Notes on: Fotheringham, S. (2013) 'Exploring the Methodology of Getting Lost with Patti Lather'.  In The Qualitative Report 18: 1 - 4

Dave Harris

Lather's book 'is an excruciatingly difficult read'(1) which induces precisely the feeling of getting lost in the theoretical and philosophical complexities.  It offers ambiguities complexities are more questions than answers, and argues that getting lost is important, and that this is the appropriate reaction for the reader.

One of the first losses is the loss of 'researcher expertise and authority'.  Instead the researcher is a person who knows is problematized.  The appropriate location is being curious and unknowing rather than an expert.  This is defended by discussing epistemology and how knowledge is produced, allowing a space for new knowledge to emerge.  This agrees with work on indigenous research and the role played by stories, although Lather prefers to appear as a witness to the lives of others.  New forms of knowledge are required, however. In social work, there has long been talk about sharing power in research and developing anti-oppressive research, but support for the researcher as expert remains.

Feminist methodology can no longer remain innocent, and must examine its own unintended consequences.  It needs to open itself to contestation and critical investigation [rather than assuming it is automatically right and anti-oppressive].  Lather did some work with women living with HIV, to trouble normal forms of representation, and to allow the women themselves to participate, but also examines how feminist researchers can be made more accountable.  They must acknowledge the problems of representation their ubiquity in research.  This implies by constructing the role of researcher as expert, hence getting lost.  The book also deliberately breaks boundaries between academic and other forms of writing, and Lather's '"naked methodology"' (3) involved running a seminar from a hot tub literally stripped of authority and innocence.  Researchers and social workers should also take off their clothing of doing good and engage in theoretical debate instead of assuming that feminist social workers are simply well meaning.

The book ends by arguing for imperfect incomplete and indeterminate knowledge as part of a larger shift away from positivism.  Social work should engage in this debate and be prepared to get lost a little.

Lather page