Notes on: Lather, P.  (1986) 'Issues of Validity in Openly Ideological Research: Between a Rock and a Soft Place'.  Interchange 17 (4): 63-84

Dave Harris

Validity needs to be reconsidered with openly ideological research.  Examples are feminist research, 'neo- Marxist critical ethnography' and 'Freirian " empowering" research'.

Positivism has led to postpositivism, stressing complexities of experience.  Empirical research is now in a ferment.  If interest free knowledge is impossible, should we announce explicit interests?  Does neutrality and objectivity mystify ideology and legitimate privilege?  The issue is also to develop emancipatory theory and inspire action rather than 'spinning obtuse webs of abstract "grounded theory"'(64) [with Frankfurt school as an example].  Gramsci advised us to develop a '"praxis of the present"'to raise consciousness among progressive groups, but neo-Marxist critical ethnography is the most advanced in terms of developing empirical approaches, especially in schools.  However it risks 'conceptual over determinism: circular enforcement of theory by experience conditioned by theory'. At the same time, it is a corrective to [lazy science].

Bowles and Gintis and Apple pioneered the approach showing the link between schools and the needs of corporate capitalism, but the oversocialized emphasis has been corrected cents by studies of resistance [including Willis and McRobbie].  We now need a clear strategy to link theory and research, however, and there needs to be more self reflexivity and self criticism.  This will produce 'a self corrective element' against over interpretation, amplified by being self critical about empirical work.  This is lacking in Freire and also in some feminist research. We need to openly question the trustworthiness of data, acknowledging 'the essential indeterminacy of human experience', and recognize the effects of personal bias.  New kinds of validity are required [presumably 'catalytic validity'].

[A discussion of validity ensues].  Construct validity involves something measurable and quantifiable, but these are usually substituted by multiple regression and 'error of estimate formulae' (66) [tests of significance?].  Factor analysis is often a substitute.  Face validity becomes a matter of 'rapport and public relations'.  Statistical manipulations replace logical connections.  Reliability tends to substitute for validity.  None of these measures prevent 'consistent subjectivity' nor guard against a 'the projections of social biases'[including masculine binaries].  Recent discussions acknowledge the role played by tacit knowledge and the failure of ready made formulae.  All we can do is to become increasingly and 'vigorously self aware'.  Procedures to develop intersubjective agreement, such as triangulation and member checks have been recommended.  What is needed is more attention to justice as well.

We should be testing our own interpretations in the spirit of falsification.  Openly ideological research can now take place, although we need analysis of date or credibility to protect research and theory 'from our enthusiasms' (67).  Researcher bias can be checked by: triangulation to include different data sources and methods, or to establish 'counter patterns as well as convergences'; construct validity to avoid imposing theories on a daily experiences - the check here would be to show how theory has been changed by the data; face validity and member checks should be made integral and standard, showing how findings are refined by subjects' reactions; catalytic validity [coined by others apparently] which can be understood in terms of where the research leads to conscientization and transformation.  The last one is the most controversial, but it does acknowledge that research can change reality - and should. However research designed to transform the world should also pursue rigour.

Feminist research aims to correct the invisibility and distortion of female experience in order to tackle inequality.  Gender is therefore the fundamental category, while research attempts to develop methods that establish 'pattern and meaning' in women's experience.  In the first wave, this research was done within the conventional paradigm, but the second wave 'is more self consciously methodologically innovative' (68).  In one example, an action research project on violence in the family led to a number of interviews with volunteers which led to policies to help victims of domestic abuse.  Life histories and 'guided consciousness raising' showed 'principles of action and egalitarian participation'.  The aim was to empower the oppressed.  Another example, motherhood was studied over time through interviews featuring '"interactive self disclosure"'in collaborative dialogue.  These and other studies attempt to reformulate understandings from the vantage point of female experience.

One, by Gilligan, included a reworking of Kohlberg on moral development, noting that the apparent development of autonomy rather than interrelatedness is 'androcentric', and stressing contextual thinking rather than formal abstraction.  There was a challenge to construct validity since the evidence referred to originally  was hypothetical rather than real dilemmas but subsequent research dealt with a real issue of abortion (69).  The categories apparently emerged from 'the language of respondents', and there was no attempt to build an abstract ethical position devoid of context.  Gilligan went on to develop triangulation of methods, although she did not seek this confirmation or counterpatterns.  Triangulation of data sources was not particularly strong given the small sample.  Different theories were triangulated more effectively, so that Gilligan worked with Kohlberg for example, and her work was grounded in his original scheme.  Construct validity  is based on existing psychological and literary sources but not in a systematic self reflexive way.  Catalytic validity is shown in the way in which respondents move from conventional constructions of the moral problem to a recognition of conflict, but again this was not systematically developed.  Face validity is the weakest aspect, since categories and conclusions were not exposed to respondents.  The trustworthiness of the data is in doubt - different coding systems showed no differences between the sexes, for example.  Gilligan and her team had developed more open interviews using self definitions, and stressed reflexivity, moving from explorations into theory construction.

Neo Marxist critical ethnography aims to expose the assumptions of liberal education to overcome exploitation.  School reproduces inequality in all its complexities.  Participants views need to be established, traced and followed through to consequences.  Together this should produce a more adequate theory of schooling and make clear what is needed to undergo transformation.  Actors perceptions alone are inadequate in obscuring false consciousness and ideological mystification.  However, reductive determinism also needs to be avoided.  Examples include Sharp and Green and Apple, or to examine resistance to the effects of hierarchical work or established female roles [McRobbie].  Teachers views are relevant in affecting their life chances, and curricula cause problems by omitting 'any sense of struggle and oppression'.
Willis's Learning to Labour is the standard work, here, using informal interviewing, group discussions, diaries and participant observation in and out of school.  Some comparison appeared through case studies.  Theory was important in searching for the contradictions between explicit goals of enabling transcendence of social position, and encouraging meritocratic achievement, while the working class students tended to disqualify themselves and saw their lives as predetermined.  The limits of ethnography were to be corrected by theory, discovering an underlying permanent class struggle.  Willis triangulated methods and data, but contrasted liberal and Marxist theories.  His construct validity was increased by collecting data at work and home as well as school, but there is no systematic self reflexivity, or indication of how his perspectives were altered by that data.  Catalytic validity also emerged, but transformation was minimal.  Face validity occur is at the end of the study when Willis discusses his results with the lads - who were unimpressed by Marxist theory.  Main weaknesses include no self reflexivity and no particular interest in catalytic validity, at least when it came to empowering the lads directly.

Rose developed some research based on Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, deliberately intended to blur research, learning and action to develop collective identification and solutions to problems.  Dialogue was central and subjects were to become coresearchers.  The research process democratises knowledge and power rather than imposing culture.  The research is supposed to lead to new perceptions by focusing on issues that are of central importance to participants.  Several other studies have used the same ideas (73). Swantz adopted a typical approach in Tanzania, involving villagers themselves in formulating problems and researching solutions.  Triangulation of methods and data was strong.  Construct validity was grounded in a dialectic between theoreticians and villagers.  Catalytic validity was established by examining the activism of pastoral women and the demand for literacy.  Face validity took place as categories and conclusions were fed back to participants.  However there was some 'subtle coercion and external imposition 'to get the villagers to study local resources, and the team approach tended to dilute reflexivity.

The case study shows and general issues emerging.  Methods should be 'non alienating, at best empowering'(75) in order to avoid exploitation by social researchers.  Academics can have a role as interpreters of the world exposing false consciousness, but the point is to 'demystify the world for the dispossessed'.  It is too easy to dismiss resistance to Marxist interpretations as false consciousness, but a lot of theory and jargon remains in Marxist accounts.  Examples of Marxist research have ignored gender differences between researchers and subjects, and there are 'tendencies to elitism and alienation engendered by its own research methods' (76).  Participatory and feminist research stress face and catalytic validity, despite Marxist reservations about false consciousness and ideology: it has to be admitted that 'commonsense ways of looking at the world are permeated with meanings that sustain our powerlessness'.

Critics are good at criticizing existing research rather than developing empirical work of their own based on lived experience facts are never independent of theory, but we must guard the ways in which investigator values enter research.  Empirical validation should be applied to our own pet theories and we should be open to counterinterpretations and general 'self - and theoretical interrogation'.

Perhaps truth is not the issue, rather how interesting the work is [shades of Deleuze here], but we still need 'credibility checks'.  This can only be delivered by experimenting with new practices of research rather than by referring to '"armchair philosophers"'(77,quoting Polkinghorne).  Most commentators on research agree on credibility checks, but there is no clear direction.  We might have to appeal to the reader's experience, or pursue the effects on social policy.  A failure of mainstream research is taken for granted, but we need an alternative body of empirical work.  Can research offer multiple sorts of validity?  Is relativism 'our inevitable companion'?  No return to value free standards is available, but we can adopt a more systematic approach to triangulation and reflexivity and addressing all types of validity.

Positivist paradigms are now seen as flawed in terms of their validity, but we still need to address the trustworthiness of data especially if it is qualitative or impressionistic.  We need agreed workable ways of gathering data on validity.  We have to 'protect our work from our own passions'.  Some sort of soft rigour or objective subjectivity 'may be the best that we can do.'

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