Notes on:   Michael Moses II (2022) Methodologically disrupting Whiteness: a critical race case for visual-elicited focus groups as cultural responsiveness, International Journal of Research & Method in Education, 45:3, 297-308, DOI: 10.1080/1743727X.2022.2043844

[Another one in the special edition]

Dave Harris

We need to centre the visual since visual media are so important for example in information technologies. He wants to use them in focus groups to 'methodologically disrupt whiteness's hold on social science enquiry' (297)

Race and racism and whiteness are often manifested visually. Chauvin read Floyd's body [he is assuming] as a threat and undeserving of life. The millions who watched had visual reminders in addition to the various textual messages. We need corresponding visual methods, especially in 'visual elicited focus groups' (298) as 'an innovative ensemble to disrupt whiteness' [bollocks, it's old hat]. By not prioritising visual language of race, existing methods reaffirm whiteness and objectivity that support it [some assumption here that black indigenous and coloured people live in some more visual reality? The reference leads to an article that suggests that we gather counter stories to confront objective narratives — I could not see anything about visual stuff in the abstract anyway]. Race and racism are 'as much if not more visual phenomena' and if we overlook this we remain complicit with whiteness. We break by using visual elicited focus groups. These will be 'more adequately aligned with the experiences of Communities of Colour… Mirroring the communal meaning making of information' and accessing cultural texts like videos.

[I thought he was going to argue that seeing video of things like the Floyd murder made racism much more vivid, alive and undeniable to people, and generated a much more emotional reaction.He never discusses what the visual actually might do,despite a basic hint that itmight be more powereful than words in some cases -- and less reliable, of course, especially since he doesn't want us to analyse the media text]

He is going to review whiteness scholarship and consider CRT. It's going to lead to a suggestion that the limited use of visual methods in educational research is an example of 'methodological niceness', linking to a discussion of niceness meaning something that does not raise questions or challenge the status quo. He then goes on to look at one empirical study that looked at 'campus racial climate experiences' followed by visually elicited focus groups. This helps expose how diversity initiatives simply camouflage the same discourse informing campus relationships over time. Overall, a case is made for visual elicited focus groups in educational research. Visual content is common, and we are all used to things like virtual learning.

The conceptual framework is CRT, 'a paradigmatic orientation to read the world' (299) [Delgado and Stephancic], rooted in critical legal studies and how the law constructs race, later applied to education. It has tenets and undergirding assumptions: the 'inter-centricity of race and racism with other forms of subordination; the challenge of dominant ideology; the commitment to social justice; the centrality of experiential knowledge; the transdisciplinary perspective' (299). He is particularly interested in the challenge of dominant ideology the commitment to social justice and the centrality of experiential knowledge leading to an activist approach to scholarship. Activism is rigourous and necessary to disrupt the ills of whiteness. Whiteness is a racial ideology privileging white people and their cultural sensibilities about all identities. Whiteness is also embodied by other racial groups including some people of colour. Whiteness remains invisible and yet dominant and its omnipresence cannot be questioned. It harms those who do not share its norms. It is maintained by institutions including media culture, through things like racial stereotyping and social hierarchy, and manifests in education policy, teacher education and faculty hiring. It also pervades methodological conditions and it can be seen through the pursuit of niceness.

Castagno (2014) did ethnographies of two public-school diversity initiatives and concluded that niceness, being pleasing and agreeable, pleasant and kind undermined the aims of diversity work and sustained whiteness. It led to an aversion to disturbance, conflict, controversy, not pointing out failures or shortcomings, reframing disruptive for uncomfortable things, leading to often meaningless impacts. In particular racialised power relations are avoided, and any diversity work is reactive, limited and temporary. This work can be applied to understand how nonvisual methods can lead to niceness.

Nonvisual methods are traditional and conventional and might have been effective in the past but with new information technology are now outdated, and ignoring the visual dimension 'is amenable to whiteness' needs' (300). It preserves forms of data collection which are not aligned with race and racism and preserves the idea that issues of racial equity and inclusion are changing for the better. It makes it difficult to ask new questions about racism and undermines critical scholarship's ability to advance research and challenge dominant ideology. What we need is 'culturally responsive focus groups as tools that align with the aims of CRT' [associated with Jori N Hall 2020].

These focus groups prioritise shared experiences and ask that the researcher is responsive, continuously examining themselves and their assumptions. Focus groups are not value neutral but seek social justice and question researchers' worldviews training and intentions, interrogate taken for granted assumptions challenge stereotypes include new voices, disrupt oppressive practices. Culturally responsive inquirers see themselves as lifelong learners, as reflexive persons, as interconnected, advocate strength-based approaches see themselves as change agents work with others to co-construct knowledge operate with a consciousness and employ culturally responsive theories and methodological techniques. These apparently provide a rigourous tool [although they're very vague]. This is quite different from how methodological tools have been treated as race neutral or colourevasive. Visual elicitation can link cultural studies to the mundane interpretations of users, because images can tap into deeper elements of human consciousness, better than words [a key basic assumption, probably flawed] (301).

Let's look at storytelling conventions [back to the article cited above] and refer to the exemplar study of the campus racial climate. This used textual analysis, visual elicited focus groups, walking interviews and ethnographic observation methods to understand the experiences of undergraduate students of colour at UCLA. In particular they used a You Tube video 'Asians in the Library', a rant about Asian students' lack of manners [they kept chatting] as the visual elicitation device. [The rant contains mockery of Asian language] There are two focus groups of six participants each with mixed racial backgrounds. The claim is that this method disrupts whiteness and shows how he made culturally responsive moves to ensure the participants felt comfortable.

He has to start with his own positionality — he is a black male doctoral researcher and claims 'an insider – outsider status' (301). He was a student at the time that the videos sparked a national controversy. He kept a research diary, including methodological critiques of everyday academic norms and challenges to academic traditions about empirical research and his own attempt to disrupt academic master narratives. Clips from his transcripts ['vignettes'] ensue:

[In the first one, he engages in light banter with one of the students about the clothing she is wearing, her time at a music festival, and the food she brought, this is extended to other participants. He played some introductory music and thanked everyone for coming. In the second one he introduces himself and goes round the room and contextualises the video by reassuring students that he wanted to discuss it and that there were no right or wrong answers that he wanted a conversation, that he expected some differences, that there were to be no personal attacks, that he saw racism as a problem but saw it as a system of race-based oppression, that the video was produced by a third year white female who later withdrew, but not before delivering more general adverse statements about Asian students. The third vignette followed reaction after the video was shown and participants unpacked the gross but familiar properties noting that people had said they were not racist, but that it had showed true colours. Students were able to provide other examples of 'racial micro-aggressions' (304). There was some evidence of issues emerging beyond what he had anticipated. There was a lot of overall condemnation of the students and complaints that the diversity courses on offer at the University did not really work]

[So, he's quite pleased about these rather banal results]. These focus groups have offered a 'culturally responsive means that challenge dominant ideology', and disrupt whiteness. There experiential knowledge remains central and his activity helped. Discussion mirrored how students themselves discuss campus -related events [how does he know. It was 'a simulated environment mirroring the intimate spaces students frequent'[was there any cursing, abuse, flirting, drug use? It all looks a bit nice to me]. Participants were able to 'intentionally name and interrogate whiteness' in a way which was rare and uncommon, regardless of the discomfort. The focus group offered 'a created space to break… silence and name the ugliness of racism and whiteness'. He thought this would lead to 'the space to actively work towards change over time' (306).

So we should use it a lot more, and remember the point is not to analyse the media text [but to take it as some kind of 'truth'?]. It is to elicit discussion. Researchers should reflect on the impacts of using media text that displayed death or violence. He should also have provided a sensitivity warning about the Asians in the library video. He tried to recruit a racially diverse sample but he had no AAPI student participation [Asian and Pacific islanders].

What if participants were 'led to only share what the researcher desires'? (306). We have to provide guidelines to encourage descent and respect for opposing perspectives. We can also assume that race and racism are normal and commonplace, so in this case 'methodological decisions benefit from being in alignment with this understanding of the social world. Therefore, to include a racist viral media text… During data collection does not inherently bias the research process. Rather, it demonstrates the quality of alignment'. Generally we should centre visual elicited focus groups.

[Pretty pathetic overall. Based on the old picture is worth a thousand words rhubarb. He thinks he's managed to generate some objective discussion by the basic old techniques of being nice to people. He didn't even use taboo words like Labov!]

I love this bit:

' I use ‘folx’ as an inclusive genderqueer spelling of ‘folks’ to disrupt Whiteness and hegemonic norms of gender as male or female' Yep -- that will do it.