Understanding Decentering: How Paradinamic Frameworks Impact the Inquiry

While not every scholarly paper directly describes what specific paradigm their research follows or what impacts their understanding of the world, this topic is always just below the surface. Rigorous scholarship should evaluate the evaluative process that a scholar goes through in their inquiry. Many times, the scientific dialogue is attempting to shift the understanding of the community around a topic. Whether the research is positivist in its manner of implementation through insights gained based on nominal data collection and how that relates to changes in variables or if it is about adjusting the way the scholar would propose the reader ought to be understanding the world. There is a consistent push to increase our understanding. This essay looks to understand the concept of decentering and research paradigms.

The concept of decentering, which has its first known use in 1870, is defined as “to cause to lose or shift from an established center or focus especially: to disconnect from practical or theoretical assumptions of origin, priority, or essence” (Merriam-Webster, n.d., Definition of Decenter section). Researchers often look to shift the understanding of readers from established conceptions by offering arguments based on new information or ways of processing that information to a recently developed interpretation of how some aspect of the world works.

This process of decentering one set of ideas and shifting to this new interpretation happens in an extensive collection of areas of inquiry both in their breadth and depth. In a very meta example, Frug (1993) argues for decentering decentralization. Authors concentrate on areas of inquiry such as decentering from whiteness (McLaren, 1997), heteronomativity (Oswald, 2005), literary dynamics (Kronfeld, 1996), and from the general center to include multicultural, postcolonial, and feminist perspectives (Naryan, 2000). While this is not an exhaustive list of topics that researchers have sought to change, the focus on it gives some view of the wide berth to where these ideas can be moored.

In the application of therapeutic interventions for mental health treatment, decentering is also implemented. Bernstein et al. (2015) relate what they term decentering-related constructs to three interrelated metacognitive processes. These processes include meta-awareness (or an awareness of the subjective experience), disidentification from internal experience (or the experience of the internal states as separate from one’s self), and having a reduced reactivity to thought content (where the effects of the thought content are reduced on other mental processes). In their discussion regarding constructs that fit within this overarching set of metacognitive processes, they relate cognitive defusion, deliteralization, cognitive distancing, decentering, detached mindfulness, metacognitive awareness, metacognitive modeling, mindfulness, reperceiving, self-as-context, and self-distanced perspective all in this container of decentering-related constructs. It seems that there is a similarity between how an individual decenters detrimental and distorted thoughts to healthier thinking processes and how scholars might need to approach the paradigms underlying their research.

The paradigms that scholars take to use as their framework to deconstruct and reconstruct ideas and topics are like the groundwork for understanding the issues being examined. The deconstructing and reconstructing is especially applicable for researchers using a constructivist approach as it is at the core of the aim of this type of inquiry (Lincon et al., 2011). This layered understanding of a topic requires that there be some way of having a conventional method for understanding the parts. That they need to be some commensurability, allowing the parts to be able to either be comparable or measurable by a common standard. Lincon et al. (2011) describe that critical theories (including feminist and race theories), constructivism, and participatory and postmodern theories are all incommensurable. They go on to explain how there seems to be interbreeding between the various paradigmatic research methods.

For me, in my scientific pursuit, I don’t know if I am focused on gathering and analyzing information that is strictly commensurable. My sensibilities are probably most closely aligned with a postpositivism paradigm. It is not believing that I’m going to find the one truth but believing that there is a truth. I would say that truth is likely so complex and multifaceted that one person might not ever be able to understand or articulate it fully. I would say that because in my point of view, just as a constructivist might argue, there are many different realities. Each person has their perspectives and reality. It would seem that these realities give us another aspect of that multifaceted truth and understanding. But merely just focusing on deconstructing and constructing these different realities doesn’t seem to be enough. There is a need to assess the impact of power and oppression in our understanding of the world. This is because both power and oppression have a substantial effect on the world and our interactions with it. I find myself wanting to have ways and methods to engage with others as co-creators and researchers directly. That understanding should lead to change and action. It should also inform my understanding of potential harm that might be done by my research. I want to be able to understand my inquiry from all of the different possible methods for understanding it.

This desire for inclusivity and connection to understanding our topic of inquiry in many different ways might be part of why there seem to be constant shifts in social science research approaches. With all of the different ways that we can understand various aspects of a simple or complex topic, gain different vantage points allow us to make discoveries and find more meaningful information.

As scholars, we need to have an understanding of the paradigm we are grappling with through our research. This grappling is similar to the subjective experience described by Bernstein et al. (2015). To be able to impose an amount of rigor to our work, there is a need for us also to be able to disidentify and reduce our reactivity to understand the topic we are wrestling with carefully. As a white, heterosexual male in the United States, I am a part of the dominant group. I have written about the disconnect that I have felt about my ethnicity and oppression (Campbell, 2008). I need to be able to evaluate where I am and determine what aspects might need to be decentered. How does my euro-western culture, history, and philosophy affect my understanding of a viewport into the world? That whether I am following a more traditional western research paradigm or an indigenous research paradigm, they both are additive to our understanding of the world.


Bernstein, A., Hadash, Y., Lichtash, Y., Tanay, G., Shepherd, K., & Fresco, D. M. (2015). Decentering and Related Constructs: A Critical Review and Metacognitive Processes Model. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(5), 599-617. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691615594577

Campbell, J. (2008, July 27) The ethnicity of non-ethnicity: The ethnic autobiography of the dominate culture. https://jacobrcampbell.com/resources/articles/ethnicity-non-ethnicity

Chilisa, B. (2012). 1 - Situating knowledge systems. In Indigenous research methodologies (pp. 1-43). Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications.

Frug, J. (1993). Decentering decentralization. The University of Chicago Law Review, 60(2), 253-338.

Kronfeld, C. (1996). On the margins of modernism: Decentering literary dynamics (Vol. 2). Univ of California Press.

Lincoln, Y. S., Lynham, S. A., & Guba, E. G. (2011). 6 -  Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences, revisited. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (4th ed, pp. 97-128). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

McLaren, P. (1997). Decentering whiteness. Multicultural Education, 5(1): 4-11.

Merriam-Webster (n.d.) decenter. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved February 8, 2020 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/decenter

Narayan, U., Harding, S. G., & Harding, S. (Eds.). (2000). Decentering the center: Philosophy for a multicultural, postcolonial, and feminist world. Indiana University Press.

Oswald, R. F., Blume, L. B., & Marks, S. R. (2005). Decentering heteronormativity: A model for family studies. Sourcebook of family theory and research, 143-165.


This essay was originally submitted as a discussion prompt for TSD 8215 - Varieties of Scholarly Experience.