Before diving too deeply into this topic, we must examine some of the fundamental terms to be used in this discussion. By drawing careful distinctions now, and adhering to these definitions, we can avoid later confusion. Specifically, we must note what we mean when we use words such as paradigm, ideology, approach, or methodology. We need to clarify each of these definitions because people absorb terms in different ways, based in large part on where and when they come to them. We must have like conceptions of these words to proceed.

The term paradigm, as we typically understand it, comes from Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn philosophizes on the physical sciences, but much of what he says can be and has been applied to fields in the humanitites as well. He initially defines paradigms as "universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners."1 A paradigm sets up the way that researchers view and do their work. Kuhn elaborates on the subject by explaining two key aspects of a paradigm. First, he says they "attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes of scientific activities." Second, a paradigm must be "sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to resolve."2 A new paradigm, then, does not merely influence the ways people do their current work. Instead, it collects a group of people who work on new questions from a new vantage point. The new paradigm helps establish the problems, and means of solutions that will occupy the new practitioners. Gene Wise adds that "a paradigm expresses that community's consensus on some part of nature" and "offers identity and group solidarity."3 A paradigm, essentially, unites a group of like-thinking individuals, and proposes questions and routes to answers. The belief that many scholars worked under that there is an American mind that can be expressed in the art of great thinkers and that scrutinous readings and examinations could reveal this mind represents a paradigm.

Wise also considers something he calls an explanation-form, a variant on the concept of paradigm. An "explanation-form" describes a mode of work undertaken by people who share a similar perspective, but do not quite unite in the same ways people would under a paradigm. Under a paradigm, people believe that their form is "not simply a way of looking at reality" but that this form is reality.4 Moreover, a paradigm, to Wise, forms a tighter community, and is established institutionally.5 Wise offers important thoughts on these ideas, but for our purposes, we will stick with the term paradigm as defined by Kuhn. This definition will allow a simpler, more coherent discussion, but we should keep Wise's distinctions in the back of our minds.

Sacvan Bercovitch
Sacvan Bercovitch
The term ideology presents us with another form of nuance. Sacvan Bercovitch writes, "I mean by ideology the ground and texture of consensus.... the system of interlinked ideas, symbols, and beliefs by which a culture any culture seeks to justify and perpetuate itself."6 An ideology represents more than just the scientific paradigmatic approach to research. It contains the cultural and structural codes under which people work, but it does not include the problem-creating and -solving aspects of the work, nor is it based on a specific scholarly worldview.

We must also have a working understanding of the word approach. By this word, I mean the group of attitudes, processes, and techniques that one employs in a given enterprise. An approach is the means by which we achieve an objective. Our mental and emotional relationship to our enterprise constitutes a vital aspect of approach. The methodology we use in reaching our objective also makes up part of our approach.

A methodology is a way of approaching work within a given paradigm and ideology. People can also apply a methodology in various paradigms and distinct fields of study. It is not paradigmatic because it does not create questions or unite groups under a specific rubric of study. A methodology presents a systematic approach to presenting work. The process I describe in detail throughout this project represents a type of methodology.

Throughout my explanations, we need to keep these terms distinct in our minds, and use them with precision. Sometimes comments will apply to only one category, but sometimes they will apply to several. In each case, I will use the only and all the necessary terminology.


1Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 3rd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996, p. x.

2Kuhn, p. 10.

3Wise, Gene. American Historical Explanations: A Strategy for Grounded Inquiry. 2nd ed, rev. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980, p. 124.

4Wise, p. 129.

5Wise, p. 129.

6Bercovitch, Sacvan. "The Problem of Ideology in American Literary History." Critical Inquiry 12 (1986), p. 635.