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
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…