Research community as Granfalloon

I’m still surprised by some of the implications that stem from a postmodern approach to inquiry. To my shame I must admit that I did not read all the articles for class today, shame on me. So we had this discussion in class about one of the articles (of course the one I didn’t read), which addressed the issue of reflexivity with regard to the relation between the researcher and the research community. I told you before that researchers should reflect both upon the reflexivity of the subject as well as on their own position. However, Hardy et al (2001) introduce another kind of reflexivity: that of the research community.

They state that there is a difference between the social subjects that are produced in their social settings, in every day life, and the research subjects, that are produced by the researchers and their research community. This is very logical, when you assume that social reality is constructed by acting and intervention. Then the social subjects are created by acts in their social setting, but when researchers start to study these social subjects they are turned into a research subject. They are constructed by the researchers, and because these researchers act according to the research community they belong to, that affects the way the research subjects are ‘real’ in that sense. This also means that what is shown in research texts, what we read about, are the research subjects and not the social subjects.

Still not clear on what this means? Well, I’ll give you the four important issues mentioned by Hardy et al. that are related to this kind of reflexivity. It gives you something to think about.

  1. You need to recognize that the social construction of science is carried out through a network, which is the research community. That is mostly where it is constructed what is science and why.
  2. Further you need to recognize that the nature of the subject is constructed as well, and that the role of the research networks in the research shows that there are two illusions you should not hold on to: that there is a real subject and that there is any true or objective knowledge. The researcher is not some kind of hero that can avoid or eliminate any bias.
  3. When you realize there is a difference between the social subject and the research subject, it gives you a framework to be more reflexive about the role of the researcher and his community in these constructed differences. It also means that research can have two effects: it changes the research subject trough the intervention in practices, and/or it affects how the research community constructs its reality.
  4. the difference mentioned between social and research subject is not the consequence of any bias or activity by the individual researcher, but of the discursive practices that are performed between communities.

All this boils down to the definition of reflexivity as an awareness of the situatedness of scientific knowledge and an understanding of the research and research community from which the knowledge has appeared, as spoken by Hardy et al.

I recently found this very interesting videoblog from Julia Galef, about the dangers of a Granfalloon. It does not speak about the research community per se, but her ideas are very interesting and I think that what she says can be applied to the reflexivity of the relation between a researcher and the research community.

 

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5 Responses to Research community as Granfalloon

  1. Arthur says:

    Hi Robin,
    I think this is great stuff to think about, the video as well. But I don’t feel that I quite get the part where the social subject differs from the research subject. Can you explain this a bit more?

    • Robin says:

      Hi Arthur, Glad you liked the video as well! I’ll try to explain the difference a bit more. The main point is that you realize that there is no such thing as a ‘real’ subject. Anyway you turn it, every conception of the subject is constructed. However, these can be different constructions in different settings. It refers to the self in different discoursed settings and also relates to the blogs about local realities: there are also multiple, locally situated, identities. The example that Hardy et al use in their 2001 article, is that of the refugee. The refugee as constructed in the context of the inquiry is different from the refugee as constructed in other, local cultural, social settings. Therefore, the refugee in the research differs from the refugee in his social setting. The construction that the refugee is identified with, depends on the relation to which this construction is put to work. So, THE refugee (as in something/one real that can be objectively defined) does not exist. Rather, refugee refers to different things in different contexts. One of these differences is between the subject constructed in research and the subject constructed in social settings.

      I hope this cleared some things up for you!

      • Pacidal says:

        Hi Robin,

        I’m Pacidal. I’m a member of the amis people, which is an Indigenous People from Taiwan.
        I have another example for you. It is about my ancestor and your ancestor.

        The Dutch have colonised Taiwan from 1624 to 1662. This was the period when your ancestor met my ancestor. Here is a painting on Taiwan Indigenous People from a Dutch artist in the colonial period. This painting was exactly how the image of Taiwan Indigenous People was constructed by the Dutch. It resembles the way Europeans looked at people. You can see for instance that the body shape was like that in a classical sculpture of Michelangelo. When you compare this painting with Michelangelo’s David, you’ll see how the two body shape are similar. And also with regard to the dress, bow and accessories, it is a fact that non of the Taiwanese tribes looked like this. The Dutch had never seen the Taiwan Indigenous People before and these looked really different from the people they knew in Europe. As a result, the Dutch created this image based on their own experience (the European body shapes, the European face shape) with their own imagination, regardless of the local reality.

        Most of Taiwan Indigenous People lived in the mountain side, and our body shapes tended to be smaller and shorter to adapt to the environment. We did have bows, but not of full body length which would have been difficult to carry with in the forest when we hunted. About the accessories and clothes, each tribe had their own style and the pattern of the clothes tended to be more colourful and delicate. Those were our local settings which were different from what the Dutch constructed.

        Maybe you want to see some more photos of us. Here is a good website introducing 13 tribes of Taiwan Indigenous Peoples and our culture. Click here!

        • Robin says:

          Hi Pacidal. Thanks so much for your interesting story! I’ve talked about this with my fellow students and actually, none of us knew that the Dutch had colonized Taiwan! How strange is that? It goes to show that history is a social construction ;).

      • yes, thats how I understand it too…thanks for the summary of Hardy’s work – really useful & interesting

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