Preliminary thoughts on ‘subjectivity’ and other items from last week.

As always happens with these things, a little time to percolate and permeate can yield all sorts of musings and further thinking. So, without any basis in the accepted canon of knowledge that I’m imagining exists, I just wanted to lay out some of my thoughts on one of my interlocutor’s comments on providing a theory of subjectivity. I also want to raise a couple more points that have emerged from my down time following the transfer viva.

I do entirely agree about the weakness in the latter half of my paper – having explored my decision-making around many other methodologies I can see how the final section of less than 2000 words could have been seen as insufficient after such an epic journey. I also agree about the exploration of subjectivity but I am left thinking that this was due to my deliberate avoidance of the term but I did have an entire substantive section which tried to reflect on self in research when the researcher is an experiencer. This did not examine the subjective nature of the stories I had been sent, however, and this is something that can be wholly improved for the parts of the paper that will make it as a thesis chapter.

I can see how a theory of subjectivity may be necessary in interpretation, so this feels as if it is something I need to give more thought to. However, this only holds if I am to take am taking a route through interpretation that perceives interpreting of text, and the interpreter’s part in that process as understandable in polarities of ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’. To be able to authoritatively explore subjectivity, I must, by that very fact, accept that its counterpart, objectivity, exists.

For me this means further methodological work but this time in the context of my interpretive activity (so it can be done as part of conversing with the texts I’ve been sent). I need to look at some of critical hermeneuticists’ criticisms of philosophical hermeneutics. I feel I also need to be clear about how the psychological aspects in Schleiermacher address the personal, creative and imaginative investment in the text that an interpreter must bring to bear and see what bearing this has, if any, on the question of subjectivity.

What I was left with this weekend was an overwhelming feeling of being largely misunderstood during the conversation. I did not point out (perhaps that would have been dimly viewed) the sheer enormity of the evidence for qualitative research employing a small participant group. I did not challenge the use of the term ‘triangulation’ despite the number of reputable interpretive thinkers I am conversant about who refute the very notion.

I did not positively skew comments about my conclusion which seemed to imply I had ‘blamed’ the university for an IT error when in fact my desire to work hermeneutically towards my aims have led to significant changes in our IT systems around a core piece of software, meaning a positive outcome from a previously unacknowledged gap in the security of university data. I was not explicit about the nature of interpretation and the debate that rages over experientiality within texts about hermeneutics.

One of my assessors could simply not grasp that text in its own right can be worked with – I did not provide a sound ontological understanding of that for him to be able to appreciate that texts have as much value, richness and detail in their own right without having to have been mediated through an interviewer. Texts exist and are infinitely interact-able with without having to create artificial forms of verbal dialoguing. A version of ourselves can exist in a text independently of us.

Some of the issues and questions raised by my panel were there, clearly in the paper but I did not make adequate use of this to draw their attention and make the discussion more thorough and fruitful, though their probing was challenging and thorough, my use of my own paper was only adequate and this is something I will definitely be able to address for my final viva. So, through processing my reflections on this, I arrive at an understanding of my feelings as being not one of overwhelm, despite what’s stated above, but disappointment of an opportunity lost. How does qualitative research move forward if people like me are not challenging the established social-world-as-science ways of thinking.

All of a sudden I discover I am even anti-post-positivist: reducing people, their experiences and their  lives to data-sets is as bad as our government reducing us to census figures and statistics about our use of services. Social scientists have deepened many of the societal inequalities exactly as Giddens has said – we owe it to our communities to embrace a humanistic way of practising understanding, rather than treating people like lab rats to prove our own self-satisfying generalisations worthy.

I’m not rejecting the laws of physics. I cannot believe that gravity is open to interpretation inasmuch as we understand today (I’m thinking of Sokal’s invitation to jump out of his window, again) but nor do I accept that the only way to legitimately learn from others is to claim expert superiority over them, transforming them into contextless, alien beings.

Gosh, getting that off my chest feels good. I have no idea whether I’ll feel the same way about it next week but there it is, laid out, externalised and reflectable on.