Plinius

Monday, June 28, 2010

PL 31/10: What’s the goal?

Filed under: research — plinius @ 8:32 am

I’ve got a problem.

Oslo University College, where I work, was created by a state-imposed merger of nearly twenty independent schools that prepared people for work in “the modern professions” – like teaching, nursing, social work, engineering, media and (of course)  librarianship.

Two of my colleagues at Oslo University College have now startet an international research journal. The new journal is called Reconceptualizing Educational Research Methodology.

The title appeals to me. I enjoy teaching. I like methodology. My problem is: I do not understand what the authors of the five articles in the first issue are trying to achieve.

Autobiography, critique and time

The first paper seems to move from one agenda to another. It starts with a straightforward continuity-discontinuity theme

  • whether changes in qualitative research should be viewed as recurrent revolutions
  • or as a field of continuing key themes and long-standing tensions

But then the author shifts her ground. She happened to read a couple of issues of two periodicals – and switched to:

  • how critical debate and review are displayed in different methodological positions of qualitative research.

As a reader, I find such changes of focus within a short  academic paper – nine pages –  rather bewildering.

The author is quite aware of what she is doing. She is deliberately breaking with an established form of academic writing. She describes her article as a set of notes:

  • partly structured by a temporal narrative over personally lived qualitative research,
  • and partly by an epistemological narrative of a methodological discussion,
  • interwoven with the passing of time when writing.

Is this a new model for academic writing? Will she encourage her students to do the same? To what purpose?

Narrative methods in the nursery

The second paper explores

  • the tensions and ambiguities that come to characterise feminist post-structuralist approaches to narrative research

The conclusions seem to be

  • there is still an important need to hear the stories of marginalised groups
  • to overcome concerns that ‘giving voice’ is unethical, arrogant, and partial
  • heightened transparency about decision-making and representation is vital

Fair enough – but transparency will not emerge by itself. Somebody has to confront the persons and powers that oppose transparency. The Empire will fight back, of course. Transparency in the abstract is praised by everybody. Even bureaucrats can accept the principle – as a principle. Transparency in the concrete is deeply unpopular.

Calling transparency vital is not wrong – but very, very safe. Taking personal risks to increase transparency is rather more important. I am happy when people like Eva Joly, Finn Sjue and Alf Magnussen – the Aftenposten librarian who worked on the “Romerike water works” case – actually remove some of the veils.

Has the research led to real confrontations? Will it do so in the near future?

The concept of need is tricky indeed. I would prefer a more action oriented language. For instance:

  • Many people are marginalized.
  • Their voices are not heard.
  • They ought to be heard (in the society I desire).
  • I will work to make them heard

Writing research articles is not a very effective way of realizing this goal, I suspect.

Assemblages at work

The third author wants to

  • challenge the present western policy to control and tame educational research practices

A big task, indeed. But I do not understand how a

  • Deleuzian ontology of immanence,
  • decentring the researcher as a subject
  • the idea of a research assemblage

can achieve that effect.

Collaborative deconstruction

The fourth article wants to

  • challenge qualitative research from within our own spaces and practices,
  • by putting to work deconstruction as an ‘exorbitant’ and collaborative methodological strategy.
  • A piece of interview-data featuring a six-year-old boy is used as an example.

A big challenge. Again I wonder: are the tools appropriate to the task?

Subjects under erasure

The final paper

  • re-visits the problem of how we re-conceptualize human subjects within poststructuralist research.

It criticizes neoliberalism’s impact on academic work and asks us

  • think through what it means to put the subject under erasure
  • argues that agency is the province of that subject.

In higher education (I would argue) neoliberalism is very much present

  • in the cross-national monitoring of student achievements
  • in the nation-wide reward systems for student and research output

that European governments are developing to manage their knowledge industries. I have tried to discuss their impact on professional education – and to get a methodological discussion going – in Forskerforum and on the web. It is hard to get the supporters of the systems to respond, however.

The author claims that

The turn to poststructuralist theory to inform research in the social sciences is complicated by the difficulty in thinking through what it means to put the subject under erasure.

Erasure is a technical term introduced by Derrida.

Abstracts and articles

Politically, Derrida is on the progressive side. But I cannot see how these texts can help us in the struggle for better educational strategies. Do the authors and I live in different professional worlds. Am I blind to something obvious? If that is the case, there must be a deep fissure within educational research at my own institution.

I take it that abstracts are written to help the reader decide whether an article would be of interest for her. Will the time spent reading be worth the effort? The five abstracts below seem addressed to a narrow audience. Is that intentional?

Resources

APPENDIX 1

ABSTRACTS

Gunvor Løkken:
Notes on a methodological discussion: autobiography, critique and time

After having tried for some time to overview the contemporary field of qualitative research to give a lecture for a professorship in that area, my idea at the outset of writing this article was to address whether changes in qualitative research should be viewed as recurrent revolutions as highlighted by Denzin and Lincoln (2000; 2005), or as a field of continuing key themes and long-standing tensions, as conceptualized by Atkinson, Coffey and Delamont (2003).

However, during my writing, after one detour into the May 2009 issue of Current Sociology and a second detour into the July 2009 issue of Qualitative Research, my attention focused on to how critical debate and review are displayed in different methodological positions of qualitative research.

In my reading, the discussion in Current Sociology between main stream and postmodern methodological positioning revealed an utterly one-way feminist critique; this was also the case in one of three book reviews of The Handbook of Qualitative Research (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005) in the referred issue of Qualitative Research.

My puzzle over this critical stance, and my third detour, into Yvonne Lincoln’s discussion of twenty-five years of qualitative and new paradigm research in the January 2010 Issue of Qualitative Inquiry, helped evolve the following notes on a methodological discussion. The notes are partly structured by a temporal narrative over personally lived qualitative research, and partly by an epistemological narrative of a methodological discussion, interwoven with the passing of time when writing.

Jayne Osgood:
Narrative methods in the nursery: (re)- considering claims to give voice through processes of decision-making.

From a feminist post-structuralist position I recount and reflect upon using narrative methods in a recent study with a sample of nursery workers in London.

Firstly, I offer a critical reflection of feminist concerns to undertake research in emancipatory and recipricol [sic!] ways.

The decision-making that took place at various stages of the study is explored to consider the tensions and ambiguities that come to characterise feminist post-structuralist approaches to narrative research. The paper concludes by arguing that there is still an important need to hear the stories of marginalised groups. However, to overcome concerns that ‘giving voice’ is unethical, arrogant, and partial then heightened transparency about decision- making and representation is vital.

Ninni Sandvik:
The art of/in educational research: assemblages at work

The purpose of this article is to challenge the present western policy to control and tame educational research practices.

It suggests a research methodology approach inspired by Deleuzian immanent ontology and the concept of  ́assemblage ́. Based on my PhD-project  ́Assemblages of desire in pedagogical practices: Inspirations from Deleuze and Guattari ‘ the article draws on the overlaps between research, philosophy and art. After a brief introduction to Deleuzian ontology of immanence, arguments for a decentring of the researcher as a subject, and the idea of a research assemblage are suggested.

To accelerate the production of thoughts in the research analysis a piece of artwork is included in the assemblage, to make possible an investigation at the sensations produced when paintings, field notes and the researcher work together as a ‘thinking-machine’. The assemblage is here put to work by investigating different circular and horizontal movements in the process of analysis.

Hillevi Lenz Taguchi:
Doing collaborative deconstruction as an ‘exorbitant’ strategy in qualitative research

This paper aims to challenge qualitative research from within our own spaces and practices, by putting to work deconstruction as an ‘exorbitant’ and collaborative methodological strategy.

During a seven month period, PhD students used their research-data aiming at doing deconstruction as collaborative processes of writing and talking, rather than treating deconstruction as an object of philosophical study or applying theory to practice. The process was constituted by a turning, bending and twisting of your own analysis, questioning it and trying to displace the meanings of it: in order to identify how and why you do the analysis you do, and foremost, what other analysis might be possible. A piece of interview-data featuring a six-year-old boy is used as an example. A strong desire among the participants was to do better justice to our data using this strategy. The (im)possibilities of doing justice in deconstructive analysis are thus discussed.

Bronwyn Davies:
The implications for qualitative research methodology of the struggle between the individualised subject of phenomenology and the emergent multiplicities of the poststructuralist subject: the problem of agency

This paper re-visits the problem of how we re-conceptualize human subjects within poststructuralist research.

The turn to poststructuralist theory to inform research in the social sciences is complicated by the difficulty in thinking through what it means to put the subject under erasure. Drawing on a study in a Reggio Emilia inspired preschool in Sweden, and a study of neoliberalism’s impact on academic work, this paper opens up thought about poststructuralism’s subject. It argues that agency is the province of that subject.

APPENDIX 2

In her commentary on Plato’s Parmenides, the Greek scholar Edith Hamilton said:

“The argument runs on and on in words that appear to make sense and yet convey nothing to the mind.”1

My feeling is that many academics feel the same way about deconstruction. It is not that they do not understand it; they do, but the knowledge seems to evaporate almost as soon as it is acquired. An unwillingness to retain an understanding of deconstruction derives, I think, from the radicalism with which it practices what Jacques Maritain has called the “denaturing of human reason.”2

To master the language of deconstruction, to acquire that special understanding of “nonconcepts” such as difference, trace, supplement, or verbs such as to inscribe, to defer, to open up a text, one has to assume an intellectual posture that is deeply unnatural within the culture in which we live. To practice deconstruction means to achieve the ultimate degree of separation between the reading of texts and the experience of life.

Writing and thinking deconstruction involves constant switching of the levels of discourse, from discourse proper to meta-discourse to meta-meta-discourse. This is why it is easy, having understood what deconstruction is all about, to forget it promptly.

A deconstructionist pays an exorbitant homage to time. He starts with a rather trivial observation that there is a difference between the fact that something is, and our thinking or writing that something is.3 A time lapse always occurs between the event and our thinking about it. Nothing happens in the present; everything is “always already” behind us, from the standpoint of time. There is no present tense, and therefore there is no presence.

Deconstruction invokes the notion of deferral, of “being late” in regard to “what is”: our thought about it occurs after the “being” itself.

On this notion of deferral, of being late, Jacques Derrida built his system of interpretation of literary texts whose central thesis is that nothing really is, that “being” as construed by Western metaphysics is an illusion. There exists only a system of writing, a printed page, a set of traces of something that apparently was but in fact never was. There is only “space” between concepts.

From Body, Mind, and Deconstruction

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