Mertens, D. M. (2017). Transformative research: Personal and societal. International Journal for Transformative Research, 4(1), 18–24.

Note: All pull quotes below are from this paper. The additional comments and questions are my own, unless otherwise attributed

Salient Details


Donna M. Mertens argues that the personal transformation of researchers, participants, and readers is integral to producing research that has the potential to transform society and that traditional research methods are not up to the job.


Mertens offers a framework for transformative research that addresses: axiological, ontological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions. She posits that research designed to engage with discrimination and oppression is more likely to result in personal and social transformation.

Theoretical Framework:

Transformative paradigm, informed by standpoint theory, critical theory, disability studies, and Indigenous ways of knowing.

Note that Mertens has worked in, learned from, and researched within the deaf community for 30+ years. According to Merten’s bio on Sage, her research has spanned special education services, planning for the inclusion of students with disabilities in neighbourhood schools, enhancing the educational experiences of students with disabilities, and improving the preparation of teachers of the deaf through the appropriate use of instructional technology. “Her research focuses on improving methods of inquiry by integrating the perspectives of those who have experienced oppression in our society. She draws on the writings of feminists, racial and ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities, as well as Indigenous peoples who have addressed the issues of power and oppression and their implications for research methodology.”


Normative argument.


She argues for methodological pluralism that respects multiple ways of knowing and blends knowledge gained from sources that are traditionally accepted by the academy with intuative knowledge and knowledge gained from other non-traditional sources that are valued in the participant community. She supports arguments made by Joan Walton (2014) and Rosemarie Anderson and William Braud (2011). Mertens ends by quoting Walton, “There is a continuing emphasis on the need for methodological pluralism, where researchers from a range of disciplines including the social sciences, natural sciences, humanities and arts, can engage in individual and collaborative approaches to generating knowledge that will address issues of global concern.””

My Notes With Quotes:

When people with intellectual disabilities were asked about their priorities for transformation, they replied that they wanted to live in a world where they can live “ordinary” lives (National Health Committee, 2003). This definition of transformation has societal and personal level implications. Societal attitudes and barriers that limit life chances for people with disabilities must be part of the transformation, along with personal transformation of those in power and those with disabilities.

Observation: great example of the cohesion of needs for social and personal transformation on so many levels. This statement also speaks to the notion that “disability” and “accessibility” are not predetermined or static states of being but rather dynamic, co-constructed states of being that can be transformed.

At a personal level, researchers need to experience a transformation in the way they enter communities respectfully in order to build relationships that recognize the knowledge that community members bring to the context. For example, as a non-Deaf person conducting research with the Deaf community for over 30 years, I needed to shift my self-perception as the expert in research contexts to recognize that in matters of deafness, I am not the expert. People who have lived experience of deafness are the experts in that regard and this knowledge
has to be acknowledged and valued.

Observation: Mertens talks about personal transformation as being part of transformational research. She acknowledges here she had to shift her self-perception. People from the Deaf community are experts in their shared experience, a respectful researcher needs to build research in partnership with the local experts.

To this end, transformative researchers often adopt a cyclical mixed methods approach, using the earliest stages of the research study to identify who needs to be included and how they can be included (Mertens, 2018). This also entails a transformative process at the individual level that supports the development of trusting relationships and working with members of marginalized and powerful communities to understand the cultural complexities and their implications for transformation. The relationship-building phase can be followed by a phase for contextual analysis during which existing data and literature can be reviewed. It might also include group process strategies to bring to light the types of tacit and integral knowledge that form the basis for transformation. The information collected from these phases are used to develop an intervention that has potential for transforming individuals and society. This intervention is usually pilot-tested with a small group so that it can be adjusted as necessary.

Observation: Steps toward research design, she goes into a bit more detail in the video lecture What are Mixed Methods?

The transformative methodological assumption aligns with Walton’s (2014) recommendation to collect data from diverse sources in diverse ways that honor the intuitive and integral knowledge needed for transformation. Walton suggests the value of transpersonal methods to train researchers and participants in recognizing intuitive knowledge. This can include engaging in imaginal dialogue when developing the research topic, using an expansive literature review strategy that allows for challenges to personal values and assumptions, combining intuitive research methods with conventional quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods, and integrating the results of all the data collection with the literature and sharing it in meaningful ways with diverse audiences. “Intuitive perception can help achieve richer forms of understanding when used to complement processes such as analytic reasoning and information gained from the conventional five senses (p. 37).

Observation: this notion that tapping into intuitive understanding to bring about conscious change reminds me of the avant-garde aritists of the 60’s and 70’s: Agnes Martin, Barnett Newman, or Sol LeWitt. And something about it pulls me into thinking about “The thing as such” or “The thing itself” – Kant and Hegel, content and form. There is something in the space between, the gaps and linkages between, what is known and what is sensed where we can make space for new understandings and new meanings. Is that the space of transformation itself? And is that what we need to access in order to bring about transformation?