Private Principal Investigator

“We ought to be less worried about how signs arouse divergent meanings than the conditions that keep us from attending to our neighbors and other beings different from us.” — John Durham Peters, Speaking into the Air


Immersion Protocols

Core Intellectual Philosophies

Core References

Curriculum Vitae

About Cathy


As Private Principal Investigator (PPI)* for the Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies, I prepare, conduct, and administer the Center’s research and creative projects.

In general, my research focuses on understanding change processes in educational, political, media, and business cultures. Most recently, anthropological ethnographic immersion in U.S. rural cultures has produced data that can help us understand how healthy change happens, how it is enabled, and where its challenges appear.

Additionally, I’m deeply committed to creating accessible resources using language and other tools that can identify how power moves, provide a way to talk about power, and make it possible to practice power-sharing. In an extraordinarily complicated world, simple-to-use sophisticated sense-making tools are invaluable.

Immersion Protocol Categories (in development)

The Private Principal Investigator’s immersion protocols emerged from field experience in what can accurately be described as “extreme ethnographic conditions” or “hostile field environments.” I organized similar ethnographic experience characteristics from my immersion in each rural culture into the following categories of methodological protocols:

Setting up a new basic life

Starting at the bottom

Extended unplugged living

Relations in systems

Living simply and frugally

Cultural work

Zip code considerations

Coping with isolation

Emerging and transitioning

Processing and debriefing

Documenting and documentation

Grounding theory in projects


Sharing and marketing

Core Intellectual Philosophies

These are the core ideas that
inform my life and my work, simply stated.
I learned these ideas in the abstract,
mostly from books.

I understood and embodied these ideas
in experience, first in conversation
with other learners and teachers,
then in nearly five years
of solitude and isolation.

I could have arranged
these ideas in
different configurations
or expressed them
in a few language flavors,
but this shape and taste feel right, now.

Of course, this
collection of ideas
has a life of its own,
shifting and transforming
as part of the
creative evolution of
my becoming.

Still, the core ideas,
whatever their configuration,

I understand that there are valuable insights in the waste heap of human ideas, and that we can reclaim what’s valuable only by understanding first.

Persons. I understand that a person is a mode of being made up of meaning and value. I understand that there are human and nonhuman persons. I understand that the nonhuman persons’ world is tangled up with human points of view, our values and drives. I understand that all persons are born with freedom and dignity, that we enact them in our mode of being. I understand that freedom and dignity cannot be stolen from persons because they are embodied, not attached like accessories.

I understand that feeling is the fundamental mode of human and nonhuman persons’ experience, from which all other modes of experience originate. I understand that the authenticity of emotion is always already empirical. I understand that how we know, how we value and make meaning, and how we are is always person-al, always already from a point of view. I understand, too, that who we are is in our bodies, and that we perform and shape that embodiment in relation with other persons also performing and shaping. I understand that this is how we bring our human selves into being and how we create our worlds.

I understand that the deeply person-al and intimate is a rich site for cultural knowledge and change. I understand that lives are stories and that thick description — in a multitude of modes — gets as close as humanly possible to recreating worlds to share them. I understand that stories create and recreate persons and cultures.

Relations. I understand that the universe is, at bottom, radically relational, and that means there is no entity that is disconnected from or irrelevant to other entities. I understand that nothing in the universe is independent from the rest, and that seeming opposites — dualisms — are actually contrasts, each element necessary for the other.

I understand that contrasts create novelty, and that two entities in relation can create a third: a structure to understand the relation. I understand that healthy and unhealthy ideas live in relations, and that we can see ideas in our practices: in what human persons do and in what we say.

I understand that power is a relation between persons. I understand that meaning is a relation between terms. I understand that language is a relation between mind and body, and that language can create and protect healthy relations between human persons.

I understand that relationalism (aka relativism) makes it possible to unfix from the “view from nowhere” (aka objectivism) and embrace contingency, tentativeness, and a respect for living complexity. I understand that nothing in the living complexity of our relational worlds requires any of us to reduce it all down to a lifeless standard or two.

Power & Change. I understand that humans learn how to use and interact with power, first, in family cultures. I understand that non-democratic power relations and systems turn persons (modes of being) into objects to be controlled, disciplined, and punished. I understand that persons often adapt to non-democratic relations and systems by accepting their harms as normal.

I understand that the non-democratic power relation is forged in persons’ accommodation of the imposed object status. I understand that persons turning toward power and acknowledging it as legitimate, create that legitimacy in relation. I understand that democratic power relations in a culture are created one power-sharing relation at a time.

I understand that relations — living connections between entities — are the basis of change in the universe. I understand that human being happens in becoming — and it is in becoming that we can shape the process of change. I understand that human language structures human and nonhuman persons’ experience and that language is the primary way humans can change that experience. I understand that the universe’s change processes and patterns are far bigger than persons’ efforts to change them.

Frames. I understand that the interminable fight between modernists and postmodernists can be avoided altogether by taking the process road. I understand that truth is grown in the soil of social relations and its health and usefulness are what make it valuable.

I understand that middle ground is beautiful and functional, and that hope is practical: it is a site where thought and action of persons can transform the present into a living image of an imagined future. I understand that education is a practice that can enliven the enactment of freedom in human persons. I understand that educational spaces where power relations can be embodied and performed make visible the previously invisible.

I understand that nothing in the universe — not one thing — replaces or recreates human contact, face-to-face experience, touch.

Time & Possibility. I understand that everything and everyone unfolds in time, and that our very bodies incline toward an unrealized future. I understand that there is nothing — not one thing — that persons can do to slow time down, to speed it up, or to stop it. I understand that humility and presence are the most beautiful and useful human responses to the flow of time.

I understand that it is in the flow of time that we feel — that we apprehend and articulate — the what if: the possibilities of human evolution. I understand that possibilities are as real as what’s actual. I understand that time is the creative force of existence, and that the mindful human experience of time makes possible creativity, novelty, openness, commitment, and purpose.

I understand that all of these gifts are embodied and realized in the courage of our convictions, in the beauty we create and share, and in the kindness we offer to persons, human and other-than-human.

Core References

Louis Althusser, On The Reproduction Of Capitalism: Ideology And Ideological State Apparatuses (London, Verso, 2014)

Cory Anton, Selfhood and Authenticity (State University of New York, 2001)

Randall E. Auxier, “Concentric Circles: An Exploration of Three Concepts in Process Metaphysics.” (Southwest Philosophy Review, 7, 151–172, 1991.)

Leslie A. Baxter & Barbara M. Montgomery, Relating: Dialogues and Dialectics (Guilford Press, New York, 1996)

Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope. (Cambridge, MIT Press, 1995)

Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed (London, Pluto Press, 1979)

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (Routledge, New York, 1990)

Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter (Routledge, New York, 1993)

William Cronen, Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (W. W. Norton and Company, New York, 1996)

Joan A. Dunayer, Animal Equality: Language and Liberation (Derwood, Maryland: Ryce Publishing, 2001)

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Random House, 1977)

Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” in H. Dreyfus & P. Rabinow (eds.) Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (U of Chicago Press, 1977)

Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (Basic Books, New York, 1973)

H.L. Goodall, Jr., Writing the New Ethnography (AltaMira Press, Oxford, 2000)

Jane Goodall and Marc Bekoff, The Ten Trusts (HarperCollins, San Francisco, 2002)

Antonio Gramsci, Selections from The Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, in Q. Hoare & G. N. Smith, trans & eds (New York: International Publishers, 1972)

Charles H. Hartshorne, Wisdom as Moderation: A Philosophy of the Middle Way (SUNY, Albany, NY, 1987)

Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (State University of New York, Albany, 1996)

bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (Routledge, New York, 1994)

William James, The Meaning of Truth: A Sequel to Pragmatism (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1909/1979)

Douglas L. Kelley, Just Relationships: Living Out Social Justice as Mentor, Family, Friend, and Lover. (London: Taylor & Francis, 2017)

Erazim Kohák, “Personalism: Towards a Philosophical Delineation” (The Personalist Forum, 13, 3–11, 1997)

Erazim Kohák, The Embers and the Stars: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Moral Sense of Nature (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1984)

Susanne Langer, Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art developed from Philosophy in a New Key (Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 1953)

Drew Leder, The Absent Body (University of Chicago Press, 1990)

Robert C. Neville, The Highroad Around Modernism (SUNY Press, Albany, NY, 1992)

Luca Parisoli, “The Anthropology of Freedom and the Nature of the Human Person.”(The Personalist Forum, 15–2, 2000: 1–27)

Charles Sanders Peirce, The Essential Peirce. (Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1992)

John Durham Peters, Speaking Into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (University of Chicago Press, 1999)

Della Pollock, telling bodies, performing birth (Columbia University Press, New York, 1999)

Calvin O. Schrag, “The Topology of Hope.” (Humanitas 13, 1977: 251–273)

Charles Sherover, The Human Experience of Time: The Development of its Philosophic Meaning (Northwestern University Press, Evanston, IL, 1975/2001)

Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1988)

Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. by D.R Griffin and D.W. Sherburne (The Free Press, New York, 1929/1978),

Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (Cambridge University Press, 1933)

Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason (Princeton University Press, 1929)

Alfred North Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 1920)

*“A Principal Investigator [PI] is the primary individual responsible for the preparation, conduct, and administration of a research grant, cooperative agreement, training or public service project, contract, or other sponsored project in compliance with applicable laws and regulations and institutional policy governing the conduct of sponsored research.” (University of Massachusetts (

Put differently, a conventional academic PI position is created and structured by a University approved funding vehicle. The Center’s Private Principal Investigator (PPI) position is created and structured, instead, in field research. Private funding vehicles commit the Center’s PPI to laws and regulations specific to each funding source. Funding vehicles, however, do not drive the Center’s research program, nor do they structure the research or creative projects. Instead, the PPI adheres to the Center’s Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals in all aspects of preparation, conduct, and administration of research and creative projects.

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