Local Realities and Rationalities

Yesterday, we talked in class about polyvocality, multiple voices  in stories and local rationalities in a post-modern inquiry. Perhaps you already have seen the performance I uploaded earlier? (if not, click here!) In this post I want to explain polyvocality a bit more, because I saw in the comments at the video that not all my blog-readers understand it. To accomplish this, we firstly take a look at some differences between modern and post-modern inquiry.

Language and reality
As written in a previous post, post-modern research puts a strong emphasis on language. According to Wittgenstein there can be no ‘private language’ (Gergen and Tactchenkery, 2006). Language is used to communicate with each other, so having a private language will be of no use, because you cannot communicate with your ‘private language’ to someone else. So, language depends on a ‘joint-action’ of two or more persons.

Secondly, Gergen and Tactchenkery  (2006:235) tell us that if we agree that being rational is fundamentally an achievement in language, rationality is inherently a form of communal participation. Therefore, rational being is not an individual act as suggested in modern thinking (and very often people quote Descartes by saying ‘I think therefore I am’), but a culturally coordinated action which is done together. (Thus; we think and speak and therefore we are ;)).

Thirdly, according to Wittgenstein language gains its meaning from its use in interaction (Gergen and Tactchenkery, 2006). So, language is not a static objective something, but it receives meaning when it is used by two or more people. Language does not describe something, but it is a form of action and therefore we construct reality together by using language. From this vision it is very logical that because of this ‘giving meaning through language’, the meaning depends on the people who are interacting and therefore meaning can change if there are other people who interact.

In modern research it is common to describe one view on reality, one best solution or one correct theory. However, for a postmodernist this is not a good way to describe what is really going on in the world. According to postmodernism there are more views on one aspect. To give you an example; the idea that values are constructed together instead of alone, especially in society. So, a postmodern inquiry invites us to think in a multiplicity of constructions instead of ‘the single best account’ (Gergen and Tactchenkery, 2006:237). There is not one generalizable theory, but there is could be more theories valid for different persons or situations

Local rationality

Now, perhaps you are wondering that if there is more than one reality ‘out there’, how we then can ever generalize knowledge or make general theories?

Well, in postmodern thinking they use the concept of ‘local rationalities’. Local rationalities means that knowledge is local. By local we mean that it is valid for certain places (for example western society or an African tribe) but local can also mean that knowledge is valid for a certain period (for example during the Enlightenment). This leads to the conclusions that there are no ‘general theories’ or ‘generalizable knowledge’. Knowledge is therefore always context based!

Deetz (2000) shows this in his article by explaining the differences between local/emergent and elite/a priori research. The elite/a priori research dimension is based on a privileged community with a fixed language. It is very universalistic and theory driven. The researcher is considered to present the ‘reality’ better than everyday people and research claims are seen as freed from their local and temporal conditions of production (Deetz, 2000:131). The local/emergent dimension is based on a more comparative community and uses multiple languages. It uses local narratives and is atheoretical. The knowledge form is more often one of insight than of truth and the researcher attends to the feelings, intuitions and multiple forms or rationality of both the researched and researcher (Deetz, 2000:132-133).

So, what do you think about this? I think it is so hard to understand and it makes me a bit unsure, because what is the value of my research then? And, oké, I do understand that when you research other people, you can create better knowledge if you work together with them, but it feels that I get to much influenced by them. I don’t think I can no longer be objective then and I have always learned that objectivity is a characteristic of proper research… Well, let me know what you think! I will keep on thinking and talking about it…

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5 Responses to Local Realities and Rationalities

  1. Arthur says:

    Hey Robin,

    Your new blog made me think about a movie I saw a few years ago, called Babel. Of course the titel refers to the Tower of Babel and the movie has a lot to do with different language and different local realities as well. The movie takes place in different countries and the people in the movie are troubled by the differences in language and culture. I won’t tell the whole story here, but you can watch the trailer via this link.


    • Robin says:

      Hi Arthur. Wow that sounds great! I’ve watched the trailer and I have to see the movie now. I’ll let you know when I have! Great to see that other people can relate what I’m writing about to their own experiences.

  2. Carolyn says:

    Hi Robin,

    I can imagine that you feel a bit insecure about these multiple realities. But, do you think that in a post-positivistic research you really are objective? Think about the questions you ask? Aren’t they already pointing into some directions? And furthermore, don’t you always have some knowledge beforehand on what you think of an organisation? I started working recently as a civil servant who makes policy, but you see so many consultants shouting some answer regarding the problems of our organisation and then I think, what if there isn’t ‘the solution’? It really depends on who they are talking with (e.g. only the manager or only the high educated employees…). And then they sometimes are just loyal to the manager and tell him what he wants to hear instead of being really honest. No, I think that a postmodern inquiry would do reality more justice because the value of all our stories would become equal, instead of a situation in which the story of the manager is regarded as better.


    • Ted says:

      I’m a little disappointed in the way that you view consultants. Of course there are some rotten apples in consultancy as well but most of us are trying our best to view the whole picture in an organization and pay attention to the differences in perspectives. But our aim is not to tell all these subjective opinions and feeling, but we need to tell what is actually going on, and going wrong, so that we can do something about it.

      • Robin says:

        Hi Carolyn and Ted. Nice to see some dialogue going on here. But I feel that you do not need to bud heads on this: there is no winner or loser on the view of consultancy. Of course the way that Ted is conducting some research and gives advice is not wrong, it does seem to be related more to a modern perspective. He is trying to find out what is happening to come up with ways to fix it. This means however that he assumes that there is one thing going at the time and that there is also one solution. Carolyn on the other hand feels that there is something more going on, even at the same time. She speaks from her own experience. Maybe you guys should take a look at my blogs on action research. That might explain a bit more about how you can research ‘what is going on’ from a postmodern perspective.

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