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.

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