Saturday, 17 October 2015

Week 1 reading - heaven knows, (almost) anything goes!

Lather, P. (1993). Fertile obsession: Validity after poststructuralism. The Sociological Quarterly, 34(4), 673-693.

This is the final piece we were asked to read before the first EdD weekend. This was, quite possibly, the most difficult work to read. I've read and re-read it and still can barely get my head around the concepts. There may be some interpretations of her work that make it clearer to a beginner in this area - I'll have to have a look. Usual caveats apply with this overview of the article - there's a lot of direct material and little interpretation. I will need to go back to the original article if I want to use anything at a later date :-/

(Note: maybe have a read through this:

Lather suggests that, at the time of the article, everything is up for discussion, to develop a new way of thinking or rather new ways. She defines validity as "the conditions of the legitimisation of knowledge in contemporary postpositivism" (p. 673).  "Rethinking validity in light of antifoundational discourse theory". She wants to continue to use the word "validity" (with all its associated baggage) but to use it in a more subversive way.

Lather is a poststructuralist feminist and suggests that out of the current void in terms of validity will come innovative ways of imagining it, powered by practice. She muses on the development of validity criteria which are sensitive to context. She suggests that even within the realms of postpositivism, the positivist code still maintains its grip. Think differently is her watchword!

The masks of methodology

Lather suggests we need to see "...what frames out seeing." (p.675). A range of methods have been used to try to resolve the issue of validity, such as member checks, peer review and triangulation, but ultimately these raise more questions than answers. " not revert to the dominant, foundational formulaic and readily available codes of validity requires the invention counter discourses/practices of legitimisation" (p. 676).

Transgressive validity

"What do you do with validity once you've met poststructuralism?" Lather provides four "framings" of validity that take antifoundational discourse theory into account.

Counter-practices of authority

Lather introduces a "dispersed validity" (p. 677) suggesting alternative ways of considering validity. She fights against the ideas of "policing sociological sciences" and the development of another "regime of truth". She suggests that her ideas are ephemeral, to open us up to possibilities.

Frame 1: Validity as simulacra/ironic validity
Baudrillard suggests that we have "shifted from a culture of representations to one of simulacra. Neither original nor copy". Ironic validity acknowledges that text will always fail to represent what it points towards but can never reach. Her example (Agee & Evans, 1988) looks at the struggle of an "I" to become an "eye" that both inscribes and interrupt normalising power/knowledge.

Frame 2: Lyotardian paralogy/neopragmatic validity
Legitimising research through 'paralogy' does away with the "Habermasian drive for consensus". Having briefly read about this, my understanding is that Habermas saw discussion as ultimately leading to consensus. However, Lyotard, whilst acknowledging that consensus was one stage of discussion, but ultimately it should lead to 'paralogy' - the development of ideas through conversation which consequently leads to an unending development of new ideas. Lather uses Woodbrooks' (1991) study of African-American women in leadership positions in HE. Woodbrooks used two standard methods of validity in qualitative research - member checks and peer debriefing. After reflecting on the feedback from the participants, she amended her work and sent a second draft to the participants. What resulted was the juxtaposition of the voice of the white female researcher with those of African-American female participants. She held her own frame/lens up for scrutiny and her privilege as a middle-class white female was identified. She had missed out on key aspects of the African-American female experience.

Frame 3: Derridean rigour/rhizomatic validity
Deleuze and Guattari (1983) suggest that the tree is a modernist model of knowledge, but the rhizome as the model for post-modernist knowledge. Arbitrary branching systems of knowledge - networks.

Frame 4: Voluptuous validity/Situated validity
Lather suggests that authority "comes from engagement and self-reflexivity, not distanced 'objectivity'". She discusses Richardson's (1992) essay on a study conducted on unmarried mothers. She writes sociological research as poetry - a "disruptive excess".

Lather suggests that her offerings are given as "more problem than solution" (p. 683). Within the gap offered from the death of positivism lies potential.

My thoughts

I suppose, from a gardening viewpoint, if you pull up a well-established plant which is no longer of use or performing as it should, it opens up clear ground. On the clear ground, seeds can germinate and grow. Not all will reach maturity but in the mean time they are valid competitors which have the potential to grow to maturity.

I can't imagine using these methods of validating research at the moment, but maybe this is because they are so distant from my comfort zone. Of greatest interest out of the four is that of Lyotardian paralogy. It makes sense that conversation should not need to stop at consensus but continue, to see where it does lead.

Actions based on this reading:

  • Maybe read about Lyotard some more


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