22)


            Another important element to his 2001 presentation of bricolage is the necessity to incorporate “new ontological insights,” which potentially pushes the conceptualization ever further toward the esoteric since it allows the researcher to escape the idea that there is one true reality. As one reads more of Kincheloe’s work, the esotericism becomes clear and provides another important interpretation. For now, the interpretation will focus on the education and research dimension, but this was brought out because it appears that some researchers take issue with the esotericism. But then, if he is speaking from the future, maybe it just seems to be esoteric to “earthlings” as he often refers to us in his last book. Maybe if we understood the science better, it would not seem so esoteric.

            In his review of Kincheloe’s (2001b) first conceptualization of the bricolage, McLaren (2001) described Kincheloe’s conceptualization of bricolage as an “heuristic device to deepen and expand qualitative research in the field of education” (p. 700). However, he stressed the importance of realizing that seeking multiple perspectives does not mean they are all valued equally, which seems obvious but perhaps necessary for those researchers who identify themselves with certain flavors of postmodernism. On the esoteric level, McLaren advised, “the critical bricoleur needs to be cautious as she negotiates her postmodern turn into the mine-infested waters of interdisciplinarity in that oftentimes the material world can slip out of view.” A naïve new bricoleur might ask, is that such a bad thing? And why so? He also reminded Kincheloe of the importance of keeping the power structure of economics, capitalism, in view when using hermeneutics for interpretation, which is a good reminder for new bricoleurs (p. 701). And finally, directly addressing the esoteric content, McLaren concluded his review of Kincheloe’s concept of bricolage by stating, “The revolutionary praxis of the critical bricoleur entails freeing ourselves from the prison house of esoteric theories detached from forms of class struggle. It is this insight that must be recaptured if critical research is to be regenerated” (p. 705).  Of course, Kincheloe’s conceptualization of the research bricolage fully addresses all of these concerns; whereas, the same cannot be stated for the current applications of bricolage.

            As Kincheloe (2001b) points out, bricolage research is already being done, but he has conceptualized a more rigorous form of it through a dialectical view of disciplinarity. He views disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity as synergistic, not as an either/or proposition. This approach requires researchers to become familiar with the historical contexts of the disciplines they draw from for their research, which is potentially a daunting, but not impossible task, depending upon the nature of the research. He recommends the study of the following aspects of the disciplines we are working with: the social construction of its knowledge bases; epistemologies; knowledge production methodologies; historical origins; emergence of schools of thought; conflicts; and paradigmatic changes (pp. 683–684). Using his critical complex theory, researchers also study etymology, knowledge structure, and power relations in order to identify how they cause oppression. Again, Foucault’s work is helpful for informing this type of research.

            In his quest for new ways of producing knowledge through a variety of dimensions, using methods such as ethnography, textual analysis, semiotics, hermeneutics, phenomenology, dialectics, deconstruction, poststructuralist analysis, foucauldian analysis, historicity, Pinarian currere, historiography, genre studies, psychoanalysis, discourse analysis, and content analysis, Kincheloe (2001b) incorporates philosophical and consciousness research along with other forms of analysis, such as aesthetics and literary criticism, to provide researchers multiple views of understanding of the world and themselves (p. 688). He refers to this as “dangerous knowledge” because it brings into consideration “diverse epistemological, ontological, and cosmological assumptions as well as different methods of inquiry. Again, depending on the context of the object of inquiry, bricoleurs use their knowledge of these dynamics to shape their research design” according to Kincheloe (p. 688).

            Following these practices takes the research beyond one dimensional, linear forms of research and frees the researcher to identify the numerous and amazing connections that would otherwise be missed. This form of research brings forth greater insight and understanding of the nature of relevant and dynamic interrelationships. Kincheloe warns against expecting or trying to construct step-by-step procedures for using this research process. It is simply too complex. It is important to document as accurately as possible one’s process in order to aid future researchers in their quest for developing greater proficiency, but as I have discovered, even that is very difficult due to the complexity of the process.

            Lincoln (2001) and Pinar (2001) also reviewed Kincheloe’s (2001) article. Lincoln expressed a sense of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the project, stating, “This article was so rich and full of ideas that it is difficult to sort them all out” (p. 693). Indeed, his bricolage is expansive, but it is not an exercise in futility. Kincheloe’s ultimate dream is to teach research skills even to children so that by the time they reach college, students already have knowledge of research methods and processes. As he expressed, even elementary school learners can produce knowledge (2008c). Still, it is not impossible for a motivated individual to tackle all of the tasks he has lined out in relation to a specific research topic. His recommendation to all of his doctoral students was to begin with researching and writing about philosophy as a background to their research so that their study would be deeply philosophically grounded. This study demonstrates that what he was asking is possible to do, even though I am a novice when it comes to research. He would not have wished for our lack of experience to dissuade us from delving into this form of research.

            In her review, Lincoln (2001) focused on the highlights of Kincheloe’s conceptualization, again mentioning the vastness of it, “First, we are talking about an expansion in the definition of bricolage of undreamt-of proportion” (p. 693). She contrasted Levi-Strauss’s original idea of the bricoleur using tools at hand as they engaged in fieldwork forms of research. Kincheloe’s bricoleur, she contends, “is far more skilled than merely a handyman,” and due to the necessary collaboration between interdisciplinary boundary workers, it is “a long way off” (p. 694). She also cites the work of feminists and race-ethnic theorists as being examples of the type of boundary work needed. She expressed her reservations about being able to train graduate students in Foulcaldian analyses and she pondered how one knows when a project is complete. As a passionate learner with her heart set on becoming a multidimensional critical complex bricoleur, I am deeply saddened by this perspective. Most learners will, indeed, only jump the bar that is established no matter how low it is set. Like Kincheloe had been, I was disappointed in school from the time I entered first grade (I skipped kindergarten). From the boring way they taught, to the demotion from 64 crayons to only 8, the bars have always been too low. I am with Kincheloe: the multidimensional critical complex bricolage can be taught in elementary school. His dream is my dream (thus, not at all “undreamt”).

            Pinar’s (2001) review of Kincheloe’s (2001b) article was more hopeful. He discussed the risk of using an approach that can be criticized both for its interdisciplinarity and the tendency toward improvisation, but ended on a positive note. He concluded his critique by stating:


In a field whose academic standing remains fragile at best, to claim identities such as the bricoleur or the amateur is to invite criticism if not ridicule from our more disciplinary-wed, “hard”-discipline colleagues, not to mention right-wing politicians and other education-as-business advocates. But this is a risk, as Kincheloe knows, we must take. (p. 699)



Conclusion: Multidimensional Critical Complex Bricolage “Treasures”


            A brief introduction to bricolage and Kincheloe’s (2005a) multidimensional critical complex bricolage has been provided. As discussed, the bricolage need not begin with a single point of entry text, for example as demonstrated by Fedory (2008) in which he used a set of educational standards, although it can. It can also begin with a “channeled” message, if one wishes. Every bricolage research project and mission is different. But if a study is completed rigorously, discoveries—“treasures” as Joe called them—as well as more questions become revealed during the process of bricolage and contribute to innovative knowledge. As this study shows in Chapter 4, the treasures can often be surprising, amazing, and even “magical” and, just as Kincheloe (2008b) has contended, they can provide us with views into new dimensions that can change our lives and history (p. 140).

Again, the purpose of this research is to delineate Kincheloe’s multidimensional critical complex bricolage from current bricolage research. What views and perspectives provide a better understanding of his work? What metaphors might represent more accurately the complexity of this advanced form of bricolage? How can his conceptualization inform the other employments of bricolage and vice versa? In companion with that purpose is the wish to demonstrate how one researcher, a novice, might approach this complex form of research. Thus, if his conceptualization is shown to be solidly philosophically grounded as it is believed to be; and if it can be divorced from indefinable concepts such as “postmodernism”; and if it can be elevated above traditional forms of critical pedagogy that do not embrace the level of complexity he has incorporated in his theoretical work; and if it can move away from oversimplified metaphors such as “quilt making” which it is believed it can be; and if new knowledge is produced, particularly knowledge that might contribute in even some small way toward change in education, then it will offer other researchers a potentially powerful option so that they also can construct new epistemologies and knowledges. Working together to empower ourselves and improve education does have the potential to change the world, just as Joe had contended (Kincheloe, 2004a, 2004b, 2004c, 2004d, 2005a, 2008c).


Paradis, V. J. (2013). Did Joe Lyons Kincheloe Discover the Golden Chalice for Knowledge Production? The Application of Critical Complex Epistemology and the Multidimensional Critical Complex Bricolage. (Doctoral Dissertation)




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“As a child I wanted so desperately for magic to be real. I would work for hours collecting what I hoped were just the right combination of ingredients to make some type of magic potion that would provide me with special powers….I found such magic in words viewed in a postformal matrix and I observe and practice that magic everyday.” (Kincheloe, 2006, Reading, Writing, Thinking, p. 13)
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