Coming to Terms: Cross-Disciplinary and Cross-Cultural Concepts in Qualitative Research

  • Eva Rose B. Washburn-Repollo


Qualitative researchers aligned to theories and processes in their own culture and discipline find themselves at a crossroads in the theory-building process when working with students from other disciplines or cultures. In the Pacific, students from these cultures use Eurocentric textbook concepts that do not always represent their experiences. Researchers struggle to come to terms with cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural data interpretations to forge new understandings and acknowledge unpublished indigenous concepts. The difficulty to search for terms to allow the synthesis of data was evident in the mentorship program for undergraduate research at Chaminade University of Honolulu where students from the Nursing, Psychology and International Studies programs using qualitative forms of inquiry worked on socio-cultural concepts and discourse theories.

We all pursue research with lenses developed from our training and philosophical perspectives. This paper focuses on the process of “coming to terms” during synthesis and theory building during data analysis of artifacts, interviews and observations when I mentor students from different disciplines. One of the studies by an International Studies major who came from the Marshall Islands, focused on the identity of US Filipino immigrants who maintain a backyard vegetable and fruit garden for their health needs. The research methodology involved a discipline-based worldview that is mindful of different disciplinary perspectives. Bilingual or multilingual students carry an additional “reservoir of resources” according to Gonzalez et al., in Funds of Knowledge (2001), a clear value to any diverse learning community, and conceptual exchange which can open spaces for this reservoir to emerge.

What has been attempted in the process of naming, is finding words rich in their dichotomy or related-ness, some in translation integrating cultures or disciplines.  These types of splicing to crossbreed is also understood in propagating new plants. When scholars from different disciplines work together, they bring with them theories that converge to find an environment viable for new interpretations. James Gee (2014) noted the concept of Intertextuality which “refers to cases where one oral or written text directly or indirectly quotes another text or alludes to another text in yet more subtle ways” (p. 44).  Therefore, in the study of transnational identities of Filipino immigrant farmers, a necessary hybridity with indigenous concepts may embody practices which have not been named in the discipline or the culture which may be gleaned from the data.

Sechelski and Onwuegbuzie (2019) in their article, A Call for Enhancing Saturation at the Qualitative Data Analysis Stage via the Use of Qualitative Data Analysis Approaches argue that there is a need for a “diversity and flexibility of qualitative data analysis approaches in their attempt to promote a more comprehensive and rigorous analysis by examining the same data from multiple analytical perspectives” (p. 5).  The twenty-three approaches mentioned in the article parallel the goal of this paper towards a finer and workable pathway towards “multiple analytical perspectives” which may be intrinsic to the operationalization with data analysis’ difficult step of building theories in interdisciplinary research projects.


I argue that constructing concepts across cultural contexts is parallel to analyzing data across approaches, therefore broadening the theory of cultural interpretation (Washburn-Repollo, 2011), “which occurs in classrooms when responses to assigned reading texts use local worldviews from primary discourses” (p. 29). To further this notion of mixing concepts, the study done on the relationship of immigrant farmers to particular vegetables and fruits in their backyard gardens can be viewed from the lens of identity. These may be enacted in behaviors viewed as cultural patterns and from the lens of economic and political agency, allowing a theoretical mosaic which compose immigrants’ acculturation and survival. Opening these spaces may allow qualitative researches to find the terms that best names notions and new concepts.

Constructing concepts across cultural contexts may include the borrowing of ethnic words from other ways of being to add richness to the meaning of an experience. In Critical Discourses and Analysis in Educational Research (Rogers, 2004), these “critical approaches to discourse analysis recognize that inquiry into meaning making is always also an exploration into power” (p. 1). Here, we recognize that the meaning of apprenticeship is anchored on social interactions where communication and transnational experiences intersect as agentive social justice.

In the case of an international studies major studying identity among immigrants in their understanding of survival and health, the concepts of migration and identity were captured in the use of the word rooted; the student researcher’s search for words to describe what she saw and experienced. The article confirms this idea that the “field continues to grow and change, responding to problems with different ways of looking, understanding and, as its practitioners hope, acting” (Rogers, 2004 p. 1). The data is performed and acted out to show the connection of plants and humans. Here the artifact is a non-verbal message interpreted as it provides a narrative. The source of plants nurturing another life (in this case, us humans) was evident in the photograph as the farmer stretched out his hand to give the fruits from his garden. Here, as Harper (2008) noted, there was a performativity in the visual data that can be transmitted as information, through video and the visual capturing of the performance of it. As cultural studies engage in virtual representations and the digital information age ushers more online sharing platforms, Harper further confirms this process of meaning making as we present ideas in contexts that, “visual documentation becomes a part of research triangulation, confirming theories using different forms of data” (p. 187).  Photographs, video and the critical view of how these are edited to propose ideas to viewers become part of our understanding of phenomenon.

This paper offers new concepts from a convergence of lenses, owing to diverse cultural and academic worldviews.  Still, it is also our responsibility, those who are naming and those who are being named, to evaluate and question how this positions those whose worldviews or cultures may be less valued in the co-construction of meaning for a diversity and inclusivity in researching human experiences.