Notes on: Lather, P.  (2012) 'Methodology - 21: What Do We Do in the Afterward?' OISE

Dave Harris

There had been a lot of different turns in social sciences and a lot of posts as well, and deaths and returns.  There are now lots of hybrids especially in qualitative methods, away from the standpoint approaches building on humanist subjects and qualitative descriptions.  Now there are multiple voices, messy texts, a lot of reflexivity, although initially this was still humanist.  Methods were codified by being incorporated into textbooks.  In the final stage ['qualitative 3.0'] post criticisms have led to serious doubts about validity, voice and data.  Feminist theories have also been attacked.  Mixed methods have dominated.  In qualitative 4.0 in the future, the theme will be becoming, as in Deleuze and Guattari, and actually getting on with work as a form of incremental practice. Different methods will be characteristic, not even chosen according to different projects.  In Deleuze's terms, there will be '1000 tiny paradigms': we're moving far from the simple split between qualitative and quantitative.

Political science is a good example.  It was once wholly positivist but then endured paradigm wars.  Qualitative work was acceptable but it still had to be positivist.  In order to regulate the problem, there was a move to develop standards for research, appearing initially in journals, then inevitably becoming used in dissertations [some of them seem to have been sponsored by the AERA].  Then separate strands were developed for humanities based qualitative work, and these included a tolerance of dissonance and discomfort, the imaginary, the use of narrative and so on.  This was aimed explicitly to help qualitative research to defend against absorption into the audit culture.  It was important to keep addressing issues of ontology and epistemology and to insist on the difficulties.

Then followed a period of 'escapes'.  An example here was the regulation attempted by the Spencer Foundation Report, to guide applications for funding.  The lessons had apparently been learned from receiving a number of bids, and the Foundation was ready to offer advice.  Again the idea was to resist simply applying 'scientific' methods, which had been heavily sponsored by the turn towards evidence based research.  Instead, disputes over rigour, neutrality and objectivity were permitted.  It was seen that all ideas [about how to do research] have epistemological underpinnings.  The context of knowledge was important, and researchers were even encouraged to address social justice.  Everything was to be open to be discussed, and it was even possible to let the question determine the method.  Questions were allowed to emerge from research.  It was acceptable to offer incommensurable accounts.  Power was seen as important.  It was acceptable to acknowledge difference and to be reflexive.  There were still debates about whether research should be theory based or skills based.  Positivism was now seen as something that had been replaced by post positivism.  There were still some qualitative research traditions that  were omitted, however: qualitative research was OK 'as long as it behaves itself'.

A book by George Marcus [?] describes research as 'messy conceptual labour', and urged researchers to develop 'metamethodological habits'.  His emphasis was on networks of agents involved in the research process [possibly a bit like ANT].  Advocacy became suspect, and had been since Foucault's questions about who was being liberated and who claimed the right to liberate them.

So there seem to be two regimes of truth, neo positivist and other neo stuff, which was experimental and pluralistic.  There is still a struggle to be had with demands for evidence based research, and the struggle came to define itself as to question what was meant by science - for example science is not scientism.

Some post qualitative approaches can be seen by looking at three examples.  Lather's method has always been to focus on actual studies and then 'narrate' their methodology.

In the first study, a Swedish one on relational data analysis, Deleuze and Guattari are the inspiration, with their emphasis on becoming.  The project was to investigate the possibility of the 'molecular girl'.  The authors were able to criticize their own thinking in research in order to resist their own habitual ways of understanding data.  They offered a Deleuzian violence towards their own thinking.  They developed lines of flight rather than coding.  They rendered the data in terms of both dominant and resistant discourses.  They developed multiplicities rather than binaries.  They used data and read it from a number of different subject positions, emphasizing difference rather than hierarchy.  It was collaborative research.  It's about an idea of becoming woman, as requiring other people to correct understanding and convention [sounds a bit like Ettinger?].  This sort of research stresses pleasure and surprise, including pleasure in encountering theory, to overcome the 'terror' that it normally brings, especially to feminists.  The stress is on companionship.  The researchers saw themselves as used by thought, seeing research as the production of desire.  [Someone else] has talked about the topography of research, where we examined densities within texts in order to uncover particular configurations [different readings].  This raises implications for the knower, rejecting conventional subjectivity.  There is also the turn to affect and affect theory.  Berlant [?] Is cited here in deploying Williams's 'structures of feeling'.  The result is to produce an 'objective queerness'.  Berlant and others oppose the normal definitions of affects as a kind of interior emotional process asserting its authority in 'the demand for feeling effects'.  Opposing the validity of tears connects with this project.  What we need is emotional deflation after the emotional inflation which has proved to be so 'bruising'.  We should stress the insecurity of knowledge, and need to work in stuck places instead.  Research should be unheroic, a mere 'brush with solidarity'.

We need another theory of change, based on Nietzsche.  This would see change as a matter of 'immanent accretions', which attracted little resistance.  This sort would change through networks, unobtrusively.  An example might be the way in which the cellphone was just diffused through a number of user networks.  Foucault reminds us that practice drives change, because it reveals the workings of power, especially power which is expressed in the body.  Somerville[?] has pursued a project on the importance of water in Australian indigenous societies, which sees language itself as water.  The piece is an autoethnographic work which weaves together indigenous stories of ecology, and develop some arts based methodology designed to show links across different worlds.  Images and text and other art works are displayed in exhibitions.  The links are non hierarchical and messy.  Difference is emphasized, incompleteness.

This is what Rancière sees as a redistribution of the sensible, a move towards indeterminacy, and it links with Butler on inadequacy, seeing the self as a mess rather than as something heroic.

We are working in the ruins of the old empire.  The final example concerns some research on the women's mosque movement in Egypt, which came to the fore in the recent public demonstrations.  This piece offers a criticism of liberal feminism and its assumptions, through an autoethnography of desire.  The piece criticises the usual views about the modesty and quietism of women.  Its findings are uncertain.  It is prepared to take risks rather than to codify.  This raises questions about whether self reflexivity is an adequate solution to a methodological problems.  This sort of new material goes beyond that [and presumably is relational again?].

We now need to be inventing new methodological practices.  Fragmentation now defines just about every field.  There are no shared standards.  Nothing has foundations any more.  Arts and politics are probably leading this particular development.  Evidence based research is now a busted flush, it didn't work.  Some of the sponsoring bodies can find anything that actually was rigorous enough to serve as an example of something that could be scaled up.  But at the same time, positivism is not ended, and we are still in the era of Big Data and quantification, although there is a crisis.  Its ontology is now troubled and doubts are being raised about objectivity, the ability to control chance, and the predictability of quantifiable empirical knowledge.  No policies can now be based on such data. Reflexive knowledge is emerging as crucial.  No one wants to go back to a new form of narrowness.

[Bit theoretically naive about Deleuze and Rancière -- other feminist have found them not at all helpful]

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