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

Critical Complex Epistemology

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Critical complex epistemology requires a hermeneutic (interpretive) approach to looking at knowledge and what we think we know. It's important to set aside our immediate thoughts as to what we think something means, even when it comes to a definition of a single word, no matter how straight-forward we think the definition is. We look beyond the surface and ask questions such as: What are other meanings? Who produced this information? What did they leave out and why? What is their motivation for choosing this particular meaning or interpretation? What are their assumptions? What other organizations and people are they connected with? Does their stated purpose match the results of their actions?

Thus, we take both an evolving critical and complex approach to understanding knowledge. Evolving, because knowledge producers' motives are constantly changing, thus they may change how they define something (as some examples below illustrate); critical because we are concerned with leveling the playing field, alleviating suffering; complex because we are interested in identifying the multidimensional nature of the knowledge we're analyzing and for ways to take viable actions in support of those who are being oppressed. While Kincheloe discusses these complex ideas throughout his work, he has provided the following definitions that may be helpful:

Epistemology. Constitutes the branch of philosophy that analyzes the nature of knowledge and what we believe to be true. Epistemology asks how do we analyze knowledge? How do we know it’s true? How do we produce knowledge and what is the status of that knowledge in the world? In other words, how do various individuals react to the knowledge we produce? An educational epistemological question that emerges in this context involves what do we consider valid and important knowledge and which parts of it should become part of the curriculum? How do we figure out what to teach [or learn] and is the knowledge we choose of any worth? (Kincheloe, 2008c, pp. 15–16)

“Critical” and “Complex” as in Critical Complex Pedagogy/Epistemology/Bricolage. Note: When Kincheloe attaches the designator, “critical” in front of terms, this represents the incorporation of his own unique and more rigorous version of evolving critical theory, which he describes in his work and is summarized in Chapter 2 Literature Review [see my dissertation in sidebar]. It is, of course, associated with the identification of dominant power and finding solutions to alleviate oppression and suffering. The word “complex” denotes the engagement with complexity theory. (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 247)



In brief, critical complex epistemology provides us a means for taking back our power. Those who currently hold the cards for defining words, concepts, and knowledge itself use this power against us, redefining words on a whim to fit their agendas. A recent example is the ludicrous act by in October, 2013, to literally redefine “handmade” as manufacturing (although they don’t use the term, “manufacturing,” of course). The company originally began as a place for handcrafters to connect with each other and sell their creative products to upscale markets that have an appreciation for the skill, effort, and time that goes into creating their wares. However, the greed for profit has taken over common sense at the upper echelons of Etsy. In their own words, “we choose to define handmade as a set of values.”

Obviously, those “values” include sweat shop labor since they now allow cheap manufactured goods from foreign countries, much to the distress of the real crafters and artisans who cannot possibly compete with this market in today’s economy. They have redefined “handmade” to include mass-produced charms, for example, that someone strings a ribbon through to “create” a necklace. But Etsy’s profits can now increase due to more sales and a more global market, so it’s all good from their perspective. I closed my shop and when the “Etsy Integrity Team” (another smokescreen) asked me when I would reopen, I told them, “as soon as I finish my book about all of the ways Etsy’s scamming people, lol.” I really had hoped I could have made a few dollars, but when they made their change views of my shop dropped to a mere 10% of what they had been previously and I was making no sales whatsoever. Now I am going to have to once again, change strategies for what has been transformed to my “one-person sweat shop” due to the inability of competing with the low prices of goods from foreign countries such as China, Taiwan, and Korea. I also discovered there are other tactics Etsy is using that increase their sales, but harms sales for the "mom and pops" in the U.S.--thus, another crushed "American Dream" (Reference:



Critical complex epistemology helps us become aware of exactly how corporations and government redefine things for us. If we get good at the processes of figuring these things out AHEAD OF TIME, we will less likely be taken for a ride that strips us of our money and snuffs out our dreams. I have many examples from my life in which I’ve been taken for a ride or blindsided. It’s the primary reason I have stayed poor my entire life; the amount of money which I feel has been literally stolen out of my hands due to lies and deception would be enough to retire comfortably with. Instead, I find myself totally destitute and my only comfort is God and the promise that the earth belongs to the meek.

 Another example I’ve run into recently in my everyday life is how manufacturers of manufactured homes have renamed fiberboard siding to be “T1-11 HARDWOOD siding” (just because it’s made out of wood flakes, apparently; however, it’s technically incorrect). The state of Oregon capitulated with this lie by allowing the seller of a home I had purchased to list the siding as wood for both the tax assessment ($$$) documentation and for the required “legal” description of the home. Needless to say, when the siding suddenly began to deteriorate rapidly before my very eyes because it was so deficiently made and literally melts when water touches it, I was not happy. I knew then the home was junk and I needed to get out from under it. On the other hand, knowing how they had deceived me allowed me to walk away from the mess and they really had no legal recourse for holding me responsible because the lie had been uncovered in my conversations with the tax assessor and several other bureaucrats and was on file. Still, I lost the money I had invested in it and it would require more legal fees and headaches than it’s worth to go after it. And you think they don’t know this? The corporate moguls always come out ahead one way or another. This has got to change.

Because so many corporations, politicians, and other people in power use this form of deception by which they redefine words knowing full well that the public will believe something different than truth, critical complex epistemology, by which we analyze and research deeply before we get taken for a ride, is absolutely crucial. We must remember, as well, that corporations and these same people in power rule over public education and at the very same time they are redefining things to meet their insatiable goals for profit and power, they are educating the public to accept “one true meaning” of vocabulary so that we don’t learn to think more expansively. It’s a way to keep our minds in a small box.  I reviewed a 2013 college “Advanced Vocabulary” book and was quite stunned to see the limited, mind-molding vocabulary they were presenting, along with one dimensional definitions and no instruction of other possibilities for meaning or etymology (the origin of the words). This is why Kincheloe stresses interpretation. We must learn to interpret from the perspective of those who are producing the knowledge and defining things for us. We must go beyond the curriculum. And then we need to take back our power and redefine things to suit a greater purpose than greed and profit.

There are very few honest and ethical corporations acting with integrity these days, although they are good at painting the picture that they do in a multitude of ways. They have many tricks which become revealed if you dig deep enough. And corporations are deeply embedded in the public education process. Critical complex epistemology is the pedagogy for the new education that can help redefine what constitutes knowledge and for what purposes we produce new knowledge.

Joe describes critical complex epistemology in his book, Knowledge and Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction. He also provides many contexts for how it can be applied. Below are additional examples. It’s best understood through examples and practicing interpretive skills.


The following article by Joe Kincheloe provides guidance for developing a “critical complex epistemology” to apply not only for teaching, but for our everyday lives. While he has contextualized this for teachers there are two things to consider here: One is that we are all teachers in some aspect of our lives and the other is that the critical complex epistemology can be applied to all areas of our lives, far beyond how we typically conceive of education. Indeed, our entire life process is a learning experience, and the skills he outlines in this paper are widely applicable both in education in general as well as for creating a better life.

Kincheloe, Joe L. (2004). The Knowledges of Teacher Education: Developing a Critical Complex Epistemology, Teacher Education Quarterly, v31n1 p49-66 Win 2004;


The complexity of the pedagogical process and the intricacies of a rigorous teacher education are central concerns of this article. What is a critical complex teacher education? What types of knowledges should professional educators possess? The author states that, in a climate as hostile as the first decade of the twenty-first century, the ability of teacher educators to articulate a case for particular knowledges is not merely important, it may be a survival skill. In its devaluation, pedagogy has been rendered invisible in many higher educational settings. Teacher educators, teachers, and teacher education students must not only understand the complexity of good teaching, but stand ready to make this known to political leaders and the general population. The vision on which this article is grounded involves the empowerment of teachers in an era where teacher professionalism is under assault. The author describes a meta-epistemological construction of the types of knowledges required in a critical complex teacher education. This educational knowledge base involves the recognition of different types of knowledges of education, including but not limited to, empirical, experiential, normative, critical, ontological, and reflective-synthetic domains.

Joe discusses critical complex epistemology throughout his work. He covers it extensively in his social studies book, Getting Beyond the Facts (2001) and his most advanced presentation is covered throughout his last book, Knowledge and Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction (2008).


The paper below presents an example of applying critical complex epistemology to uncover hidden forms of social/cultural stratification and discrimination. Discussed, is how the Irish peoples have been denigrated and kept poor by the British for centuries and how epistemological power is used by the royal elite to propagate their "fiction formulas" through mass media and to capitalize on culture in ways to continue that denigration to this date. The analysis demonstrates how the study of history, etymology, and a variety of perspectives can help us look behind the curtains -- to get beyond the sanctioned stories we've bought into over the years. Again, we are all part of maintaining this status quo, including hidden forms of discrimination, and most of us are really not aware of the extensiveness to which our consciousnesses have been molded surrounding these issues. Even in heated discussions, many people who claim Irish blood will argue that this is no big deal. Deeper analysis, however, will reveal it's a much bigger deal than even presented in this paper. I hope to present a Part Two of this perspective in the future that shows how much a bigger deal it is than even many Irish believe and how it harms many ethnic groups, not just one. There is much more. 

In the meantime, this is a different perspective and I have chosen to highlight Joe as the great Master Teacher and master of discourse that he was and still is thus, transcending some of the labels his "scholarly" friends have attached to him.

Remembering Joe Lyons Kincheloe: A Revered Master (Paradis, 2011)

Big Deal-Catch Up 
“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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