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Towards no-method: Reassessing foundational constructs in research methodology

Les Pereira Faculty of Regional Professional Studies Edith Cowan University Bunbury Australia

Towards no-method: Reassessing foundational constructs in research methodology.

(A paper for presentation to the Fifth International Qualitative Research Symposium: 'Conducting qualitative research within rural, remote and regional communities (Session 4.1, Institute of Health and Community Services, Bournemouth University, England, 6th /7th September 2004). Les Pereira, Faculty of Regional Professional Studies, Edith Cowan University, Bunbury, Australia.

Within the mechanistic paradigm of scientific hegemony, methodology has been able to stand proud in the glorious splendour of its undoubted successes. The mechanistic paradigm, so engrained in the cultural lifeworld of western society, is evident within many of the dominant social structures and the scientific method has provided the model against which all other knowledge-generating processes are measured. This paper exposes assumptions and alternative interpretations of central constructs for those involved in research: i.e. qualitative standards, methodology, the literature review, and the research focus. The notion of a general research community is discussed and by applying a model of the evolution of cultures, the cultural paradigms out of which alternative research approaches act are identified. Arguments are made to re-evaluate the assumptions underlying particular constructs in light of a development towards more inclusive ways of knowing. A case is made for an alternative approach to the representation of research that reflects more accurately the processes underlying attempts to come to know. These perspectives serve to assist in developing a deeper understanding of the notion of methodology; its role in research, its practice and its promise.

Introduction: A context
This paper is presented within a framework of postmodern, poststructuralist sensitivities. It reflects a growing body of work experimenting with other ways of developing understanding, that is, ways other than the scientific method. It would be foolish to deny the contribution of technical rationalism to the world as we know it; in fact, it would reflect a lack of understanding of what postmodernism proposes. Each paradigm, each theoretical approach contributes to understanding. What is required, however, is an appreciation of their limit of applicability. In this paper I have outlined my current understandings of methodological constructs resulting from an examination into the dual role of the researcher-practitioner. In the context of a doctoral study to transform my leadership practices, I utilised a reflexive process of writing-for-inquiry to deconstruct both my role as a practicing school leader (Pereira, Taylor & Pereira, 2004), and the process of my research (Pereira & Taylor, 2004). This incorporated a number of approaches: writing-for-inquiry, a diachronic approach to reporting research, the use of multiple perspectives, polyvocality, and multiple ways of knowing.

The General Community

In accepting the path of generalisation dominant discourses can be assumed to be more dominant than they are. The predicted rejection of new forms of research can serve to restrict innovative approaches. Igor Nobikov, a professor of theoretical physics at Copenhagen University rejoiced at the publication of a paper on time travel by Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology. Although he had been working on this for many years, Igor kept his work secret because of its controversial nature. On the publication of Kips paper, Igor telephoned him thanking him: Youve broken the barrier! If you can do research about time travel then so can I, (Bunting, 1996). In a similar way, I had found myself doubting my research, not for any perceived lack of quality, but on the grounds of its acceptance by the research community. The self-referential nature of the

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scientific method presupposes its own higher ground and, as Paul Feyrebend summarises, acts as a gatekeeper for what constitutes authentic knowledge:
Scepticism is at a minimum; it is directed against the view of the opposition and against minor ramifications of ones own basic ideas, never against the basic ideas themselvesBasic beliefs are protected by this reaction as well as by secondary elaborations, [as we have seen], and whatever fails to fit into the established category system or is said to be incompatible with this system is either viewed as something quite horrifying or, more frequently, it is simply declared to be non-existent. (Feyrebend, 1978, p298)

As Derrida has argued, that which has history deconstructs itself (Derrida & Caputo, 1997). For my part, I had generalised the concept of the research community and neglected its history. But through the agency of the seven ways of knowing - Techne, Poesis, Praxis, Dialogos, Phronesis, Polis and Theoria (Henderson & Kesson, 2004), I came to remember that the concept of a general community is fallacious:
Techne: [Isnt there some danger here, though.] How do the general research community look upon this kind of approach? Theoria: Is there such a thing as a general research community? Polis: I think I can help here. In my conversations with people it seems there are at least three perspectives on this [qualitative research]. There are those who think this kind of approach is absolute bunkum Bunkum - Mid-19th century. Alteration of Buncombe County in North Carolina whose congressman defended a dull and irrelevant speech by saying he made it to impress the people of Buncombe. (Microsoft Corporation, 1993-2001) Les: Yes, yes. I have heard that! Someone told me that qualitative research impresses your colleagues but doesnt attract research funding Polis: Yesthat real research fits into the scientific paradigm, much as you suggested in the quotation below on thesis structures, Les. Then there is the opposite view that this kind of approach speaks to areas that cannot be explored using a scientific paradigm. A third perspective, perhaps reminiscent of the Buddhists Middle Way recognises that each has value Dialogos: Aristotle used to talk about the Golden Mean Polis: Yes! And, then of course there are all those people who are splattered either side of the Middle Way and between the two extremes. So, the general community doesnt really exist.

(Pereira & Taylor, 2004, pp11, 12) In hindsight, it is a little less aware of postmodernist assumptions to make such a grand statement. It is better couched in terms of limits of applicability. There are areas of agreement within certain sections of any community at any one time, all of which are subject to change. Perceived agreement rests on an assumption of the possibility of shared meanings but the nature of communication is such that shared meanings are (almost?) impossible (Tannen, 1986). It is better, perhaps, to speak of taken-as-shared meanings (Peter Taylor, personal communication). If this is the case what of claims to truth? The research community can be conceived simply as a subset of a bigger community and subject to the same pressures and cultural diversities. Consequently, claims to truth are connected to research paradigms and cultural mores.

Truth claims, research paradigms and cultures

Theres more than one answer to these questions that point me in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.

(Saliers, 1988) Truth claims and the triple crises The evaluative standards applied to research activities are intended to guarantee the quality of that research. But what does this mean? From a poststructural postmodernist perspective, the notion of truth is a shadow of

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its former self. Wilber (1996) has suggested there are at least four variations on truth claims each of which reflects a foundational paradigm (Table 1), and each of which suggests a limit of applicability. If the truth claims originate from objective phenomena we can speak of truth and functional fit; if they originate from subjective phenomena then we can speak of truthfulness and justness: Subjective Individual Subjective truth: Truthfulness Sincerity, integrity, trustworthiness Intersubjective truth: Justness Group Cultural fit, mutual understanding, rightness Objective Objective truth: Truth Correspondence, representation, propositional Interobjective truth: Functional fit Systems-theory web, structural-functionalism, social systems mesh

Table 1: Four variations on truth (adapted from Wilber, 1996, p 107) I came to question evaluative standards through a deconstruction of my own research. I abandoned an original claim to quality, member-checking (Guba & Lincoln, 1989), primarily because it would compromise my professional role in the school but I soon realised there was a far more significant reason. As a school leader, the significant factor affecting my actions was what I believed to be the case not necessarily the truth of the situation, and definitely not the truth as others saw it. Initial concerns for ensuring inter-subjective truth between me and the other disappeared. This led to a re-examination of Guba & Lincolns evaluative standards and consideration of the triple crises (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000). I realised that the four authenticity criteria (Guba & Lincoln, 1989) originated from a modernist paradigm: the fairness, ontological and educative criteria rest on assumptions of progress while the catalytic authenticity criterion is oblivious to the crisis of praxis (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000). Further, I came to understand the origins and consequent implications for my perspective on the triple crises. The fairness criteria (Guba & Lincoln, 1989) - the solicitation and honouring of different constructions and their underlying value structures, assumes progressive improvement. Postmodernist thought suggests that we, the researcher and the volunteer, can only attain a taken-as-shared set of meanings. In terms of the hermeneutic dialectic process (Guba & Lincoln, 1989) and the concept of member-checking, my representation of the other could only be interpreted by that other who would then attempt to communicate their construction of my representation back to me which, in turn, I would interpretand so on. A modernist assumption would lead to accepting that we would continually get closer and closer to a common understanding. But this is not necessarily the case. Each new consensus contains new taken-as-shared meanings. Further, when presented in written form, the reader would then construct an altogether different other from that which either of us had felt was contained within the representation: the reader co-authors the text. The possibility of fairness was an illusion. Denzin and Lincoln (2000) referred to this difficulty of representing the other as the crisis of representation. The criterion of catalytic authenticity (Guba & Lincoln, 1989) based on how effective the research is in stimulating and facilitating action on the part of the volunteer, sits in opposition to the second crisis, that of praxis. One insists on action being prompted on the part of the participants (Guba & Lincoln, 1989, p249), the other calls into question the possibility of effecting change in the world, (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p17). Radical constructivism offered a way to understand the common ground between these two ideas:
Ernst von Glaserfelds formulation of Radical Constructivism argues that the construction of personal knowledge is constrained by the viability of the results of that knowledge in our interactions with the world (1990): and of course, this relates to all people, not just ourselves. My research, then, is based on the assumption that we cannot effect change in the world, only in ourselves. Through this, however, and our being in the world, we do affect the world through our interactions, (Pereira et al., 2004, p25).

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Theoria: So, you are saying the crisis of praxis appears to be resting on an assumption of the possibility of control. And its not that you cant change the world, just that you cannot control the change. Les: Yep! so theres still a point to carrying out research! Phronesis: So both concepts, Catalytic Authenticity and the Crisis of Praxis present useful guides but Theoria: but rest on modernist assumptions

(Pereira & Taylor, 2004, p19) In a similar way to the fairness criterion, both criteria of ontological authenticity the improvement of the respondents constructions, and educative authenticity the enhancement of a respondents constructions of others, assume progressive improvement and the ability to effect change. The timing of Guba and Lincolns (1989) work coincided with Denzin and Lincolns (2000) fourth moment of qualitative research the crisis of representation, just prior to the rise of the postmodernist phase. This would, of course, explain the need for a different set of criteria for my research which recognises aspects of the fifth (refusal to privilege any method; contextualised research), sixth (fictional writing denying the representation of others) and seventh moments (concerned with moral discourse, critical conversations about democracy and gender; the integration of spiritual textualities) of qualitative research. The third crisis, that of legitimation (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000) draws attention to the need to reassess how qualitative studies are to be evaluated. It questions the authority of texts and their claims to be accurate, true and complete, (Lincoln & Denzin, 2000, p1051). As I realised that my research was not making this claim I understood the problem with the triple crises. They identify crises for those who hold to a modernist perspective. Each of the three crises, representation, legitimation and praxis appear to be concerned with truth claims that a researcher working out of a postmodernist perspective would not make. The crisis of representation is concerned with the difficulties of representing the other something I was very clearly denouncing. The crisis of legitimation, the concern for how studies are to be evaluated, can be understood from a perspective that values other ways of knowing and limits of applicability. It is not possible to measure the quality of research originating from one paradigm with evaluative standards embracing another. The third crisis, that of praxis, is concerned with effecting change. This appears to be a struggle with the issue of control. It maybe that the triple crises are an example of Albert Einsteins warning: The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we first noticed them, (Albert Einstein, date unknown). An integral perspective based on the four quadrant model (Table 1) recognises a variety of truth claims and the limits of different ways of knowing. These limits of applicability express the extent to which knowledge claims may be made and moves the discussion beyond a hierarchical debate. But it appears that truth standards are also culturally driven. Research paradigms and cultures Building from the concept of cultural groups within the research community, it is logical that different groups would make different claims to truth. Don Beck and Christopher Cowan have put forward a model for understanding social cultures in terms of what they call Memetics, a type of genetics of cultures, (again, the power of the mechanistic worldview to shape our models!). The component gene of a culture is termed a vMeme, a value Meme. From a cultural perspective, Beck and Cowan (1996) suggest that the dominant vMeme of a group will determine what is considered to be true. They recognise several different vMeme types, described in terms of colours: brown, purple, red, blue, orange, green, yellow and turquoise. Beck and Cowans model can be used to map dominant research paradigms against the cultural drives of individual vMeme (Table 1).

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Dominant Research Focus Integralist


vMeme & particular drive Turquoise Holistic Systemic Relativistic Strategic

Features of vMeme Belief in a holistic field theory everything affects everything else. Adjusts to existential dichotomies Demands integrative and open systems Finds natural mix of conflicting truths and uncertainties Communitarian, egalitarian and consensual Explore the inner being of self and others Progress, achievement Strive for autonomy and independence Belief in authority One right Way Table 1: The cultural codes of research paradigms

2nd Postmodernist Interpretive Critical theory 1st Post-Positivism Blue Positivism Purposeful Yellow Green Orange

Beck and Cowan suggest a two tier system. Groups operating within the value codes of the first tier assume the supremacy of their own viewpoint. This sets up a competitive relationship and closes any possibility of communication with other groups. It is only with the yellow vMeme, the first in the second tier, that the significance, importance and necessity of the other perspectives are recognised. Consequently, cultures operating out of the second tier value codes attempt to maintain open dialogue with those who operate within the boundaries of other vMemes. The yellow vMeme is the first cultural code in which groups have the intention of facilitating true communicative action (Habermas, 1984; 1987; 1990). Those acting out of the turquoise vMeme take this approach further and attempt to integrate feeling and knowing (Beck & Cowan, 1996). This is a feature of the seventh moment of educational research (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000). Claims to quality of research are valid within narrow ranges of application. Attempts to judge one truth claim against another is doomed to result in conflict. Paul Feyrebend argues for whatever works (Feyrebend, 1978) which can be seen as a utilitarian battle cry but then, it depends on what one means by works.

Reformulating Foundational Constructs

Donald Polkinghornes (1997) contrast of synchronic and diachronic structures for reporting research suggests the need for a more open format. He has argued for a diachronic approach that capture[s] the human actions and temporal character of the research process, (Polkinghorne, 1997, p18). The synchronic approach, on the other hand, mirrors the image of a scientific method:
Linear structure implies that all related literature was reviewed during the initial conception of the research design, that the research design was fully formed prior to data collection, with all methodological aspects being cemented in place early in order to avoid invalidating the inquiry process, and that the ensuing results of the study were uncontaminated by the subjectivity of the (value-neutral and unbiased) scientific researcher. (Stapleton & Taylor, 2003, p4)

In a postmodernist deconstruction of the process of my research (Pereira & Taylor, 2004) I came face-to-face with this image. Although some studies may follow the structure outlined by Andrew Stapleton and Peter Taylor (2003), my process changed throughout the research with an evolving methodology influenced by

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several factors: the context, my role as a researcher-practitioner, an ongoing review of the literature, a changing research focus and a developing understanding of evaluative standards. These observations opened the door for a reconceptualisation of method. Method
all methodological aspects being cemented in place early in order to avoid invalidating the inquiry process (Stapleton & Taylor, 2003, p4)

Jacques Derridas attempts to describe deconstruction provide a parallel argument to that originating from my experience of the research process. While Derrida rejects the narrowing of deconstruction to a method that can be applied, my research suggests that the concept of method itself has been narrowed down, and that a broader understanding opens the door to other ways of knowing. Two pointers support an expansion of the concept of method. The first is etymological. Language is built on differences (Derrida, 1991) and it is in the space opened up by these differences that method may expand. The word method derives from the terms meta and hodus; in 1541 the combination of these two words translated into after journey (Etymology Online, 2004). Method, then, can be read as something that is understood at the end of the journey and therefore something that is described at the end of the research, a record of what was done rather than a boundary within which one is confined. Second, Derridas assertion that deconstruction is a methodological step, not a method (Freshwater & Rolfe, 2004) supports a need to recognise change. If method itself is looked on as a methodological step, then it is a point between the past and the future rather than a teleological route towards a predetermined destination. It is a part of the process of coming to know and is inextricably linked with that process. Several researchers echo a concern with the power of method to constrain discovery (Bullough & Pinnegar, 2001; Feyrebend, 1978; Janesick, 2000; Krishnamurti, 1969; Lee, 1975). Valerie Janesick has coined the term methodolatry to describe the idolatry of method, or a slavish attachment and devotion to method, that so often overtakes the discourse in the education and human services fields, (2000, p390). A postmodernist perspective would assert that all methods have value, but as we have seen, each method is born out of a paradigm reflecting cultural predispositions to truth. Recognising the limits of applicability would provide strategic advice providing there is a way out of the slavish attachment that Valerie Janesick perceives. The Zen traditions offer a way forward with the concept of no-mindedness. Applying this idea to method gives the construct of no-method:
No-method is not a denial of systematic approaches neither is it a simplistic laissez-faire attitude that accepts any approach. Both acceptance and denial are necessary, it is the non-stuckness of the researcher that exhibits an understanding of no-method. No-method exists before and after - but it is most effective during the present. (Pereira & Taylor, 2004)

No-method, as opposed to no method, reflects a different understanding of the concept of method (see Fig 1). Having no method can be likened to ignorance, there is no preconceived setting of method, and one just reacts according to habit. A state of knowing exists when one has learned a method through which to act. However, at this stage that knowledge is itself a trap, it controls the knower by controlling the perceptions and the actions of the knower; one habit has been replaced by another trained habit. When one attains the stage of no-method, one has moved beyond the stuckness alluded to by Valerie Janesick. Limiting this discussion to the impact of method, one is again the master of ones own actions, the power of choice has returned. One no longer reacts to what is, but responds to it.

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No-method Method No method Ignorance Knowledge


Fig 1: three stages of method

This concept of methodology is perhaps best summarised by misquoting Bruce Lee I have taken the liberty of replacing his word (balance) with mine (method): Method [Balance] is when you run like hell to catch it! Literature Reviews
all related literature was reviewed during the initial conception of the research design (Stapleton & Taylor, 2003, p4)

In reflexively investigating my research process and the generation of understanding through writing-for-inquiry I recognised how misrepresentative a conventional literature review would have been. My writing, in agreement with Derrida (Freshwater & Rolfe, 2004), was intended to reflect the symbiotic relationship between content, form and style; the writing was the research, the medium was the message. I used a diachronic approach to review my research and structured my writing to bring to mind past influences on my thoughts. This served to expose predispositions to many of the ideas identified in my study, influences that may have remained unrecognised in a conventional literature review. So, as with method, I revisited the concept of the literature review. Once again, heeding Derridas words on the importance of difference in language (1991), alternative definitions of literature and review can facilitate alternative conceptions of the literature review. According to Encarta (Microsoft Corporation, 1993-2001), Literature can be seen as: written works with artistic value; body of written works; writings on specific subject; printed information; production of literary works. Review also has a number of different shades of meaning all of which provide both insight and impetus to understanding: to look at something critically; give opinion on quality of something; consider something again; look back on something; reconsider decision judicially, (Microsoft Corporation, 1993-2001). These alternative definitions, in the context of my research, lead to an altogether different perspective that emphasises a reflexive purpose. First, the literature review can recognise the thesis itself as a piece of literature it can become subject to its own literature review. The review can then look back critically over the decisions that have been made throughout the research. Second, it can expose the literature that has influenced the researcher in making sense of the data and the research process, i.e. not only the literature reviewed subsequent to the setting of the research focus and prior to the data collection, but also the ongoing review of literature that occurs as the study proceeds. Exposing the literature that has been part of the formative process of the researcher may highlight predispositions and possible influences on the process of the study. A literature review that takes this approach will serve to deconstruct the thesis and the process of the research and facilitate a recognition of the interplay between the research focus, the methodology, the data, and the literature in shaping and reshaping the research process. Research Focus
that the ensuing results of the study were uncontaminated by the subjectivity of the (value-neutral and unbiased) scientific researcher (Stapleton & Taylor, 2003, p4)

In the conventional view, research focus suggests a concentrated effort on a particular emphasis. Focus is seen to be static; this may simultaneously control the adaptability of the researcher to their own research. However, my research focus continued to change. It cut a path that was both responsive to other aspects of

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the research process (appendix 1) and adhered to my knowledge constitutive interests (Habermas, 1978; Outhwaite, 1996). Consequently, for my research it is more appropriate to use focus as a verb:
focus - to adjust your vision so that you can see clearly and sharply, or to become adjusted for clear vision, (Microsoft Corporation, 1993-2001).

It is possible to argue that jumping around between foci is a less disciplined approach to generating understanding. That one may be misled by flights of fancy. But this is not my experience. Changes in focus were brought about by findings during the study, i.e. aspects of the original research focus. They grew out of the research and should, therefore, be relevant to understanding the phenomenon being studied. It seems to me that to respond to the findings in real time requires an appreciation of the limitations of particular methods. It requires the transcendence of method suggested by the concept of no-method.

In closing
It would be difficult for anybody actively involved in research to remain unaware of the issues uncovered by postmodernist perspectives. Yet simultaneously, we are the products of the modernist paradigm. To come to terms with this turning point (Capra, 1982) requires an acceptance that The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we first noticed them, (Albert Einstein, date unknown). The danger of the mechanistic worldview lies in its subtle influence over the very root of our thinking. In this paper I have sought to share the results of my coming to know. Much of what is stated above has grown out of, and appears to advocate a diachronic approach to reporting research of this kind. It emphasises a need for the researcher to remain constantly aware, to be in the moment of ones research process. Throughout my study I have utilised the research to interrogate itself. This approach is supported by Dawn Freshwater and Gary Rolfe: We believe that any concept of practice must include a reflexive critique of that practice, (2004, p4). Along with Albert Einsteins advice, this is a call that recognises the need to experiment with ways of knowing that are outside of, and challenge, the (current) dominant discourse.

An Afterward: Deconstructing Ways of Knowing

I have used the seven ways of knowing to generate alternative perspectives on my research process and this is mirrored throughout by the use of multiple referents. The concept of a referent, and the use of multiple referents, offers a powerful way to position oneself differently when investigating a phenomenon. Different perspectives on the same issue appear to provide a more complete understanding. But this may not be the case. The notion that a more coherent understanding will arise from multiple perspectives rests on mechanistic assumptions. The mechanistic worldview holds that phenomena can be understood by reducing it to its constituent components, understanding each component and the way they interact (Capra, 1982). This view is refuted by Buckminster-Fuller: There is nothing in the chemistry of a toe-nail that predicts the existence of a human being, (1978) and is encapsulated in the concept of synergy, [the] behaviour of whole systems unpredicted by the separately observed behaviours of any of the systems separate parts or any subassembly of the systems parts, (op cit., p71). Although the seven ways of knowing have led to a greater understanding of other perspectives, postmodernist advice suggests they will not lead to a complete understanding. This caveat provides a timely reminder and is supported by the incompatibility of particular perspectives. The concept of a referent has proven very useful for facilitating more considered judgements but may prove to mislead if considered a tool towards the truth.

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Appendix: An Organic Model of Research.

There appears to be no linear structure as implied by traditional models of research. Every aspect of research is connected to every other in a mutually-affective manner. What happens to one happens to all. To represent the research process more closely it would be better to visualise each of the aspects below, and the connecting arrows, in a more dynamic way that is expanding and contracting in relationship to each other as each gain and lose the attention of the researcher.

Research Focus


Data Collection

Literature Review

Emergent Questions

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