Lack of Generalizability is NOT a Limitation

The thought started simple enough. I had a rub, a metaphorical pebble in my shoe every time I saw or myself listed “lack of generalizability” as a limitation to my or other qualitative research. Generalizability is not the point of qualitative research! I was bothered and so I told my Chair, “I will not be listing it as a limitation in my dissertation. I will not be defined nor defend myself against the dominant discourse.” The dominant discourse being that of quantitative research which touts itself on, of course, being generalizable to some extent.  It began there, and then it grew.

How is it that my blog, while highly subjective and arguably entirely auto-biographical be both an individual experience and generalizable to the extent that so many people find that my experiences mirror their own?  Qualitative data, as I understand it, is meant to capture the human experience through complex and subjective meaning making and perspectives; knowing that no such experience could ever be definitively captured. It’s a paradox of sorts. I do the work knowing that the work can never be done. It is both hopeful and defeating depending on how you view your glass of water. There is almost more to do and see and understand, and yet, for all that is done seen and understood there is always still more.

So I took my small stand. And then I took a bigger one. Ignoring what was easy and available for what was difficult and emergent.  I haven’t so much regretted the decision as I have…well there is not quite a word to describe what I am.  I am present.  I’ve caught up with what is ripening in this very moment and I do not wish to rush it, but I’m breathing in the smells of opening fruit deeply as if my life depended on it.  To some extent, I think, it does.

Tasked with up-hill climb of writing my own story first, it has put things on hold. Just this week I’ve felt it pull at me to begin to form words around my thoughts. Reading and taking notes, mentally and then artistically moving pieces of work around fitting them together in a new sort-of puzzle.  Questioning and re-questioning myself, “as you say this, where did it come from?” Tracing the roots of my thoughts, discerning my own voice from that of others and becoming surgeon-level skilled at severing the two preserving that which will remain from that which is no longer needed.

Which is why I came back to the generalizability.  It was my first adamant stance balanced on my own two feet in this work. It was the beginning of my own presence and incidentally the opening of possibility for a new way of being in this work.  Here is where I begin: in full knowing the purpose with which I continue through this labyrinth.

A new colleague of mine, Kris, and I got to talking about purpose power and passion. He saw power as capacity; for example, because I have (or in my case, will obtain) my PhD, my radius of influence increases and the realm of possibility grows therefore what I am logistically capable of doing has increased. I have the power to create change of a different influence. Purpose, I countered, was not the possibility purpose was what navigated the journey.  Purpose at least in my experience, was your compass  when you felt your way was convoluted; purpose is your north star.  The what, he asked, was passion? Passion, we decided, was the fuel.  Here was the tricky part.  You could be fueled by power, by reach by influence by expansion but I think when power lacks purpose, it is not sustainable growth. It is growth only of the ego and not of the soul.  Similarly, you could be fueled by purpose, but without the recognition of your magnitude…well reconsider the Heisenberg principle that you cannot know how something moves (velocity) and where it is (position) at the same time with any significant degree of certainty.  If you are so focused on what you are moving toward that you do not see where you are, and what is within reach at this moment, think of the possibilities that are lost. But, when purpose passion and power are aligned…when you understand what you are meant to do, what you can do, and are motivated to action?

You get where I am right now. Where I feel I am right now.


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