Responsibility!

You ever have that itching feeling that when someone says that the right of free speech means you can say anything? You feel that there is something wrong with this statement. Well, I have figured out why. The problem is that often these people don’t really take responsibility for what they say. They shout out some insulting or problematic statements, and don’t really mind about the consequences. I read some of the articles for our last presentation for postmodern approaches, and one of them was about the responsibility of research writers. I talked a little bit about the power of the researcher before (see previous blog), but I wanted to elaborate on the responsibility aspect a bit more. Basically, if you assume that reality is constructed by language and acts, than any knowledge claim you make to some extent also constructs that reality. This means you have to be conscious about the knowledge claims you make. According to Rhodes and Brown this means that you incorporate reflexivity in both the process and product of writing.

This is also why they plead for the use of fiction as a form of research writing. It does not claim to be factual, and therefore recognizes that the research writing is in some way always fictional. As they say it: ‘if you don’t recognize that writing constructs the reality, you are being irresponsible’ (Rhodes & Brown, 2005:476). Can you then still write about others? Yes you can, for example by using fiction but in any case by writing responsibly and ethically. You need to make strange what is familiar, lay bear assumptions that are accompanied by putting research subjects into categories. It also important to embrace multiple sets of responsibilities to varied constituencies. This ties in to the issue of polyvocality that we dealt with before.

Well, this was just a quick reaction from me after reading this text. It’s time to do some sports, so I’ll leave you guys to reflect on your responsibilities as a person who writes texts, because this does not only apply to researchers!

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4 Responses to Responsibility!

  1. yeh… whats this about modernism & post modernism? can you tell us about this? Also – I would like the references please – thanks
    dm

    • Robin says:

      Modernism and postmodernism are two terms used to make a very crude distinction between different ways of conducting science. Broadly speaking, modernist inquiry assumes that both subject and object are rational agents, that we can observe the world as rational beings and that language is used as a direct representation on that world, how it really or probably is. Science then, is about reconstructing or reconstituting subject-object relations. Its aim is to reduce a knowledge gap, to reduce the gap between what is and what ought to be. Postmodern inquiry on the other hand, centres language as a constituting process. Language does not represent the world, but constructs the world. Inquiry is seen as an ongoing process and realities are viewed as stories. This means there is no one true story (no one true construction of reality) but rather multiple realities that are constructed in relation to one another. Please keep in mind this is a very crude distinction between the two, which by no means highlights all the subtle differences in conceptualization. If you want to know more, check out the want to read more page (you can also find the references there).

  2. Derrick says:

    Hi Robin. I’ve been following your blog for a while, and you do highlight some interesting points, but I don’t really agree with everything. I’m a Research Master student myself, only I specialize in Psychology. Currently I’m writing my thesis using surveys etcetera. So I have a remark about this blog, especially with regard to responsibility and stuff.
    Of course you have to take responsibility for what you say: you have to explain the methods by which you have gotten to a claim about the truth. I don’t really see how a postmodern approach really changes this, except for the fact that you can actually say whatever you like, as there are multiple truths anyway. Apparently, it is true what they say about ‘anything goes’. If anything goes, then how can you determine what is valid at all?

    • Robin says:

      Hi Derrick,

      Nice to learn that you are following my blog, and that you are a fellow researcher in the making! In reaction to you criticism, I would like to tell you about a piece I read from Kvale (2002) that deals specifically with validity. I must say I struggled with this aspect of knowledge from a postmodern conception as well.
      Validity in a modernist conception is seen as an indication whether the research is measuring what it is supposed to measure. Do these survey questions on motivation actually measure the concept of motivation? It starts from the idea that knowledge is a representational tool and mirrors reality. The more you are able to represent reality, the more valid the research is. However, in a postmodern conception reality is not an objective thing that can be represented. It is rather a social and linguistic construction. This also means that your conception of validity changes: knowledge is validated through practice. It is not suitable any more to talk about validity in relation to whether it does or does not correspond to a certain extent to some ‘reality’. Instead, validity is asserted through a dialogue of truth, where participants create a discourse of knowledge. What becomes important is the aesthetics and ethics of knowledge, the pragmatic value. It is also no longer important that the knowledge can be justified, rather it needs to be effective in application. One of the examples that Kvale gives to this new conception of validity, is validity as ‘quality of craftsmanship’. Just as you would judge a carpenter by the use you have for his chair (does it sit comfortably, is it sustainable, did he use the right materials, is he considered to be a good carpenter), you can view the research by scientists as a form of craft. This craftsmanship of research, and the credibility of the researcher as well, becomes important for the validity of knowledge. Researchers also need to test the validity of their knowledge claims through dialogue. Discourse becomes essential.

      Well, this was in short an answer to your question. I think it is important to remember that it is not true that anything goes in a postmodern approach, although maybe more goes than in a modern approach. You can’t judge the validity of these different types of knowledge by the same standard. The important aspect is that the knowledge can be validated in dialogue. Certain knowledge is valid in certain contexts. As postmodernism is a relational approach, you can say that knowledge is always valid in a relation to the local reality in which it is situated.

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