Sunday, September 26, 2010

Paper 2

Paper two

Over the past several weeks, we have read several different books on research methods in order to create a kind of path for our own research. The reason I am hesitant to use the word method is because of lack of one universal method in critical studies. While this is also true of the social sciences (that there isn’t necessarily just a single way of studying the world) this is a notion that is projected onto critical studies. While it is important to talk about method and methodology in all studies, it doesn’t mean that there ever can be one single way to understand or study culture. We can have general guidelines, but if we were to enforce strict procedures and mold them to every group, we would be missing out on something. The critical scholar must be willing to adapt to his environment or else he/she will simply not be able to connect with the material on a deeper level. In this paper, I examine both Stuart Hall’s ‘methods’ throughout the majority of his work and D. Madison’s methods of critical ethnography in order to determine if they are applicable to all studies of culture (or simply are a useful guideline). I argue that culture is not something that can be approached in a single way, but broad methodological procedures are helpful in order to ground oneself in a meticulous study.

Stuart Hall has created a set of methods that are incredibly useful in the study of culture because they are so malleable to different situations. In his desire to examine the many conjunctures that were happening during his lifetime, he created three analytical tools in order to understand power. First, he speaks of arbitrary closures. This is an incredibly important idea because this is the moment in society where we stop talking or change the subject or point to something important that isn’t getting enough attention. Sometimes a scholar or activist needs to help stop the discussion in order to point something out. For example, if we see a marginalized group being overlooked, perhaps we should highlight their struggle in order to move the conversation to the public. The other side is that natural events in society may force the conversation to stop, like during Katrina with poor black citizens who couldn’t pay for gas to leave the storm. Next, he examines articulation and re-articulation as a form of power for both the scholar and elite. Here one can take an idea and articulate it in such a way in order to gain power. Contrarily, one can pull an idea apart in order to reframe it and propose an oppositional view. He closely analyzed Prime Minister Thatcher when she meticulously reframed the welfare state as being wasteful and unhelpful to the citizens of the UK. The last is testing theory, which is incredibly important because it allows Cultural Studies scholars to get rid of theory that simply doesn’t work or isn’t applicable to their study. Often, we get stuck within hierarchies of power with academia which force us to continue to use theories that have no basis on a certain study. In this way we are given the freedom to move past certain paradigms if they simply don’t work or are irrelevant. These three frameworks are relevant to my own work because they are very broad categories that help me to focus me work. I can use them to examine the Medical Foundation’s website to look for the ways in which they articulate the suffering of torture victims. Importantly, they re-articulate their stories in a way that gets the most sympathy to gather donor support. Also, the site attempts to direct attention to their cause by using survivors testimonies. I am still in the process of thinking about theory, but Alcoff’s “Speaking for Others” seems to be the best starting point, but I must be willing to move past her research if it simply doesn’t fit with my data.

D. Madison has written extensively on methods, but I want to focus on her section on ethics. Ethical decisions are incredibly important in studying culture. Much in the same way Stuart Hall gives us broad options to pick from; D. Madison lays out thousands of years of history in order to give us a glimpse at the subjectivity of ethical decisions in scholarship. Here, due to space, I will only examine her section on Maria Lugones. She points to several ways in which a scholar must be able to mediate the ‘others’ space. First, code switching is how the ‘other’ can move between different worlds. Madison is interested in the many different worlds that we all have to work through in our everyday existence. She argues that scholars must use a loving perceptive way of examining these groups of people rather than arrogant (dismissive and un-accepting) so that we can really get at the heart of issues facing the marginalized. In this way, I need to make sure that I accurately and fairly present both the Medical Foundation and its participants. I cannot go into studying nonprofit workers with an arrogant attitude if I expect to accurately collect data. I would argue that this attitude works for both the powerful and powerless.

In this paper, I have examined two authors and their views on methods in critical studies. I argue that methods are important, but must be able to adapt to different types of studies. Perhaps some of the methods above would not fit certain types of cultural projects, and that is fine because culture is always changing and adapting and it doesn’t fit into only one mold. The importance is the effort in creating a meticulous format that one will use throughout the project. Critical studies is a very time intensive and reflective process. One must give themselves the room to be able to adapt, but at the same time follow theoretical and methodological procedures that create a rigorous and useful study.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

First Paper

In the past several weeks, we have read two books that have talked about methods in different ways. Both Ian Hacking’s The Social Construction of What? and Questions of Method in Cultural Studies by White and Schwoch examine different ways in which to examine and look at the world and scholarship. The chapters that I focused on did not directly address feminist methods, but they use some of the characteristics that I would consider part of a feminist paradigm. In particular, conducting a close examination of the production of production (within the article by Caldwell) allows for us to break certain established norms within even a progressive field such as Cultural Studies. Also, by questioning what it means to be a constructionist within the natural sciences has the same kind of challenging attitude. While both of these pieces are incredibly important, I feel that they do not push the issues far enough. I believe that feminist methods should have some sort of activist or political bent that allows people who use it to challenge and change the dominant hierarchies that exist even within Cultural Studies. I feel that Feminism and Cultural Studies have hit an important part of their history where in order for the fields to grow, there needs to be some serious critical introspection.

What are feminist methods? These readings have not addressed it directly, but I believe that feminist methods are those that attempt to challenge dominant power structures with alternative means. To me, feminist methods should incorporate some kind of activism and self reflection. In the introduction to Questions of Method in Cultural Studies I feel that they could have challenged many of the assumptions made by the methods within Cultural Studies. Often, we as academics tend to prop Cultural Studies up as being the savior of all mankind when it can actually be simply reinforcing a lot of the same patriarchical paradigms. The introduction could have more strongly emphasized that there are some major issues in Cultural Studies that need to be addressed in the coming years. Instead it basically reinforces the idea that there are already strong methods within the field and that we just need to emphasize them more. I disagree in the sense that methods are something that needs to be address more in CS in order for us to be taken seriously as well as for our studies to be meaningful. Just because we study humanistic and qualitative data doesn’t mean that we do not need to be systematic and transparent. There needs to be a sense of greater urgency within the field to push younger scholars to surround themselves in methodological practices. I think often method is a scary word to the humanist because it harks back to a social scientific time period. If we are to use feminist methods in order to break away from the traditional power hierarchies, we first need to question our own paradigms and improve them before we can move forward.

The chapters that I looked at in both books used feminist methods in different ways to challenge mainstream beliefs. Firstly, the in Questions of Method in Cultural Studies asked us to reconsider the ways in which we study producers. Far too often, Cultural Studies scholars have ignored the production of production because producers represented the evil corporations that attempted to blind the public. Instead we were interested in examining either the texts themselves or the audiences’ reception of said texts. The problem was this is that we stubbornly ignored an important group in media simply because we didn’t like them or couldn’t gain insider access. I argue that a feminist perspective is one that examines power hierarchies within many different avenues. In this piece, the author uses specific ways in which one can look at the inner workings of an organization. One of the more interesting dynamics was this kind of balance between rituals of warning and therapeutic ones. The idea is that producers both push each other relentlessly as well as have times where they embrace each other. It would be too easy to simply look at these interactions as all being negative, but I think a feminist perspective allows for these diverse ways of understanding. The second chapter I examined looked at the natural sciences as being constructed. Here is another example of someone who is not afraid to question established hierarchies. While his writing is not the clearest, he does an adequate job of challenging the common misconception of the sciences as being not socially constructed. He examines three different sticking points in the constructed vs universalistic approaches; the nominal (we understand the world through how we describe it), contingency (our understanding is contingent on our historical context), and stability (we understand the world through external constructions) paradigms. Both authors could do a better job of really getting at the heart of the problems within Cultural Studies through a strong use of feminist methods, but this is at least a start in the right direction.