Notes on a discussion with P Lather

Clarke, Adele (2009) 'Getting Lost and Found and Lost and Found and Lost Again with Patti Lather'.  In Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 30 (1): 212-21

Lather is a methodologist rather than offering specific methods, and does not tell people what to do, but asks them questions.  She is an adventurous writer and researcher, and can sometimes scare the audience.  She once ran a seminar while naked in a hot tub.  She talks about a double(d) science in the context of Pitt and Britzman on 'difficult knowledge', that which produces breakdowns in representing experience, losing 'lovely knowledge' which reinforces what we think.  Loss is positively valued as a force of learning, and marginal or semi conscious perceptions and experiences pursued.  Reflexivity is the primary methodological tool, inspired by Lacan's remark that we have to become aware of the ways in which we avoid and evade material that we do not want to handle in order 'to sustain our own narcissistic visions' (213).  Her own in capacities are acknowledged, but she does not think that therefore we should not tried to engage.  She is open to critical comments from others and sometimes publishes it.  In a spirit of '"self - wounding"'.  Ethnography itself is self wounding, since we are accountable to complexity and limits soon appear.

She's an interventionist, thinking that there is a need to change the world as well as understand it, but thinks that we should start with ourselves.  This means going beyond 'disciplinary comfort zones', including investigating science and technology.  Clarke who is a specialist, finds the argument here limited and underestimating paradigm shifts in that field.  It also ignores some current work on biology in feminism.  Overall, the disunity of science is now accepted, and we know realise that biologies are local and situated.  Kuhn might also have been critiqued more effectively.  The ethnography of science and technology has revealed several competing paradigms at work, assuming that is an adequate way to explain '"thought collectives"'.  The model here is Latour. Star has also suggested that the sociology of knowledge is crucial to new studies of science, and approaches also drawn art criticism and literary criticism.  Kuhn is not enough.

Lather is still stuck in 'the old post structuralist fights' and the requirements of the audit culture with its stress on evidence based practice, both influential in education.  The importance of scientific approaches is wider, and functions above all to foster a myth of external knowledge, beyond the social and the political.  It is being challenged above all by open access, 'pioneered in large part by young scientists without tenure'.  Modern science even displays a double version itself. Lather is right to argue that social theory is replacing philosophy as an influence on science.  Social theory is itself changing, moving away from hegemonic white male individuals towards more collective topics or themes and this now includes women and people of colour.

There is an assumption that most research should be aimed at the powerless who are suffering problems, but Lather problematizes voices and they are conflicts with intrusive social research.  She is good on the ethics about the tension between doing research and the 'anguish of representation' (217).  However, there is a need to study those which calls these problems, 'including structural violence and social suffering'.  This involves looking other people's science and critiquing it and she is good at this.  She advocates acknowledging the contingency of truth and, like Latour and Law has recognise the importance of the material and non human.  'Interpretive scientificity' is necessary to address complexity.

Research has an existential dimension involving 'an ongoing series of confrontations with self, others, ideas, ethics, and dilemmas, conundrums and contradictions'.  After confronting such difficult knowledge, however we need to see the potential for thinking and doing otherwise.  Latour argues the same in urging us to open the black ox of science.  Lather operates in an '"intertextual web" and this can lead to great creativity.