Journal of Nursing Education

Guest Editorial 

The Next Crossroad: Indigenous Epistemologies for Qualitative Research and Acceptance Beyond IRB Compliance

Doris Boutain, PhD, RN

Abstract

Discussions about the differences between qualitative and quantitative methods have yielded to an understanding that innovations depend on both approaches. This issue of the Journal of Nursing Education, focusing on mixed method inquiry, is evidence of research advancement. Mixed method research arises from and moves beyond dichotomous qualitative versus quantitative debates. The question of methods is becoming less salient as the topic of paradigms of knowledge derivation or epistemologies proceeds to the discussion forefront.

Just as Institutional Review Boards (IRB) were challenged to recognize that post-positivist issues of validity and reliability were irrelevant questions for interpretative scholars, so too will IRB complexities reach a new crossroad. The emerging crossroad features the diversity of qualitative epistemologies that will converse beyond current IRB protocols. Both IRB staff and nurse educators must ready ourselves for the crossroad.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the indigenous paradigm of knowledge creation was reported in the academic literature as a viable, credible way to develop knowledge (Tuhiwai Smith, 1999). Scholars have incrementally enhanced the communication of that position by publishing and presenting report after report (Bishop, 2005). The indigenous paradigm is rooted in social struggles for recognition that advanced into the educational academy (Tuhiwai Smith, 1999). Although not new as an approach, the indigenous lens of inquiry is slowly growing in nursing research.

Similar to interpretative paradigms, indigenous paradigms are concerned with participants’ ways of knowing that are culturally and socially bound. Similar to critical inquiry, indigenous paradigms recognize how power can be used to oppress multicultural ways of knowing. Unlike both the interpretative and critical qualitative approaches, research using indigenous paradigms incorporates the epistemology of indigenous participants in the research design. That is, participant diversity is not just reported in the research sample demographics or results. Indigenous researchers epistemologically center research participants’ cultural beliefs, values, and ways of knowing as the starting point for inquiry. Diverse ways of knowing shape which research topics are selected and how the research questions are framed, investigated, described, and disseminated.

The historical lack of understanding about interpretative and critical qualitative research in general may become even more apparent in the future. As nurse educators introduce indigenous approaches in the classroom, the superiority legacy of Western knowledge creation in academia will showcase. Although most interpretative qualitative approaches use methodologies of initiating research within the cultural preferences and practices of the Western world, indigenous approaches use another starting point. Indigenous researchers do not assume they know what is best to research. Thus, indigenous scholars do not presume epistemological privilege without consent.

Indigenous researchers generally position themselves to gain greater closeness with research participants to understand “the reality of the diversity and complexity of indigenous people” (Bishop, 2005, p. 111). The sense of being a more closely engaged researcher is one of the first features of inquiry that will challenge the way in which IRB applications are written and subsequently evaluated. The notion that the researcher is closely engaged highlights how power is not solely with the researcher and begins to foster the idea that researchers, research staff, and participants need human subject considerations (Rager, 2005).

That is, social stressors will be placed on both the researcher and the researched—making it critical to have engaging curricula that move beyond the classroom. The role of faculty in promoting indigenous epistemologies in qualitative research and acceptance beyond IRB compliance is multifocal. Faculty are positioned to:

A movement to include, embrace, and celebrate the epistemological diversity of qualitative inquiry—including Western and indigenous approaches—needs faculty to sustain that transformation. Articles highlighting innovative epistemological paradigm teachings are needed to inspire future nurse educators to move beyond the next…

Discussions about the differences between qualitative and quantitative methods have yielded to an understanding that innovations depend on both approaches. This issue of the Journal of Nursing Education, focusing on mixed method inquiry, is evidence of research advancement. Mixed method research arises from and moves beyond dichotomous qualitative versus quantitative debates. The question of methods is becoming less salient as the topic of paradigms of knowledge derivation or epistemologies proceeds to the discussion forefront.

Just as Institutional Review Boards (IRB) were challenged to recognize that post-positivist issues of validity and reliability were irrelevant questions for interpretative scholars, so too will IRB complexities reach a new crossroad. The emerging crossroad features the diversity of qualitative epistemologies that will converse beyond current IRB protocols. Both IRB staff and nurse educators must ready ourselves for the crossroad.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the indigenous paradigm of knowledge creation was reported in the academic literature as a viable, credible way to develop knowledge (Tuhiwai Smith, 1999). Scholars have incrementally enhanced the communication of that position by publishing and presenting report after report (Bishop, 2005). The indigenous paradigm is rooted in social struggles for recognition that advanced into the educational academy (Tuhiwai Smith, 1999). Although not new as an approach, the indigenous lens of inquiry is slowly growing in nursing research.

Similar to interpretative paradigms, indigenous paradigms are concerned with participants’ ways of knowing that are culturally and socially bound. Similar to critical inquiry, indigenous paradigms recognize how power can be used to oppress multicultural ways of knowing. Unlike both the interpretative and critical qualitative approaches, research using indigenous paradigms incorporates the epistemology of indigenous participants in the research design. That is, participant diversity is not just reported in the research sample demographics or results. Indigenous researchers epistemologically center research participants’ cultural beliefs, values, and ways of knowing as the starting point for inquiry. Diverse ways of knowing shape which research topics are selected and how the research questions are framed, investigated, described, and disseminated.

The historical lack of understanding about interpretative and critical qualitative research in general may become even more apparent in the future. As nurse educators introduce indigenous approaches in the classroom, the superiority legacy of Western knowledge creation in academia will showcase. Although most interpretative qualitative approaches use methodologies of initiating research within the cultural preferences and practices of the Western world, indigenous approaches use another starting point. Indigenous researchers do not assume they know what is best to research. Thus, indigenous scholars do not presume epistemological privilege without consent.

Indigenous researchers generally position themselves to gain greater closeness with research participants to understand “the reality of the diversity and complexity of indigenous people” (Bishop, 2005, p. 111). The sense of being a more closely engaged researcher is one of the first features of inquiry that will challenge the way in which IRB applications are written and subsequently evaluated. The notion that the researcher is closely engaged highlights how power is not solely with the researcher and begins to foster the idea that researchers, research staff, and participants need human subject considerations (Rager, 2005).

That is, social stressors will be placed on both the researcher and the researched—making it critical to have engaging curricula that move beyond the classroom. The role of faculty in promoting indigenous epistemologies in qualitative research and acceptance beyond IRB compliance is multifocal. Faculty are positioned to:

  • Reflectively engage in “paradigm shifting” (Bishop, 2005, p. 115) to assess how research is defined, taught, and promoted to prioritize Western ways of knowing.
  • Acknowledge and support student or faculty feelings of isolation, guilt, and anger that may appear as Western ways of knowing are presented as only one way for knowledge creation.
  • Discuss how Western frameworks used in global or international health research act to liberate some people and oppress others.
  • Recognize that most IRB points of interest are based on ethical codes of conduct grounded in Western moral philosophy.
  • Partner with IRB staff to study and address difficulties that arise when using Western and indigenous approaches to qualitative inquiry.
  • Include curricular emphasis on IRB support for indigenous and Western approaches to qualitative inquiry.
  • Prepare researchers who use indigenous epistemologies to be multivocal in describing their inquiry to IRB and research audiences.

A movement to include, embrace, and celebrate the epistemological diversity of qualitative inquiry—including Western and indigenous approaches—needs faculty to sustain that transformation. Articles highlighting innovative epistemological paradigm teachings are needed to inspire future nurse educators to move beyond the next crossroad. If we, as nurse educators, fail to recognize the epistemological crossroads of qualitative diversity, we will act to marginalize indigenous scholarly voices that so urgently need to be heard.

Doris Boutain, PhD, RN
Associate Professor
University of Washington School of Nursing
Seattle, Washington

References

  • Bishop, R2005. Freeing ourselves from neocolonial domination in research: A Kaupapa Maori approach to creating knowledge. In Denzin, NK & Lincoln, YS (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 109–138). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Rager, KB2005. Compassion stress and the qualitative researcher. Qualitative Health Research, 15, 423–430. doi:10.1177/1049732304272038 [CrossRef]
  • Smith, LTuhiwai 1999. Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. New York: Zed Books.

10.3928/01484834-20080601-02

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