Who Are WE?

Some Tales from ICQI 2010……….

Endarkened Feminist Epistemologies: New Visions
Samantha Wahome, Charlotte Bell, Chinwe L. Okpalaoka, Anne J Waliaula
Chaired by Cynthia Dillard

It may be that the Ohio State University is the centre of the multiverse….. Patti Lather, Laurel Richardson, Cynthia Diilard and now the women in this plenary session…. who spoke with strength, centredness and with recognition about their herstories, their inheritance. They extended their Professor Cynthia Dillard’s model of Endarkened Transnational Feminist Methodology. “Endarkened” is intended as a contrast to the concept of enlightened and enlightenment and challenges a universal truth discourse. Endarkened Transnational Feminism is an inclusive term which tries to get beyond the dominant but limiting idea of the Afro-American woman which renders invisible women who are from other African and Caribbean countries. They advocated transformational epistemologies which transcend research for research’s sake. Endarkened Transnational Feminist Methodology involves developing and exploring paradigms for research which allow for the incorporation of a person’s legacy and spirit.

This connects with a tale Godfrey Gregg spoke about in his talk on Keeping and Crossing Boundaries: Negotiating Identities in Qualitative Research. He described how he tried to prepare himself as a black gay man to interview black women about their experiences of breast cancer. One of the first women he met with was an academic. She listened to his description of the research project. And this is how I remember what he reported – it’s not exactly what he said she said but there’s a lesson in here. “It’s a good project,” she said, “Well designed, thoroughly thought through. I’m sure your committee gave you some useful advice. But,” she said, “it’s not going to get you what you want. You’re a black southern man! If you want to speak to sisters, you’ll have to speak as the black southern man that you are. Now, what do you want to ask me about my titties?”

For me this links back to Cynthia Dillard’s point in her keynote about needing to really think about who you are, how you present yourself, how others might perceive / experience you before you ask questions about their lives. Aliya Zafar and Chris Brkich in their presentation, Decolonising and Revising Normative Narratives, emphasised how important it is for both insiders and outsiders to locate themselves in the research process and identify their own ways of knowing including through race, class, culture, sexuality etc.

I went to a plenary – Post-Qualitative Research: What Comes Next?

I was very keen to hear the word about where qualitative research might be heading. It’s a funny thing, the concept of lineal or chronological progression. First this, then that, and then we are onto x in the blah phase. Well, it’s important to track where we have been perhaps. Or is it? Someone asked if we should therefore not teach research methods which have gone before and are ethically outmoded. Elizabeth St Pierre said no, we didn’t need to. This provoked two key thoughts for me:
1) I prefer these days to teach contemporary concerns in systemic therapy before older ideas so people connect with the values over earlier methods first. I think one could do the same with Qualitative Inquiry.
2) It is weird though to think that qualitative inquiry has barely made much of an impact on the British Academy – well it clearly has in some departments but they are in a minority – when it is considering upping and moving on.

Elizabeth St Pierre said “I’m tired of old research designs which have been repeated so many times we think they are real – we forget we made them up!” She advises research students to read widely but do what you do and theorise it out of the reading you have done. There were a couple of calls for not throwing everything out. One man said “But what could we put in its place? What are engineers and surgeons meant to do?” Patti Lather who was chairing the session said “Oh please! I’m not allowing the second part of that question. The first part we can discuss.” This is Patti in the picture here.

Betty (Elizabeth St Pierre) felt that Nietzche and Butler have reminded us that by putting a subject before the verb reminds us that the subject exists ahead of language and description. “I can’t accept the ‘I’ in Qualitative Research” she said.

That interested me. This is exactly where I feel Qualitative Inquiry should be heading – towards the relational, the collaborative, joint doing. This is something to come back to. But it was interesting to hear from one presenter who did research using a translator, that she gave up using the translator because the research participants only spoke to the translator, not to her. She felt they didn’t see her as interested in what they had to say so she stopped using a translator and rather privileged building a relationship with the research participants even though this probably compromised what she understood and learned.

Betty said she felt she was trying to function in the ruins of a qualitative inquiry which no longer holds and asked “Is it possible to do post-qualitative research while keeping positivist qualitative research to a minimum? I cannot forget them even if they are sidelined. The displacing of a structure creates a possible space but how much rupture can one tolerate? How can anyone believe the world is orderly, analysable and systematic?”

Her advice was to deconstruct everything. Focus on a few subjects. The deconstruction of one concept would in any case cascade into the understanding and deconstruction of other concepts.

Maggie MacLure from Manchester Metropolitan University, suggested the next turn may be teritological, a concept used by Derrida in which a new paradigm appears for the first time is unrecognisable, like a monstrous child which emerges out of the past with no parents apparently. But it is always more complicated that this since methodology is entangled with the methodology it wants to leave behind.

Patti Lather spoke about turning to feminist methodology and literature for ideas. Perhaps it might involve a return to the philosophical ethnography either by working the ruins of recent qualitative research or working the ontological turn.

She suggested you could situate your own work as a ruin and revisit it. This connects to Carolyn Ellis’s work Re-Vision but is also different. She suggested that post-humanist performativity is not tied to a binary and that post-interpretive practice makes something powerfully political happen to counter-actualise different histories to dominant inherited stories. Ontological trouble, she said.

My own response is that this ‘turn’, this new development ain’t going to occur in a hot classroom with people inside their heads and in conversation about the world with each other. It’s going to happen on the streets, in conversation, in tears, in work settings, between people and not, not in the academy.

I am not sure that research is in itself a practice. I think this is an epistemological misconception. I think it’s something which needs to be understood as arising out of and in response to life, daily practice and conducted with or by service users, workers, community workers, members of the public with researchers as community consultants with no decision making power. Utopian? Perhaps. Ignorant? Probably.

I wonder what might emerge if all non-practice based academics left the academy for a year, read nothing and listened, worked alongside others? Could that create the space for something new to emerge and so take something back into the buildings of scholarship. That is where Qualitative Inquiry has taken us: to the ‘I’ in the in inquiry, in research. Now we have got that. The journey must surely explore the WE.

More from ICQI 2010 at QIStories.

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