One of many posts on my Readiness Assessment. As a reminder of the ground rules, this is a solo assessment, so while I’m allowed to think out loud on my blog, I can’t ask for or get (intellectual) help. Cookies and emotional support are, however, welcome.

I'm starting to build a rhythm -- and it's a rhythm of a web of ideas expanding as I crawl through literature (I know, it doesn't look like I'm crawling through much literature now, but I'm going to add it in faster and faster as I keep writing and there are more threads to grab). I look at the time and go dammit, class in an hour and a half. Let's see where I can get before then, and if I can prepare myself for a good re-start when I get back.

Here's my current gameplan. There are thoughts from a brief essay by Becker that I'd like to write up in this post. And then I want to dive back to my readings and get through either my post on grounded theory or my post on narrative analysis -- write one before class, write notes on the other so I can write the other during class (we're not doing anything particulary interesting in statistics at the moment). After statistics, finish those two up -- then start circling back to epistemology. Read about the various existing epistemological paradigms, try to articulate RTR as one of them, place it in that line of history. Write that post. By the end of tonight, I want to have epistemology and what I think my main methods are (narrative analysis and grounded theory) to be stubbed and outlined into a section for that question, so that other threads can tie into them -- and I want to know what, methods-wise, I'm looking for in readings for tomorrow, and what readings I am looking for, and I'll begin Wednesday morning with a hunt.

(Holy crap, this is audacious, isn't it? I'm potentially saying "maybe I've got a new paradigm here, you know, in my, um, 3rd semester of grad school." I'll try to make it fit in everything else first.)

Then I'll have a list of epistemologies that I can use for other things -- for instance, I can take that long-ass lit review idea list (um, pardon my language) and sort the various theories I'm thinking about by their epistemological roots, see if that helps me structure my theoretical  section ("what are the theories behind RTR?")

The idea-threads are reaching out. I gotta have faith that they'll tie together as I keep on going, be comfortable with them dangling out there for now. I also gotta buy more post-its and a thing to keep books open on my music stand. I think I'm ok with printer paper for now.

All right, Becker. Get over here. This is from (Becker, 2001) which is part of (Emerson, 2001) -- it's an essay in a book of essays by different researchers. "The Epistemology of Qualitative Research" is what this one is called.

P 318: Fields have historically been protective and self-preservational about their own boundaries. How do we tell us from non-us, things in our discipline from things outside it? For work that does fall wiithin our discipline, what makes some "better" than others?

Q 318: [Epistemology says] ...what you shouldn't do if you want your activity to merit the title of science, and to keeping unworthy pretenders from successfully appropriating it. The sociology of science, the empirical descendant of epistemology, gives up trying to decide what should and shouldn't count as science, and tells what people who claim to be doing science do, how the term is fought over, and what people who win the right to use it can get away with.

Q 323: Sometimes [scientists] do [accord a special status to the knowledge created by scientists], treating a result as definitive and "blackboxing" it. But scientists often argue with each other, trying to keep others from putting a result in a black box or, worse yet, opening black boxes everyone thought were shut for good.

N ^: RTR tries to expose that black-boxing and allow more people to take part in opening, closing, filling, building, etc. the boxes of knowledge.

Q 323: [Bruno Latour's] rule of method is, we should be as undecided as the actors we study. If they think a conclusion, a finding, or a theory is shaky, controversial, or open to question, then we should too. And we should do that even if what we are studying is a historical controversy whose outcome we now know, even through the actors involved at the time couldn't. Conversely, if the actors involved think the piece of science involved is beyond question, so should we.

N ^: Refers to Latour's 1987 paper.

N ^: I think RTR would agree with everything but the last sentence -- we are the actors involved. Some of us may be sure about things that others are unsure of. We have to recognize that boxes can be closed for some and opened for others, that they can be simultaneously set in stone and taken for granted and questioned and ripped apart and redone.

N ^: I am getting ideas tangled up in each other. I need to delineate and demarcate my thoughts; when am I talking about this, when am I talking about that? I can't blur boundaries until I articulate them first.

Q 323: Applied to the study of science, [the accepted norms of practicing ethnography] would require that epistemologists learn the native language fully, not just the high church version trotted out on formal occasions but the language of daily work as well, not just the views of "eminent scientists" and those who speak for the science, but of the ordinary scientists who actually do the work.

N ^: The earthiness of the "language of daily work, as spoken by ordinary people who actually do it" appeals to me, though I can't articulate precisely why yet. With RTR, we're all ordinary scientists and high church ones; we blend these languages, we play with them, become conscious of them, and don't honor one above the other. We validate common motion, common speech, and make those who think they're in the "formal above" listen to voices that are usually invisible, swept under the rug.

N ^: This feels like it gets into the affordances/impact section of my RAT.

N ^: Okay, maybe I'm more an activist/critical theorist than I thought.

Q 325: We should not jump from the expression of a private thought to the conclusion that that thought determines the person's actions in the situation to which it might be relevant... when we watch people do things in the places they usually do them with the people they usually do them with -- we cannot insulate them from the consequences of their actions.

N ^: This feels like it's important when thinking about how a rich capture of someone's "work process" helps them reflect upon it, develop metacognition and self-knowing and self-identity. If they say something in reflection, but don't do it in practice, does it affect their later practice when it's pointed out to them? Sometimes it can't, sometimes you find out why it can't -- I think this, but these things are blocking me from doing that. And this, in turn, feels a lot like the "competing commitments" in Kegan & Lahey's transformative change framework.'

P 328-329: Different scholarly communities talk about and validate their work in different ways, so in order for one discipline to understand another, a "translation" must be made. Sometimes, a (socially constructed) power differential between two disciplines dictates the direction and manner of that translation; if this discipline is "higher" or "harder" or "more rigorous" or "more prestigious" than the other, then the "subordinate" discipline will have to explain itself to the "dominant" one, and not so much vice versa.

N ^: (Mishler, 1986) talks about how things are always lost in analysis and translation -- you can never quite recapture the full richness of a speech act in writing. Similarly, when we "translate" from one domain to another, we run the danger of losing the original -- in the transformation, access is added, but something else is lost.

N ^: One of the big tenets RTR takes from open communities is that you never, never lose data (hence the obsession with version control and rollback). Iif you translate, you keep the original and link to it. You end up with a multilingual web (not necessarily multilingual in the "this is written in Spanish and Swahili" sense, but multilingual, or maybe multi-cultural, multi-discoursal, in the sense that "here's my version for CS researchers, and my version for 2nd graders, and my version for people following #pizza on Twitter.") It's our response to what Mishler points out happens (things are lost in translation) when we do what Becker points out is inevitable (you'll have to translate between domains, because... you will). It's our way of navigating the tradeoff when we do the things we have to do. The flip side of it is we end up with more data, more messiness, more to sort through -- and there's a sort of faith that we'll be able to.

N ^: But the capability to do the messy sorting is in and of itself an access barrier in some ways. I gotta talk about that more. I wonder if any Wikimedia researchers have written about this sort of moving-through-chaos, how different language Wikipedias sort themselves out.

N ^: Maybe one of the things we assume in the open world is... my existence has and hasn't been forethought. We know people enter through many paths, we know they take their own (we're under no illusion there'll be a neat pipeline for them to march through). We are all explorers hacking our way through a forest. So we expect to clear our trail, and we try to make it easier for those who come behind us -- knowing that they are also bushwhackers. And we have that sort of siblinghood of oddness, of fitting in because we're misfits, of accepting renegadeness as the norm. It's an abundance mentality, of sorts: go play, it's going to be okay, there's nothing you can mess up that we can't fix again. Go forge a world.

N^: I'm not sure what I'm trying to say there.

I must articulate my boundaries. I don't feel like I can articulate what I'm dissolving before I dissolve it, because I actually see it as a blend first -- I don't walk up to something and go "aha, two disparate things set apart BY SOCIAL CONSTRUCTS that I will now REVEAL AND BREAK!" I don't... usually see those social constructs until I'm forced to stop and blink and go "wait, but other people... see these things as separate..." so it's really a reverse-engineering process, for me, of finding out what names others give to the components of the whole thing I'm seeing, the different ways they split it up and break it down.

I guess there are side benefits to not being able to (literally and physically) overhear for so long. I come into almost everything as an outsider with weirdly fresh eyes -- I've read what they've written (as Becker's essay puts it, the written and published "expressions of their private thought") but not seen or heard what they do, so when I finally get access to the "inside" conversations, I do a double-take. "But that's, that's not what you wrote, the thing you just did!"

That's the sort of reaction, maybe, a lot of "outsiders" have when they come into a different world. They see the contradictions because they can't take anything for granted, and sometimes they think they are fools because... everyone else accepts it, yes? It must be them who is insufficient, wrong. But actually, it's often the Fool (mythological archetype) that is the wisest, if we know how to listen -- and if they learn how to own the power of their new-eyed voice during the time they have it, before they learn, before it fades. I think about the name of Diana Kimball's consulting company, "Expert Novice," as something that captures this idea well.

There's something interesting about the abilities and knowledge of those who don't have what we (in the epistemologies of our disciplines) consider knowledge. They have a knowledge that is valuable to us "inside," a valuable currency... that we don't accept within our world. Maybe it's like me (an American) seeing someone with millions and millions of Japanese yen. I recognize it as having lots of monetary value, potential power that... I can't tap, because I can't spend yen at my grocery store. And when the person with the yen exchanges it, they lose something in the translation (exchange fee) and now they have dollars and not yen -- they've lost that "different thing."

I'm... maybe I'm trailing off here as I think out loud. I'm not sure where this all goes yet, but I do know:

  • I want to have a little section on why the epistemological assumptions of our various domains set up boundaries -- this is the theory that underlies the 2nd and 3rd panels of this comic strip.
  • I want to explain slightly what those boundaries are, what they look like in a few examples.
  • I want to talk about why we translate across them, what happens (what are the costs and benefits and tradeoffs) when we do.
  • I want to do my best to articulate what the RTR approach to translating is, and its tradeoffs that may differ from what most people are used to seeing in other translation approaches.
I feel like this blends across theory and methods and affordances. I'll need to find ways to disentangle my answers to the three questions. Maybe I will write one paper that combines all of the ideas, and go through with colored highlights (or something) and flag and tag parts with "theory" and "method" and "affordance" so my committee can view it as a whole, or as in parts, as they choose. That... oddly, that seems to match the way I described my thought process earlier. Hrm. Let me work under the assumption that I'll do that, but try to do my best to tag things as I go.

Wow. I'm really not post-postivist, am I? My self just leaks out all freakin' over my work.

I found a slip of paper Susan Silbey wrote for one of the handouts for my first qualitative research methods class. I'm not sure how to cite this, but it says:

How can I disrupt this text, critically interrogate it in terms of its absences (silences) and find its unexamined assumptions?

And the note below it says it's basically what Patti Lather says/does/would-say. (The rest of the handout are snippets of thoughts from other people, different viewpoints and analytic lens and questions to ask of readings inspired by other researchers: Laurel Richardson asks "what position do I take in this text?" and Van Maanen asks "why am I reading this way?" and John Johnson asks "what does the author intend"?)

I thought nothing of it at the time, I'm sure. I was 20, whirling through these ideas for the first time. But now, a semester before I go to OSU to study specifically with Dr. Lather, I find this note again and laugh: that's how I think, that one line describes my first questions best. That is a habit of thought for me now, if it wasn't earlier. So maybe there was a seed planted that I didn't recognize.

Ah, clueless little Mel. I have a fondness for my novice self, perhaps because I know my present self will someday be my future self's "clueless little Mel" -- it's nice sometimes to see how far you've come, how much you've learned and grown. (It helps when you're in those pits of despair.)

It also strikes me that I'm doing my RAT as transparently as I can, so y'all are getting these massive braindumps of my mental process as I go -- in some ways, I'm doing my RAT as an RTR project. I'm... I'm not deliberately trying to be meta and confusing, this is just... how it comes out, and I'm trying to understand what the hell I do and why.

(Actually, if I figure that out and back it up with literature, that's my RAT. Heh.)

I gotta run to class. In the back of this one, I'll probably be reading and writing about a section on why open review. And then when I come back, grounded theory and narrative analysis. (See how my plans keep shifting?) I have been out on flights of thought, launched from my readings. Now it's time to go back and ground more, get more structure so I can fly again.

I'm learning my cycles. I knew them already, but sometimes it takes a project of this intensity to get me to see them clearly.