denindigenousGT Notes on: Denzin, N (2010). Grounded and Indigenous Theories and the Politics of Pragmatism. Sociological Inquiry 80 (2): 296 – 312. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475–682X.2010.00332.x

Dave Harris

[Lots of repetition and romantic politics, this time considering post-colonialism and Grounded Theory (GT).]

Strauss and Corbin say that the writing in GT is direct, immediate subversive and that theory is the basis for social action. Qualitative analysis is needed to develop theory. Charmaz has called for a dialogue between 'grounded, critical, pragmatic, and indigenous theories of social structure… That advances the goals of justice and equity'. Citing Denzin and Lincoln, she argues for 'a decolonising postcolonial performance space' inspired by the 'just ended Decade of Indigenous Peoples'. Denzin agrees that GT is subversive with no formal theory no formal propositions or testable hypotheses and 'no link to an existing theory' (296). It is 'intuitive… Social theorists are not privileged. In the world of GT anybody can be a theorist'[after they have waded through stuff like this article] . However apparently there are different versions from positivist to constructivist and post-modern, and traditional positivist GT emphasises 'correspondence theories of truth, objective inquirers, and processes of discovery' [which does require social theorists] while post-modern versions 'endorse constructivist models of truth, and reject objectivist views of the Inquirer, privilege Foucault over Mead [anybody can do this], emphasise situational, discursive, social arena approaches to interpretation'. There are also commonalities including flexible guidelines for data collection and analysis, 'commitments to remain close to the world being studied', and theoretical concepts integrated in data — but they must also 'show process, relationship, and social world connectedness'. A new generation wants to use the method '"for advancing social justice studies"' (297). Denzin wants to align it with West's 'prophetic pragmatism', Collins's 'epistemology of empowerment' and Pelias's 'methodology of the heart'. This will also help 'those who use moral enquiry for social justice ends', and this article offers a discussion of the method with an emphasis on 'the politics of interpretation, contending that nothing speaks for itself and there are only performances'. He is also interested here in 'indigenous participatory theatre' as a new approach which 'privilege indigenous voices… The principles of performance, resistance and political integrity… A means of political representation, a form of resistance and critique, and a way of addressing issues of equity, healing, and social justice'.

GT appeals because it offers 'steps and procedures any researcher can follow in the construction of a theory fitted to a particular problem'. The 'post-modern' version offers ' a situational cartographic approach to the study of social structure, social action and infrastructure' [relying on Clarke]. It addresses 'voice, discourse, texts, the materiality of power, thick analyses of complex social processes'. It resonates with the post positivist program with its emphasis on 'the importance of induction and deduction, generalisability, comparisons and 'the systematic relating of concepts grounded in data'[is this positivism or post positivism?].

It also celebrates American pragmatism, 'a linguistically based theory of mind, self, and action' [enmeshed in US liberalism]. Clarke and Sharmaz offer the best illustrations of deconstruction, arenas, trajectories of action, hierarchies and local readings of ordinary people and their lives.

Indigenous scholars want to de-colonise Western epistemologies, 'to open up the Academy to non-Western forms of wisdom, knowing, knowledge, and knowledge production' and GT can help this, especially by using 'indigenous epistemologies and methodologies' (298). There are difficulties like 'the legacy of the helping Western colonising other' which effectively exclude indigenous persons from discussions about control or methodology or evaluation [still in universities?]. Critical theory in GT needs modification if it is going to work in indigenous settings and must be committed to transform 'the institutions, machineries and practices of research'. Conventional GT concerns for data or causal narratives 'may not accord with the pressing social justice concerns of indigenous persons' and notions of 'self-determination and empowerment may perpetuate neocolonial sentiments… Turning indigenous persons into a centralised "others" who are spoken for and theorised about' [precisely what happens in the pursuit of the noble savage below]. So we must localise GT grounded in specific meanings traditions and customs in indigenous settings, without assuming that critique resistance and struggle have universal characteristics [handily avoiding a clash between local and universal, say between preserving traditional ways of precolonial life and feminism]. Again it is within the Western academy that we must do decolonisation and deconstruction (299). We must not treat indigenous knowledge systems as 'objects of study' or 'quaint folk theory'. Instead we must subject Western systems of knowledge to inquiry. We need to think carefully about the articulation of spaces between decolonising research and indigenous communities — 'they are fraught with uncertainty', and can turn knowledge about indigenous peoples into a commodity. There may be problems with competing regulations, epistemological and ethical frameworks, which tend to be positivist, so that indigenous scholars and 'native intellectuals' are required to produce knowledge that conforms to 'Western standards of truth and validity'. We need to think about who initiates and who benefits such research, leave power in the indigenous community and let them define what is acceptable and not acceptable research — 'such working encourages self-determination and empowerment' [assuming it is intended to do that — some universal interest here?]. It is important to recognise that even Denzin is an outsider to such experience, 'a privileged Westerner' although he thinks he can be a fellow traveller, and anti-positivist, 'an insider who wishes to deconstruct from within the Western academy and its positivist epistemologies' [it's all one struggle and so on — theory as class struggle as Althusser once argued].

Indigenous GT enquiry connects research to struggles for liberation and empowerment, needing to rebuild leadership and restore and revitalise local communities. This apparently makes it 'performative', grounded in performative research carried out by indigenous scholars using indigenous GT. Naturally, it is 'collaborative and participate in and is characterised by the absence of a need to be in control, by a desire to be connected to and to be a part of a moral community where a primary goal is the compassionate understanding of another's moral position' [citing Bishop — is this supposed to be a description of actual indigenous communities or some utopian vision produced by qualitative enquiry, or more likely by the need to write it up like this for Western academics]. 'The [sic] indigenous researcher – as – theorist wants to participate in a collaborative, altruistic relationship, where nothing "is desired for the self"' (300). This is also somehow 'evaluated by participant driven criteria, by the cultural values and practices that circulate… Including metaphors stressing self-determination, the sacredness of relationships, embodied understanding, and the priority of community over self' [this really is noble savagery]. These understandings are to be reflected in the stories told by researchers. They are a resource to resist positivist and neoconservative desires, expressed in 'criteria evaluating indigenous experience'. 'They privilege are spoken, indigenous epistemology which emphasises indigenous knowledge, and indigenous, traditional ways of knowing. The Earth is regarded as the spiritual centre of the universe. There is a commitment to dismantle and resist global capitalism. Positivist forms of knowing, educating, and of doing science and research are contested' [the people cited, Bishop, Grande and Meyer-based this view on what they have observed, or what they think should be the case, not that the distinction between is and ought seems very relevant in pragmatism. Meyer seems to be the most anthropological, but who knows -- the old Decertau strategy again. wjo writes like this -- only academics. The same paradox as with radical art -- to grasp it you have to submit to expertise].

'Interpretation is [=must be, should be] always performative', and active intervention, resistance, criticism [because] it reveals 'agency and presence in the world' (301). They can also be routine. Performance 'is always (or perhaps intended to be?) [Well make your mind up] pedagogical, and the pedagogical is always political'. Interpretation is shaped by the representational process and its politics. GT is a performance, a way of 'making the world visible'. It implies that 'at some level', the world's 'orderly, patterned, and understandable'. Social interaction and experience can be sampled, mapped, 'fitted into conceptual categories'and variously represented. 'These discourses' [so they are discourses now] can be analysed 'in terms of social relationships, identities, and intersecting arenas and social worlds' [always intersecting, never conflicting]. However, 'in contrast, the performance ethnographer is a troublemaker', not interested in creating order out of chaos but rather in 'creating chaos, ways of disrupting the world and its representations'. They see 'orderliness as a dramaturgical production' [even Goffman is permitted here]. The politics of representation tell us that orderliness is imposed through politics and pedagogy, but 'orders an ideological concept, a fiction, a sometime shameless concept that justifies the interpretive practices of science and GT'. [And at the end of all this a damp squib — 'order may be partial, provisional, and temporary'.

These are 'foundational' [sic] differences about how the world is represented, 'so that social justice interventions can be produced. They are not about seeing the world in terms of disciplinary conceptual categories', nor is GT itself. Instead it is a matter of writing the world, at the intersection of the personal and political, in a space which is 'already deeply moral, critical, and interpretive' (302) [and then a typical example of Denzin's baffling theoretical mapping — 'grounded, indigenous enquiry, folded into performance, Autoethnography' sees disorder and unruliness, illuminating 'the arbitrary and unjust, the unfair practices that operate in daily life'.

It's not easy to list the ways in which the world is not a stage — 'everything is already performative, staged, commodified, and dramaturgical', so lines between performers and actors, performance and reality [et cetera] disappear. The hyperreal appears more real than the real, we need to develop apparatuses of resistance and critique, 'methodologies and pedagogies of truth, ways of making real realities that envision and enact pedagogies of hope' [ridiculous special pleading — only his approach leads to uncovering reality, and only the sort of reality that leads to hope at that].

We need a new politics of truth [and then back to PH Collins on the need to 'reclaim the neglected legacy of the 60s, an unabashed moral certainty']. This requires a turned post pragmatism and 'social justice – based grounded theorists' [apparently, he has offered a review of these in a 1996 article on post pragmatism]. There is 'no neutral standpoint… The meaning of a concept, a line of action, or of representation, lies in the practical, political, moral, and social consequences it produces fracture or collectivity'. We cannot establish these meanings objectively but only through social interaction and the politics of representation. There are also historically situated through intersecting contingencies [as before. Quite a bit of recycling of this material between this one and the performances text].

We should build on the sociological imagination, GH Mead, and 'imagine and explore'the various performances — mimesis, poiesis ['or construction'] and kinesis of bodies. Performance is not just imitation or dramaturgical staging, but 'liminality, construction' leading to 'a view of performance as embodied struggle, intervention, as breaking and remaking, as kinesis, and as a sociopolitical act' as struggles and interventions, performances 'become gendered transgressive achievements' to break through sedimented meanings and norms, a performative politics of resistance [lots of Conquergood]. We can also do 'extending indigenous initiatives' to produce political theatre, pedagogies of dissent, with examples from Smith of playing different roles in blackface and whiteface [this is the 'minstrelsy' stuff? I wonder how many people actually watch these plays].

[History is on our side] 'we are in the midst of global social movement, of involving anti-colonialist discourse' we see this in the emergence of critical indigenous epistemologies and methodologies as forms of critical pedagogy and critical analysis of representation. 'They fold theory, epistemology, methodology, and praxis into strategies of resistance unique to each indigenous community' [a massive generalisation even by his standards]. They demonstrate a commitment to 'an indigenist outlook… The highest priority to the rights of indigenous peoples, to the traditions, bodies of knowledge and values that have "evolved over many thousands of years by native peoples the world over"'. These will resist positivist and post positivist methodologies in Western science, for example in standardised achievement tests which validate colonising knowledge. Instead, there interpretive strategies and skills are 'fitted to an grounded in the needs, language, and traditions of their respective indigenous community' (304). Naturally, they 'emphasise personal performance narratives, collaborative research relationships, compassionate understanding, self-determination, and the sacredness of community relationships' [suspiciously like mechanical solidarity then?]. We must respect these epistemologies and encourage them, to develop different versions of science and stress cultural criticism for social justice. We should reject any models that are 'constrained by biomedical positivist assumptions' and turn 'the Academy and its classrooms into sacred spaces where indigenous and nonindigenous scholars interact, share experiences, take risks, explore alternative modes of interpretation, participating a shared agenda and come together in a spirit of hope, love, and shared community' [yech!]. They should be aligned with those 'moral philosophies that are taken for granted in indigenous cultures' endorsing emancipation and empowerment, struggles for autonomy, cooperation, 'cultural well-being'. It follows that indigenous groups must own the research process. Research 'speaks the truth "to people about the reality of their lives"', and equips them for resistance to oppression and a search for justice. 'This truth, sometimes unwelcome, [I wonder why] is situated in the indigenous life world [but] some individuals or groups, for example, may not wish to affirm the oppression that researchers may define and oppose' [I bet! So what do we do then? Disqualify these non-affirmative individuals as cultural dupes and victims of ideology?].

So with these commitments indigenous epistemologies overlap with critical GT and critical theory, citing a study of Maori. Critical theory is like pragmatism — it 'presumes that individuals are influenced by social and historical forces' [so does positivism] it assumes that everyday realities including educational ones are constructed through interactions '"which both shape and are shaped by social, political, economic, and cultural forces"' [classic academic balance]. We need not only to understand reality but transform it in the direction of radical democracy: C'critical scholars as transformative intellectuals actively shape and lead this project' (305) [is and ought confused again?].

Critical pedagogy disrupts hegemonic practices [shifting ground to bring in Giroux]. Structures of power knowledge and practice are evaluated against whether they '"open up or close down democratic experiences"'. It holds authority accountable 'through the critical reading of texts, the creation of radical educational practices, and the promotion of critical literacy': practices like this help achieve the goals of critical pedagogy, and 'anchor lofty goals to specific actions, patterns, arenas, and meanings' it also encourages resistance to discourses of privatisation standardisation and surveillance [the Girouxs again]. It might lead to a call for fair labour, practices that preserve the environment, 'organic or green consumer ideologies'. It helps us understand the construction of 'neoliberal conceptions of identity, citizenship, and agency'. It operates everywhere in daily life, in media, schools and workplace to produce 'informed citizens' who can model for each other alternatives. We know we have achieved critical understanding 'when citizens [not actual American voters or anybody of course]' understand that things are not, nor do they need to be, as they appear in the media.
[Lots more similar exhortation is to localise and focus on the particular, to localise politics of resistance and possibility, oppose local oppression, by asking who writes things and who represents indigenous peoples and widely]

[And then another 'external grounding' — 'post-Marxism and Communitarian feminism with hope but no guarantees' (306), trying to see how power and ideology operate with systems of discourse, how moral and aesthetic criteria 'are always fitted to the contingencies of concrete circumstances', how the assessment of local understandings 'flow from a feminist moral ethic' [which would surely bin a lot of native indigenous stuff?]. This ethic calls the dialogue, care, shared governance, but 'how this ethic works in any specific situation cannot be predicted in advance. It is not been done before.' One example demonstrates 'an Afrocentric feminist aesthetic (and epistemology)' [citing Collins — a study of black women seeking justice, apparently]. It argues that black is beautiful, wisdom is experiential and shared, derived from local lived experience and expressing 'lore, folktale and myth'. It 'asks that art (and ethnography) be politically committed. Apparently indigenous scholars can then ask eight questions about any research project — what researched we want done, who is it for, what difference will it make, who will carry out, how do we want research done, how will we know it is worthwhile, who will own the research, who will benefit [apparently based on a study of Maori]. If we merged GT studies with social justice enquiry, we can develop four further criteria — credibility, originality, resonance, and usefulness [if it's based on law and tradition it's not exactly original, and what is it after resonate with?]. It must also resonate with the local and be shaped by local needs, be anchored in the values and language of the local, make a positive difference.

Overall, we need to 'interpret critical theory through a moral lens' (307) to find a moral space to align indigenous research and grounded CT. Both are anti-positivist, both anti-foundational epistemologies [I thought indigenous research at its foundations in community and all that]. Each one privileges performative notions of gender, race, class, equity, and social justice, and develops its own understandings of community resistance or emancipation. Each one understands that we can't predict the outcome of a struggle, that struggle is always local and contingent, never final. The point will be to see what CT can actually offer to oppressed and marginalised groups, but this requires that indigenous groups take a project of emancipation to make it a reality. Enquiry is also [grounded in principles centred on autonomy, home, family, kinship, on a collective community vision' that rejects research owned by the state. It encourages 'indigenists and nonindigenists' to challenge the notions of science community in democracy and replace them with participate reviews rather than responding to what the state wants. They have to go beyond one person one vote majority rule and use grounded CT as an agent of change, acting in a way that is 'accountable to the indigenous and nonindigenous communities, and not just the Academy and its scholarly standards' [and how is any conflict to be resolved?]

[More criteria to judge truth and knowledge claims — oh good] 'primacy of lived experience, dialogue, and ethics of care, an ethics of responsibility' this will privilege 'lived experience, emotion, empathy, and values rooted in personal expressiveness' and require a 'collaborative, reciprocal, trusting, mutually accountable relationship with those studied'. This apparently is a 'feminist ethical framework'[so feminism actually defines all these terms like collaborative and accountable?]. [Luckily, it also] 'privileges the sacredness of life [even feminists who support abortion?], Human dignity, nonviolence, care, solidarity, love, community, empowerment, and civic transformation. It demands of any action that it positively contribute to a politics of resistance, hope, and freedom'.
[More additions to the list — 'prophetic post pragmatists' (308)]. Now there are no absolute truths or principles, and 'no faith based beliefs in what is true or false' [should confuse the indigenous again]. The goal is 'the creation of greater individual freedom in the broader social order' [so classic liberalism]. As moral agents, they should understand the consequences of their own interventions, and judge them in terms of 'the politics of liberation, love, caring, and freedom' [no contradictions again]. This is supported by Collins, Pelias and Freire.

[Somebody else] sees love as a matter of understanding '"that the moral and the material are inextricably linked… Love is an essential ingredient of a just society [quoting Eagleton, where love becomes a political principle to create 'mutually life enhancing opportunities for all people']… Mutuality and interdependence… Relationships with the freedom to be at one's best without undue fear… An emancipatory love [which] allows us to realise our nature in a way that allows others to do as well. Inherent in such a love is the understanding that we are not at liberty to be violent, authoritarian, or self-seeking' [a kind of bastardised Christianity really. Clearly influenced by Western if not American notions of love and friendship and freedom].

Consequences are socially constructed through the politics of representation. Truth is replaced 'with a consequential theory of meaning'. We must 'fold' our experience through Stuart Hall's politics of representation, 'the site of meaning and truth'. Facts should be 'treated as lived experiences'pragmatists concern themselves with effects or consequences on structures of domination and lived human experience, whether they lead to 'an ethical self-consciousness that is critical and reflexive, empowering people… [To]… Turn oppression into freedom, despair into hope, hatred into love, and doubt into trust'. Do they develop 'a critical racial self-awareness that contributes to utopian dreams of racial equality and racial justice'. If people are being oppressed, 'denied freedom' then 'the action, of course, is morally indefensible' [this bloke is a moral and ethical virgin]
[Nearly there] So GT should relate [creatively of course] to feminist, indigenous and post-pragmatic efforts. We should be forthright in our 'belief that the personal is political, and that the political is pedagogical], promote 'critical, qualitative enquiry in this time of global uncertainty' and put the 'values of progressive democracy… At the forefront', especially 'when scientific advice is used for policy-making decisions or social action. This is a gendered project, embracing 'feminist, postcolonial, queer, and indigenous theorists' to question 'the logic of the heterosexual ethnographic narrative'. It is simultaneously 'moral, allegorical, and therapeutic'. The researchers own self is inscribed in the text 'as a prop to help men and women endure and prevail in the opening years of the 21st century'. It vows a commitment to social justice and 'radical progressive democracy'. There are no absolutes for truth or principle. Instead we need 'a politics of love and care, an ethic of hope and forgiveness, as in politeness where the heart learns facts and truths and identifies possibilities. West says that post pragmatists can be critical moral agents, be prophetic, understand that the consequences of their activities are political always to be judged against a politics of 'liberation, love caring and freedom'. Collins helps direct us towards 'an ethics of truth, love, care, hope, and forgiveness' by encouraging us to be spurred on by her '"righteous rage"'.

The conclusion is a marvellous damp squib: 'we demand that history's actors use models of evidence that answer to these moral truths. An indigenous, performative, GT enquiry helps us  get to these truths and these spaces'

[I feel I've been bludgeoned by a particularly annoying preacher, trying to overwhelm me with references to endless perspectives and how everyone except me agrees with him. Baffling empirical references to anthropological work included, but he is always there to interpret them for me. There's an awful lot of repetition and hyperbole, and the flourishing of wonderful words like love and hope. There is almost no actual politics, or investigations of ethics for that matter: this is a Panglossian world where consensus about these matters exists]

back to social theory