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The Power of the Bricolage for Constructing a Critical Science of Complexity

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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)


The Power of the Multidimensional Critical Complex Bricolage for

Consciousness Research and Constructing a “Critical Science of Complexity”


Thus, the bricolage is offered as a practical way to construct a critical science of complexity. (Kincheloe, 2004a, p. x)


            What constitutes empirical research is a complex topic and one that should be studied and redefined using the bricolage and multiple epistemologies. The application of empiricism has shifted over the years and as stated previously, many people have misunderstood Kincheloe’s views of empirical science. Of course there is much to learn from using scientific approaches, but what constitutes a scientific approach and for what purposes needs to be reconsidered, particularly by Westerners. What Kincheloe (2008c) was railing against is the FIDURODian version of positivistic approaches, a very complex topic that needs to be contextualized, which he did superbly in his last book, Knowledge and Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction. That said, there are many forms of empiricism, and this brief excerpt from Wikipedia’s (2012) “Empirical Research” entry perhaps clarifies some of the tasks ahead and why empiricism is not thrown out of the multidimensional critical complex bricolage:


The term empirical was originally used to refer to certain ancient Greek practitioners of medicine who rejected adherence to the dogmatic doctrines of the day, preferring instead to rely on the observation of phenomena as perceived in experience. Later empiricism referred to a theory of knowledge in philosophy which adheres to the principle that knowledge arises from experience and evidence gathered specifically using the senses. In scientific use the term empirical refers to the gathering of data using only evidence that is observable by the senses or in some cases using calibrated scientific instruments. What early philosophers described as empiricist and empirical research have in common is the dependence on observable data to formulate and test theories and come to conclusions. (“Terminology”)


In relation to empiricism, and assessing in hindsight since I just came across this information, this study has gone beyond using the sound empirical phenomenological process proposed by Patrik Aspers (2009). Aspers’ approach is based on a synthesis of the works of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and sociologist, Alfred Schülz, and other leaders in phenomenological research. It is a first-order research process that is grounded in the meanings the participants attach to their experiences, just as Kincheloe calls for with his theory, and then it relates their meanings to second-order constructions of scientists, an objective that was accomplished throughout this study. This study went beyond by also relating the meanings to different perspectives from many different domains and worldviews as Kincheloe has specified throughout his work. The study has incorporated more dimensions of analyses than Amadeo Giorgi’s method Bloomstein (2000) had used for understanding lived experiences of twin souls/flames. And instead of collecting data from other people using interview techniques, I collected my own personal phenomenological data, thus, this research is grounded in my own, often tentative interpretations. They were tentative due to my lack of knowledge about such experiences going into this research. This process is deemed more accurate than collecting data from participants using interviews because the data was captured immediately during and after the experiences, thus, I was also able to capture my personal immediate reflections and meanings of the experiences; whereas, interviews gather the data after the experiences making it more difficult to capture the participants’ original meanings.

Claire Petitmengin (2006), who specializes in consciousness and intuition research, has developed an interview method that can aid researchers in jumping this hurdle of memory loss of the experiences over time. Described as “retrospectively accessing the lived experience,” this process can help interviewees re-experience phenomenological events in a manner that reconnects them to the initial experience, thus giving them access to their original impressions (p. 244). This provides a process for researchers interested in collecting this data in interviews that can strengthen their research. According to Lachman (2011) it is has been shown that people can reconnect to these past experiences and remember progressively more details each time. Asking participants to keep journals of their experiences can provide additional data such as descriptions, personal reflections, and the meanings they assign to their experiences.

Upon analysis, the sound empirical phenomenological approach Aspers (2009) provides, as well as Giorgi’s techniques are all captured within Kincheloe’s critical complex epistemology and multidimensional critical complex bricolage due to his specification of so many layers of interpretation, analysis, and synthesis. Thus, his process provides for even greater strength to the results. Aspers’ empirical phenomenological research process, for comparison purposes, has seven steps, which he emphasizes are presented as steps only for pedagogical purposes. He explains that researchers do not go through these steps in a linear manner, but “zigzags” through them. The seven steps include: (1) Define the research question; (2) Conduct a preliminary study; (3) Choose a theory and use it as a scheme of reference; (4) Study first-order constructs (and bracket the theories); (5) Construct second-order constructs; (6) Check for unintended effects; and (7) Relate the evidence to the scientific literature and the empirical field of study (“The Seven Steps of Empirical Phenomenology,” para.1).

Aspers (2009) advises that steps one and two often involve “‘hanging out’ with members of the field” for a month or longer for larger research projects, along with the extensive reading of texts in order to become deeply familiar with the field. It is interesting that my own research began in that very fashion when my initial research led serendipitously to working with Kincheloe on his research website for approximately seven months. During that time, I did, indeed read everything about critical pedagogy that I could get my hands on and had engaged in many discussions with active researchers in the field. I was at first primarily interested in Peter McLaren’s work and I also had read some of Henry Giroux’s (2007, 2008) most recent work, but after a few weeks, I gravitated in a powerful way toward Kincheloe’s work. His work was consistently being pushed to the side in that community, and being much like Kincheloe, himself, I always gravitate toward that which seems mysterious, hidden, and alienated. I quickly came to understand the power of his work in a very intuitive sense, even though I had a difficult time with the reading of his texts. I am grateful for that experience during the first steps of my research.

The seven steps Aspers (2009) has provided are self-explanatory in relation to this current study in that all steps have been incorporated and are easily identified by reviewing this study. Step six involves checking for unintended consequences, which may be harder to identify. Aspers explains that actions, including the act of connecting the interviewees’ experiences to various constructs, have both intended and unintended consequences. A deep consideration of these issues is interwoven into Kincheloe’s criteria as was evaluated in the previous section, “The Centrality of Critical Hermeneutics,” and these criteria formed the basis for my choices during this study.

It is interesting that Aspers (2009) describes the process for phenomenological empirical research as “zigzagging.” In the literature review it was presented that the French word bricoler is related to the idea of zigzagging (Beth, 2010). This metaphor provides another level of understanding to what is involved when engaging in multidimensional critical complex bricolage. Not only are there processes that bricoleurs use to thread through the POET(s), as presented by Kathleen Berry (2004a), I found that it also requires zigzagging through the document in a very literal sense. Because this involved employing various methods and processes, it correlates with the zigzagging through the steps of research that Aspers has delineated, although, of course, Kincheloe has added many more dimensions to the research process. The word bricolage is a perfect word for describing this research process on many levels as was demonstrated throughout this study which has explored many possible interpretations and metaphors, and I have been wondering how “zigzag” might apply. The additional terms, multidimensional critical complex, specify the depth, nature, and multidimensionality of Kincheloe’s conceptualization of bricolage research and, combined with critical complex epistemology has taken this study to the very rigorous level he had aimed for. Thus, researchers are provided with what I believe to be the most powerful process explicated for phenomenological empirical research.

This has sufficiently been demonstrated by this current study, both in terms of the content of the study, the depth, and the process by which the study was constructed. The multiple interwoven tasks I completed for this study resulted in a longer dissertation than one might expect using this process. I mention this because I don’t want the length of this dissertation to deter people from taking this approach; there are multiple things happening at once in this study specifically for the purpose of getting this form of research off the ground. Thus, the length of this study does not represent the norm for all such studies providing the topic is narrowed down sufficiently but it was necessary for this particular study.

During this study, I was fascinated daily by Kincheloe’s additional dimension for his research, the fourth dimension research process, which I seemed to have intuitively picked up on. Just before Kincheloe had passed away, he presented a little sermon in a small community church in Jamaica where he was vacationing, which was captured on video. He had discussed allowing our body and mind to be the “vessel for great minds” (Steinberg, 2011a, p. xii). Throughout this research process, I consciously chose to allow him to work through me, which I interpret to be a fourth dimension approach to research. There is no Western-based scientific evidence that I am aware of that supports this approach as being effective during research or proof that this is what is happening, although Eastern and Ageless Wisdom Knowledges which derive from a variety of cultures lend credence to this idea and perhaps is also one reason Kincheloe has emphasized indigenous knowledges.

Whatever one believes, throughout my entire research process, the spiritual guidance in the form of intuitive, serendipitous, and synchronous events, combined with many dreams of being in the higher realms receiving instruction from Kincheloe and other teachers, and receiving written communications from Kincheloe became normal daily experiences rather than an occasional “aha” type of moment many people experience. I have also lost track of the number of times I was able to pick up the exact right book or article at the exact right moment and open it to the exact right place for what was needed in the document which was also often serendipitously opened at the exact right place, and how many times I was given a page number out of “thin air” or in a dream that turned out to be a critical piece of the multidimensional puzzle I was assembling. I have experienced a multitude of incidents of even my gaze being directed to something very specific and the sensation of specific words nearly popping off the page that turned out to be critical pieces to this bricolage.

What causes the phenomenological events as described in this study? There seem to be a series of interrelating, complex processes all going on at once that inform and re-inform each other, perhaps Kincheloe and Berry’s (2004) “feedback looping” experientially presented and Maturana and Varela’s (1987) “structural coupling” (Kincheloe, 2005b, p. 94; Semetsky, 2003, p. 6). Semetsky ties it all together in her discussion about Eros as the Magician, Hermes Trismegistus, and autopoieses. She explains theoretically why Eros and his father, Hermes, make their “presence” known to me. She reports that according to Maturana and Varela’s (1987) theory, “structural couplings” result in “communicative interactions” and shared dialogue between an individual and “Eros-the-Magician,” (who wears red, by the way—is that why Joe’s last book, his Great Work, has a passionate red cover?) (p. 6) [emphasis added]. According to Semetsky, the appearance of the Magician in Tarot card readings signifies the presence of a wise teacher. What does the appearance of “magic” from an unseen Eros-the-Magician signify? Does it represent the presence of a wise but invisible teacher? Semetsky contends that one learns to act freely and independently precisely because of being interconnected and mutually interdependent; a wise teacher is typically implicated in that interconnectedness. The process of this symbiotic union, which Jung referred to as “individuation,” again, relates back to Divine Love and the Twin Flame concept that has been interwoven throughout this study and as symbolized by the metaphor examined, the Golden Chalice. Bricolage is implicated in this process in a multidimensional sense as individuals make use of available resources and “magic” to emerge from chaos, becoming “filled with immanence,” Semetsky describes (p. 14). There is much more, however, relating to past lives, multiple dimensions, soul reunification, memory assimilation, gaining wisdom, and piecing it all together. During this process of hermeneutic symbiosis is when the magic appears, or maybe it is when one becomes more conscious of what may have been happening all along.

Semetsky (2003) clarifies that “what is called magic, however, is a science of hidden relations, the latter capable of producing real effects when a cause in question is not at all obvious,” the phenomenon to which Jung had assigned the name “synchronicity” (p. 2).Thus, her article explains theoretically how “mystory” evolved naturally into a story about Eros and Psyche and why I have more questions than answers due to my lack of science-related understandings. Ironically, Kincheloe (2008c) adamantly insists bricolage is not about mythology or myth-making. He reports how advocates of FIDUROD argue that “theoretically-informed research . . . is merely an effort to find evidence for a preconceived position” and that scholars such as himself and other theorists “are unable to distinguish between empirical truths about the world and mythology” (p. 129). However, the fact that my name means “Psyche” and that Kincheloe has been referred to as Eros by scholars among his peer group and that he had referenced Eros Love in his work and had identified himself with Dionysus (the fallen Eros) along with the other related data, are not what might be considered “preconceived positions” for this research. The “magic” such as the cosmic gift of the yin yang talisman buried in my back yard and the diamond ring delivered by a handyman, the treasure hunts and epistemological road trips, and the red roses in the yellow rose bush all emerged during the research as did the enactment of the fallen King and Queen in Kings Valley and the revelation of the correlation of my life history with the 13 Attributes of Mercy; how can this be explained? I did not consciously create these incidents nor did I consciously look for the explanations—they all emerged as part of the research process, just as Kincheloe’s theory predicts. While I have entertained the idea that this Eros and Psyche configuration is another joke, a sort of cosmic game of the gods or possibly something consciously co-created at higher levels of consciousness, I feel there is something more; this story is not over. There is more to learn about the science of symbiotic hermeneutics, the topic of that very special reading assignment Joe had provided me for this study.

I have many questions and have not resolved how the peculiar occurrences could have occurred, but this uncertainty is simply the nature of knowledge production according to Kincheloe. He answers the accusation of researchers confusing truths about the world and mythology by stating:

In response to this outrageous claim I would assert that such one-dimensional researchers simply fail to understand the socially constructed nature of their efforts to produce knowledge. They are uncomfortable with the implications one has to deal with when we study the impact of our historical and cultural situatedness and our ideological investments in our ability to find final truths. . . . they are afraid of complexity and the ambiguity that accompanies it.” (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 129)


So once again, the complexity and uncertainty of the knowledge we produce and the role consciousness has in the production of that knowledge comes to the forefront. Consciousness is much more complex and multidimensional than we have ever thought. Relative to this, Kincheloe (2008c) states, “The point is so obvious that it should not have to be made here—but this is unfortunately not the case: consciousness is central to what it means to be human” (p. 223). There is so incredibly much more research and “chasing chaos” to do.

In relation to this current study, staying aware of this complexity and keeping faith in an improvisational approach, allowing flow, along with unique and varying combinations of heart, soul, love, thought, analysis, emotions, and actions—and believing in my connections with the spiritual world—all worked together to aid me in pulling the pieces of Kincheloe’s theory from his numerous works he had written over the past forty years into a cohesive explanation and representation of his multidimensional critical complex bricolage. In other words, it is my interpretation that it was with his spiritual guidance that I was able to find all of the necessary pieces from his various works and bricolage them together in a way that demonstrates a viable process for other researchers to pick up on from here and in relation to wherever they are positioned in the web of reality. With Kincheloe’s guidance as a great Master Teacher (and Eros-the-Magician), I had to do his bricolage in order to put the pieces together so that I could learn how to do it so that I could simultaneously show other people how it can be done. And I am glad that I took his guidance across the planes of existence seriously.

In concluding, I hope Joe did not “see” or feel me crying that day, just a few weeks after I had serendipitously found him, his website and his work. In front of me, on my desk were three or four of his books of very thick, complicated discourse. It was a type of discourse I had not encountered in my education and I was just learning the language of critical pedagogy, which felt like learning a whole new language. Even though he provides definitions in his work, I was struggling to comprehend it. The books were all opened up scattered across my desk and I was attempting to absorb his complex knowledge by zigzagging from one book to the other (this was before I felt our consciousnesses had merged giving me a better understanding of his work). I was surrounded by this dark, ominous sense that he was “leaving” too soon and that time was running out. For reasons I did not understand I felt learning his work and taking it forward was my responsibility, my duty, and yet, it was also my passionate desire. I had felt such a deep sense of grief combined with feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task I saw before me that I had laid my head down on my desk and began to cry. At that very moment the pleasant “chime” of an email on my laptop sitting next to me melodiously interrupted my tears. It was a cheerful, upbeat email from Joe which I was not expecting, letting me know he was doing great, “life is good” he had stated (personal communication, August 28, 2008).

This was nothing new; the serendipitous and synchronistic timing of his messages began with our fist email exchanges and was a pattern throughout our relationship. A very similar thing had happened on the evening of November 8, 2008 with him again writing to me that “life is good,” thus sending me a message of reassurance just when I needed it. My fears always centered on his well being and my sense that my work with him was somehow predestined, but that there was very little time. I usually shoved my fears aside and pressed forward but there would be times when I couldn’t keep them from rising to the surface.

On the evening of October 30, 2008 I again was experiencing overwhelming fear and I think it was very confusing to me in many ways since I had no previous experiences to draw from or the knowledge that could explain it. This time, I had drafted an email to him expressing my feelings and my fears, and how even though I studied other people’s work, my work was with him. I did not send the email. Just as I finished writing it, an email popped in from him filled with absolutely beautiful praise for which I did not begin to know how to respond. A couple of moments later, another email popped in from him that also touched my heart. There was no way I could tell him how I was really feeling and I had primarily written the email for cathartic purposes, as a way of releasing my anxieties. And so I had typed at the top of the draft, “not to mail . . . this is really strange. right after I wrote this I received an email from him,” and I saved the draft in my “saved mail” along with all of the emails I’ve saved from him. Thus, now I realize that we have always been connected, in spite of my not being conscious of it. We are connected now. It is due to our continuing connection that this research has reached a level beyond even my own expectations. I do feel I owe so much to Joe and my hope is that other researchers will see the gift he has left and will take his bricolage research forward.

Thank you, Joe. I love you.

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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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