Professori Mirka-Koro-Ljungberg kävi “Just the Two of Us? Affective Inequalities in Intimate Relationships”-projektin vieraana kahteen otteeseen, 16. ja 23.8.2016. Koro-Ljungberg osallistui lukupiiriin, jota varten luimme hänen artikkelinsa “Methodology brut: Philosophy, Ecstatic Thinking, and Some Other (Unfinished) Things” (2015) sekä “Writing Visually Through (Methodological) Events and Cartography” (2015), jotka molemmat on julkaistu Qualitative Inquiry –lehdessä. Mirka Koro-Ljungberg, joka työskentelee Arizona State Universityssa (Tempe, Arizona, Yhdysvallat), on ansioitunut kvalitatiivisten tutkimusmenetelmien tutkijana. Koro-Ljungberg antoi pienen haastattelun post-kvalitatiivisen tutkimuksen tekemisen haasteista projektin harjoittelija Emppu Nurmiselle.
Question 1: Why, in your thinking, a move to post-qualitative research is important?
I think that one of the most important motivators for me is the idea that post-qualitative research enables me and forces me to think differently and question the assumptions I have about knowledge and carrying out research. I think that too much of qualitative research has gotten stuck in epistemological, ontological spaces that keep repeating themselves. If truth and knowledge are repeating themselves, we end up in a vicious circle of reproducing the same – but not in a way that would be a new iteration or exciting new turn. So post-qualitative work leaves the researchers and readers with traces and gaps that are intentionally open-ended to provide the uncertainty and to prod future thinking.
One more thing that intrigues me about post-qualitative work that much of it is, in a way, producing ongoing critique that critiques itself. It is not a turn inwards or toward inner self but rather an ontological/reflective/critical turn, me being aware of what I produce and how. It is interesting to think about scholarship that way, a scholarship that continuously critiques itself.
Question 2: How does the idea that things are constantly changing and in the state of becoming affect the aims of the research? What is, then, the focus of inquiry?
If ontologies are seen in flux, multiple, fragmented, and uncertain, it impacts the ways that we (scholars) are constituting ourselves as researchers or participants or knowers in the world. And perhaps it also ties the inquiry process into something else that can no longer be recognized as inquiry by those who are coming from more traditional, maybe post-positivist perspectives.
I think there cannot really be an answer to that question. If the inquiry is becoming, also the focus of the inquiry is becoming. Of course, there are always tentative assumptions or things that we aim to focus our attention to. I always love to cite Maggie MacLure who writes about the ‘glow of data’. There is also the glow of the material, interactions, senses and so on. The same thing can be applied to the inquiry at large. For some scholars a part of the post-qualitative research has to do with a move away from the human-centered inquiry where everything is, in a way, explainable and describable – post-qualitative scholars are comfortable with leaving gaps, openings, and not knowing. I might think: ‘I’m with the data in these and these ways or I’m with these participants these and these ways and these things are happening and being produced but maybe I cannot articulate the particulars that caught my attention there’.
Question 3: Doing post-qualitative research will likely lead to adopting a different ontology, constructing the research method and reflecting one’s own role in knowledge production – that demands a lot from the researcher. Is it possible, in your view, to do post-qualitative research that does not begin from ‘scratch’?
Yes, post-qualitative work is demanding and that’s what intrigues me in it. For me, the post-qualitative move problematizes the mechanical uses of methods which I have been questioning and worrying about in many of my publications. For me, it is important that I get confused and bothered by some things that I see or read because then my knowledge is transforming. Alternatively, if you always stay in safe methodological spaces, you won’t get challenged and the knowledge that you are producing is not challenging itself.
So, where do you start? Do you start from the scratch? No. Deleuze has, for example, talked about starting in the middle. So you are already in the inquiry, you are already in the data, you are already in relationship with your participants. There is not really beginning or end but you are there always already.
Question 4: What does it take from the researcher to work with a different ontology compared with mainstream qualitative research?
That’s interesting to think about what it takes. I tell my students and early career researchers that these turns that I did in my thinking are the results of years of reading, pondering, and talking with others. I started with Foucault, then moved to Derrida and I felt that life, the thinking processes are no longer the same, literature and philosophy changed me. I was no longer able to return to other onto-epistemological spaces in the ways I lived my life or thought about the world. Of course, I utilize a variety of theoretical orientation and episto-ontological positions when I work with people from various backgrounds and with diverse methodological interests; I need to be in service of all kinds of epistemological and methodological positions and I like doing that. Later, I have gotten into Deleuze and other poststructural and post-qualitative thinkers – so it takes reading, lots of it. If you don’t do that reading, it’s really hard to understand that there is scholarship and philosophy behind the structures of thinking that are guiding different ways of doing inquiry. So reading is absolutely essential.
Another thing is the onto-epistemological shift that represents the world no longer as one or somehow unified. I think this is the biggest thing that I’m trying to get across to my students. No matter what or how you believe, you have to acknowledge that there are other ways to see the world and construct knowledge. Openness to the other is really crucial for any scholar but especially those working with the post-qualitative – the mindset that research and scholarship are always becoming, changing, and we really don’t know what tomorrow brings.
Openness and knowledge, I think, are crucial. To add to that, those who are doing post-qualitative work are still facing quite a lot of resistance from the mainstream, perhaps because they are introducing the difference into the unifying and controlling system. When the other is in the room, it is bringing forward something that I do not recognize and thus I am forced to question my own assumptions. If you are the person who is introducing the other to the situation where there has not been much discussion about it or the other is completely unfamiliar, it takes persistence and really good self-confidence – and knowing that you know the stuff you are talking about.
Question 5: Does ‘anything go’ in research? Could you give some direction about how a researcher could make up one’s mind about the research of others’, besides ‘just’ evaluating it by oneself?
Validity is a question of onto-epistemological politics: who decides what is valid, who generates the criteria for validity and why do we call for universal criteria for goodness of the research in the first place? The assumption that something is possible to be validated, evaluated and compared to a criterion – is problematic to me. This kind of assumption about validity or evaluation assumes sameness. The criterion-based goodness is also tied to the present: we need to see the impact now so that we can evaluate the book, article et cetera. However, much of knowledge doesn’t operate that way, its impact is not immediate. If you are trying to produce the difference that is needed in so many ways in our today’s society, it might not be recognized, it won’t be accepted, especially if this kind of knowledge is compared to generalizable validity or goodness criteria or existing sameness. So, different thought, different thinking, different epistemology, different data, different experiences, will all be invalidated if we are using the generalizable and universal sameness criteria.
Then I proceed to the question does anything go? Absolutely not. I don’t believe in that type of relativism. But I do believe that the criteria, if there are some, is content depended and established by relevant knowers and stakeholders. . It is not the ‘externally-placed-upon-goodness’ or sameness but there is something about contextuality, unique time and space that can help scholars to recognize the value of whatever you are evaluating. This could be participants saying ‘this really makes sense to me’ or that ‘you are doing research that is going to impact a change in our community’ or you are writing a piece that people read again and again because it moves their thinking.
Also, if the stuff that I read that does nothing to my thinking, that I feel I’m in the same place where I started before the 30-page article, it has no validity to me. The goodness or the value of scholarship, I think, has to do with the movement and transformation and change that it produces. Or not necessarily even change in thinking but a temporal uncertainty about where I’m coming from and what I am actually, on my own, calling as knowledge. Validity, for me, does not come only from the reader but also if the work has value for somebody else. The value of the work is no longer a unified or a single value but it is multiple and unanticipated.
I think, there is a danger that post-qualitative research becomes really difficult to ‘get’.
Yeah, that’s a good point. So, I think that what has helped me and my students is giving up the notion of mastery; it is not possible to actually do post-qualitative research if you demand that you have to be completely comfortable with it. Uncomfortableness is a part of doing post-qualitative work. Post-qualitative turn is really an experimental turn, it is a turn where you are proceeding in the darkness, creating, offering best guesses, and trying to find the methodological path. I cannot expect that if I do this type of work, I could somehow follow existing guidelines, or that I’d feel completely comfortable and safe. There are so many gaps and knowledge is fragmented and situated, and thus it is no longer possible to know things the way we know in post-positivism that there is, for example, a cat. But if you follow post-qualitative turn uncertainty presents no longer a scary space because you are no longer wanting that kind of safety as a scholar, the safety that, for example, post-positivism offers you.