Sometimes, trying to clarify your problems can be a helpful step in starting to resolve them. I'm currently struggling with the following:
1. A succinct history of how postmodernist philosophy troubles old notions of self/world and self/other relations... in ways that matter to STEM folks (that second part is the problem), and...
2. Potential misconceptions that could steer readers into misinterpreting what I'm actually trying to do. I keep feeling like I'm being asked to use my data to "prove" the ontological framings I'm using are valid, that the ontologies are frameworks that "emerge from the data" and are therefore somehow "real," but that's the assumption I'm trying to write against.
The last thing I'm wrestling with is something that's less of an immediate crisis, but... at the same time, it's very hard for me to unpack/articulate my process without using it, because it's so much a part of my process, and so much a part of the paradigm I'm trying to convey (you're not passive readers; this text is for you to engage with, and I'm deliberately trying to disrupt the ways you're used to reading things). So, challenge #3 is to articulate...
3. The validity of writing something that deliberately asks the reader to experience/work with the text in a way other than being a passive reader that the writer takes by the hand and leads through a maze. I want to do this for at least some little intertexts because I think that sense of reader/writer positionality is important... and I feel like the responses I'm getting are akin to saying that T.S. Eliot is a lousy writer because he doesn't just tell us what the Wasteland is "supposed" to be about. I need to frame this technique more, name it, justify it... I am struggling to do that.
My current articulation of what I'm actually trying to do is a sort of "Intro to Postmodernism for Engineers" stepthrough. I'm using different, related, and logically contradictory ontologies on the same qualitative data. The ontologies are basically different combinations of relationships between self/other and self/world, which are big questions that plenty of philosophers have tackled.
If you imagine each ontology as a pair of eyeglasses, I use each pair of eyeglasses to look at the data... and to look at each of the other pairs of eyeglasses. In the end, the dissertation is about the eyeglasses themselves. The data is from faculty talking about curriculum development, so here's how the ontologies translate:
- The self, the world, and the other are all distinct and separate components! (We, the faculty, are the narrating selves... who are distinct from the curricular worlds we create for other people -- namely, students -- to experience and learn from.)
- Let's trouble the boundary/relationship between world and other! (We, the faculty, are the narrating selves... who enter into and learn with and within a curricular world that's inseparable from the others we interact with within that curricular space. Our colleagues and students have shaped the curriculum we're "inheriting," -- even with a new course, there are histories and cultural notions of what it means to teach a certain thing -- and we learn within a situated experience of teaching these courses with these colleagues and these students in the room.)
- Let's trouble the boundary/relationship between self and world! (We, the faculty, are the narrating selves... and we and our curricular worlds co-construct one another. We have been (and continue to be) shaped by our learning experiences as students, teachers, and humans existing in the world, and our values and personalities and habits are reflected in the courses we design and what and how we teach them. Other people, such as colleagues and students, can't encounter our curriculum without encountering us, and vice versa.) (Bonus: since I have multiple narrators telling stories of courses they co-taught, each narrator shows up as both a "self" in this ontology, and an "other" in ontology #2... in stories about the "same" class.)
- Let's trouble the boundary/relationship between self and other! (We, the faculty, are the narrating selves... but wait, are we? In terms of who impacts curricular design decisions and how, it's overly simplistic to define a group of faculty and say "yep, these are the people who made the curriculum, that's it." Sometimes we talk about ourselves as individuals; sometimes we speak as part of a group of colleagues, sometimes we include students and alumni and industry in the conversation... We constantly blur and move the boundary between "self" and "other" when deciding who to include as part of the "selves" who create curricular experiences.)
The end goal is to call into question our assumptions/usages of ontologies in general, not to prove that any ontology is "correct" or "better," or that any of the ontologies can show us the "truth." (Or even "all of them combined," since there are an infinite number of possible viewpoints.) Instead, I'm trying to show that each ontology hides and reveals different things, and that these stories (and our realities as engineering educators) are complex and not always logically coherent. Lack of logical consistency isn't a sign that there's an error to be fixed; the world itself is complex and messy.
These things are all surprisingly hard for me to unpack and convey, and this almost certainly an issue with my weakness in articulating what I'm trying to do.
I'm hoping that talking with postmodernist researchers (especially qualitative ones!) and/or STS (science, technology, and society) folks who do or understand postmodernism -- and how to articulate it to a STEM audience -- might kick me out of my rut and get some useful insights on how to bridge these worlds, because right now I'm feeling like an incompetent engineer who isn't thinking "rigorously," as well as an incompetent philosopher/postmodernist/cultural studies/etc. because I'm not really any of those things; I'm an engineer trying to translate a few ideas to my own realm.