Response to "Conversation across Paradigms: Unitary-Transformative and Critical Feminist Perspectives"

By Newman, Margaret A. Rn, PhD, Faan | Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Response to "Conversation across Paradigms: Unitary-Transformative and Critical Feminist Perspectives"


Newman, Margaret A. Rn, PhD, Faan, Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice


This conversation between Richard Cowling and Peggy Chinn has had me stewing for days! I am grateful to them for sharing their discourse and stimulating me to think along these lines. As one who views the world as unitary and transformative and who also holds many of the feminist views, I am challenged to enter into the dialogue. I must admit that off and on I have felt as though the authors were mixing apples and oranges in seeking a reconciliation of the unitary transformative paradigm and critical feminist theory. One is a general paradigm of nursing science; the other is a theory of political action. By the very nature of the assumptions they represent, they do not rest on common ground. But Cowling and Chinn challenge us to stretch our imaginations beyond this dichotomous view.

According to Chinn, the need for taking a political stance on matters of injustice to women is uppermost in the critical feminist position. The emphasis is on removing the constraints on women posed by external threats: liberating from the oppressors. Consciousness raising is utilized to bring about awareness on the part of the oppressed and, through it, action to change their circumstances. Chinn's insistence on defining the nature of the transformations sought by unitary, transformative practitioners illustrates the basic instrumental approach to change advocated by critical feminists, one that is contrary to the evolutionary view of change of the unitary, transformative paradigm.

The unitary transformative paradigm focuses on the situation from within the person or persons involved and concentrates on the meaning of the unfolding pattern, whatever the circumstances may be. As Cowling pointed out, a unitary view would not dichotomize or separate the oppressor from the oppressed, and Chinn, by the way, agrees. Does that mean that Chinn rejects a critical theory position in this regard? The unitary, transformative approach does not have a political agenda. The change that takes place is change from within, with trust in the evolving mutual process. The unitary, transformative perspective includes and transcends concerns of constraint and addresses the issue of freedom from within the person, for example, the search for meaning of persons in prison, the transcendence of physical paralysis, or the inner freedom of those limited by sociopolitical circumstances. The unitary, transformative perspective does not separate the person from the circumstances but views the pattern as a whole. Cowling acknowledges the lack of a specific agenda on the part of the unitary, transformative practitioner, who deliberately refrains from imposing preferred outcomes, acknowledging a basic tenet of unpredictability

The concept of consciousness is identified as a major point of possible convergence between the two paradigms. Critical feminists present a cognitive view of consciousness in such terms as "consciousness raising" and "false consciousness." Chinn refers to "constructing" consciousness-an instrumental approach. At this point, we encounter a confusing similarity in Cowling's assertion that "knowing participation in change," a concept introduced by Rogerian theorist Elizabeth Barrett, epitomizes the unitary, transformative position.1 There is a similarity between consciousness raising and knowing participation in change; both focus on cognitive knowing and would, in my opinion, fit with the interactive-integrative (I-I) paradigm of nursing science. Cowling claimed that Rogers never dealt with the concept of consciousness due to the ambiguity of the term in different fields, but Rogers (1994) did address the concept just prior to her death, viewing consciousness as the emerging pattern of the field. Cowling acknowledges that a new view of consciousness "consistent with the wholeness of all experience" was introduced by the theory of health as expanding consciousness (Newman, 1986; 1994) but he stops short of elaborating how the new concept differs from other definitions of consciousness.

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