Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Atua Bear and disillusionment with a discipline
There are some discipline-specific issues that have also contributed to my resentment. My field has a naturalist versus anti-naturalist debate in which the naturalist folks dominate: if you want a dissertation and if you want to publish in the top tier journals, then you need data.
Admittedly, I bought into the naturalist world: I use data, I predict, and I generalize. I was trained to do so as my coursework entailed extensive methods training in both quantitative and qualitative methods. I’ve even become a “great” critic—that is, in part, what we’re taught to do in grad school. But, because of all of this, I’ve become disinterested; I’ve forgotten why I wanted to earn a PhD in my field.
I have concluded that my graduate studies, like my research questions, are victims of naturalism: there can be no creative thinking about (ever-changing, endogenous) phenomena because every phenomena needs to be simplified for a model, to something that can ultimately be predicted, generalized, aggregated, replicated.
This past fall, however, I took a life-changing methods course. The course was not about discussing the number of observations or cases in the data set. It was not about whether there was enough “control” or “internal validity” or “external validity” in the study. The implicit goal, for once, was not to simplify. Rather, the course included discussions on: ethnography (though it was not a field methods course); flipping everyday phenomena on their head; questioning common definitions in the discipline; critiquing simplification and aggregation; seeing and interpreting power relations where we have ignored them; looking beyond the western lens that deems “different” as “archaic” or “incompatible.”
This class made me realize that the most interesting questions are not always conducive to simplifying models with an independent and dependent variable. I am finally unlearning what I have learned in order to start asking those interesting, curious questions that originally led me to graduate school. Am I rebelling against the discipline? I hope this isn’t interpreted as such. I don’t plan to run amok of research design (I won’t get a dissertation if I do that), but I’m no longer letting the naturalist paradigm restrict my intellectual curiosity. Just because something cannot be an independent variable, does not mean it is not worth studying.
I hope I can one day teach this course, and maybe help a lost soul find the light once again.
-- Atua Bear