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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Strengths and Weaknesses

As Romanyshyn (2001, lecture) reminds us, our research methods are always a perspective, and we are always in a perspective, although we may not know which one we are in. Every perspective reveals some things while concealing others. With that in mind, it is important to see bricolage’s brightspots and blindspots—how it helps us methodologically and what its weaknesses might be.

Bricolage is interdisciplinary. Like Hermes, it crosses borders and is opportunistic, thus bricolage can avoid the reductionistic knowledge that externally imposed methods can engender. Kincheloe (2001, online; 2003), who has further developed the bricolage concept in qualitative research, notes that bricoleurs pursue complexity and can sidestep the monological forms of knowing that are produced in a rationalistic quest for order and certainty. No wonder Hillman likes it! McLeod (2000, online) relates that bricolage, being interdisciplinary, is more demanding than other methodologies, and people may not have the time or the inclination to pursue training in the different methods that is necessary to become a bricoleur. He does feel that the majority of qualitative therapy researchers are probably covert bricoleurs, although they don’t identify themselves as such. This is perhaps because as McLeod (2000, online), although he does not agree, quotes Hammersley’s (1999) suggestion that the bricolage metaphor may be dangerous: “movement in the direction of ‘blurred genres’ and the construction of reflexive ‘bricolages’ championed by Denzin and Lincoln threatens the implicit contract that underlies the public funding of social science (p. 581).”

Kincheloe (2003) feels that unilateral perspectives on the world fail to account for the complex relationship between material reality and human perception. Bricoleurs seek multiple perspectives to reflect the numerous relationships and connections that link various forms of knowledge together, not to provide the “truth” about reality. Kellner (1995), arguing for multiperspectival methods in cultural studies, feels that the more interpretive perspectives one can bring to bear on the object of study, the more comprehensive and stronger one’s reading may be. He notes that this multiperspectival idea

draws on Nietzsche’s perspectivism which holds that all interpretation is necessarily mediated by one’s perspectives and its thus inevitably laden with presuppositions, values, biases, and limitations. To avoid one-sidedness and partial vision one should learn “how to employ a variety perspectives and interpretations in the service of knowledge.” (Nietzsche 1969:119) For Nietzsche: “there is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective ‘knowing’, and the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more complete will our ‘concept’ of this thing, our ‘objectivity’ be” (ibid.). (p. 98)

Kellner (1995) also points out that a reading of a text is only a reading from a critic’s specific position, no matter how multiperspectival, “is only their own reading and may or may not be the reading preferred by audiences” (pp. 99-100). The notion that the reading of a text comes from the reader’s specific position echoes what Jung told Maud Oakes about her experience of the stone: that one can only have is his or her own experience (Oakes, 1987, p. 17), because as Hocoy (2002, lecture) has noted, “you can’t escape your lens.”

Depending on one’s perspective, bricolage may either be more satisfying and informative to read, or more difficult to read. Writing in a non-standard format, possibly including reflexive and multi-voiced segments, may add richness to the reader’s experience because the writing then “attempts to respect the situatedness and complexity of the topic” (McLeod, 2000, online). Other readers, on the other hand, might become frustrated with the divergence from named methods, as bricolage is not as easily skimmed for “bullet points” of knowledge. Bricolage may also be more difficult to write. McLeod reveals another aspect of this dual nature of bricolage:

The image of the bricoleur evokes a tension between creativity and conformity. The image of the bricoleur is permissive. In suggesting to the qualitative researcher that it is acceptable to look at any possible means of knowledge-generation and discovery that could be relevant to the task of finding out more about the research topic that has been chosen. The image of the bricoleur also places a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of the researcher . . . by forcing them to take higher level epistemological decisions and find appropriate ways of communicating their bricolage in writing (or through other media). (McLeod, online)

Bricolage’s mixing of methodologies can be seen as a sign of methodological impurity and thus pathologized and considered superficial and dangerous to disciplinary boundaries, or it can be viewed as relational and processual, that is, fluid and changing, rather than fixed and formal (Schwandt, 2001, pp. 21-22). Others level the criticism of superficiality at interdisciplinarity and thus at bricolage—in line with its “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” connotations:

Implicit in the critique of interdisciplinarity and thus of bricolage as its manifestation in research is the assumption that interdisciplinarity is by nature superficial. Superficiality results when scholars, researchers, and students fail to devote sufficient time to understanding the disciplinary fields and knowledge bases from which particular modes of research emanate. Many maintain that such an effort leads not only to superficiality but madness. Attempting to know so much, the bricoleur not only knows nothing well but also goes crazy in the misguided process. (Kincheloe, 2001, online)

There just might be something to the madness piece, but as in the law, we invoke res ipsa loquitor and let the thing speak for itself, and on a case-by-case basis judge the superficiality.

Besides, some superficiality may not be so bad after all. D. L. Miller (1996, online) conveys that according to Taylor the play of surfaces exposes depth as another surface: “So Taylor can quip: ‘Philosophy [and most traditional academic discourse] lacks the courage to be superficial’ . . . . The implication seems to be that we bricoleurs must have the courage to be superficial.” Taylor’s quip about superficiality echoes the phenomenological tenet of seeing the depth through the surfaces, and realizing that surfaces are all we have. This postmodern notion of the depth of surfaces is also echoed in Jung’s work with dreams and in Archetypal Psychology’s admonition to “stick with the image” (Hillman, 1983a) both of which respect the manifest content or surface. As Turkel (1995) points out, there may be no underlying meaning or we will never know it, thus the privileged way of knowing is through exploration of surfaces.

Just as Denzin and Lincoln (2000) point out that we are not free to choose postmodernism because the historical moment has chosen us (p. 1060), similarly Kincheloe (2001, online) argues, in light of the paradigmatic upheavals with the social, cultural and epistemological changes of the past 40 years, “rigorous researchers may no longer enjoy the luxury of choosing whether to embrace the bricolage” (p. 3).

Both hermeneutics and phenomenology speak of the necessity to take tradition or history into account as part of methodology and Kincheloe, citing Kellner, agrees:

Kellner argues that multiperspectival approaches to research may not be very helpful unless the object of inquiry and the various methods used to study it are situated historically. In this way the forces operating to socially construct all elements in the research process are understood, an appreciation that leads to a grasp of new relationships and connections. (Kincheloe, 2001, online)

The historical situatedness pointed to by Kellner, is essential for bricolage and will be addressed in the body of the dissertation itself.

Lastly, Kincheloe feels that becoming a bricoleur is a lifelong process, and so as a beginning bricoleur, I am reminded of Goodchild’s (2000) words “this my best effort for now” (p. 21), which acknowledges that the work is still unfinished and open, which is how play and bricolage should be. In this regard, I also invoke the sage advice of Romanyshyn (2002), who said that “for the moment that’s enough.”


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