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Another Excerpt from the Methodology Paper

June 17, 2009

Here, again, is an excerpt from my revised methodology paper. The following is taken from the opening section:

This project’s emancipatory research methodology, focusing on the construction of online lifeworlds, triangulates the following research technigues: contemporary history (historiography), narrative approaches, participant observation, reflexive sociology, content analysis, phenomenology, and existentialism. It has been developed around the online universe of The MarkFoster.NETwork. The research implications of emancipatory constructionism, a new critical theory, include an examination of relevant processes of social construction.

The Internet will be regarded as a metasociety, analogous to the concept of virtual communities. It is, in other words, a society beyond particular geopolitical units, and it is constructed entirely in the minds of its participants.

The project has two principal aspects:

  1. In its participant observational aspects, explorations of constructionist processes on the Internet, synchronous and asynchronous, will be explored through active engagement in, and utilization of, online communications media. Social construction, discussed below, is taken as heuristics and, in the social construction of online lifeworlds, as praxis. For instance, one behavior to be explored is applied textual reasonings in situated settings.
  2. As a reflexive sociology, the construction of The MarkFoster.NETwork™ is examined through active engagement with others – on email lists, in chat rooms, and on message boards –. Given the cooperative character of this process, the production of the network more accurately reflects social constructionism, an approach within sociology, than constructivism, a psychological perspective.

Methodologically, the term, emancipatory research, was coined by Mike Oliver in 1992. The construct has been particularly influential upon the social model of disability. As a radical approach, it frames the basic epistemology of this project. Oliver, in addition to being both an author and a disability rights activist, is Emeritus Professor of Disability Studies at the University of Greenwich. Emancipatory methodologies tend to adopt a stance which is simultaneously critical of normative research methodologies and concerned with exploring the experiences of oppressed persons, such as the disabled, in their own voices.

This project’s own emancipatory methodology has been developed through trope nominalism. That is to say, our observations of entities are of their tropes (attributes). We are only categorizing, or naming, them. Universal essences are rejected, while, concerning the essences of particulars, should they even exist, we remain agnostic. To engage in discourse upon such unknown quiddities is speculative (or metaphysical) and a waste of good time.

Emancipatory research may be distinguished from lifeworld research. The latter is grounded in phenomenology and, as such, incorporates the usual Husserlian categories, such as epoché and intersubjectivity. The objective of the researcher is, through a bracketing of her intentionality, to enter into the lifeworlds of disabled persons. As a nominalist, phenomenological reduction impresses me as both metaphysical (speculative) and essentialist. Indeed, I question whether such phenomenological reduction is even possible or desirable. Nonetheless, I have tried to be sensitive to this mode of inquiry where suitable.

Emancipatory research may also be differentiated from empowerment research. I have been unable to locate a consistent definition, but empowerment research appears to be associated with notions of wellness and personal responsibility. Most of the relevant literature I have found comes out of the fields of community healthcare and community psychology. Anecdotally, I may have experienced an implementation of this methodology. A hospital seminar I attended, after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, had many of the characteristics I came across in my reading.

Pragmatically, the purpose or volition attributed to any dynamic of interpersonal discourse is transitively situated in its designated function, not in its substantive content. Thus, if a cultural narrative, described by a set of conscious elites, is realized in domination, its purpose may have been duly satisfied. Taken to an extreme, this sort of axiological pragmatism, in which the principal or sole value of social action is determined through the achievement of ambition, becomes Machiavellian or realpolitik.

However, as philosophy of science, the project utilizes a contemporary, and indeed an emancipatory, version of pragmatism called critical pragmatism, namely, a fusion of pragmatism with critical theory. Still, there are, in addition to realpolitik, other current species of pragmatism. These include neopragmatism, a relatively conservative approach commonly identified with Richard Rorty, and incommensurability, which expresses Thomas Kuhn’s work on paradigms or, as he later preferred, exemplars.

Critical social research must, in its conveyance, be praxical or pedagogical. In other words, it should address, not only the craftiness of domination, but the craft of emancipation. The pedagogy of this paradigm, whether in voice or text, is founded upon a version of Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy. Although similar to certain theologies of liberation, given Freire’s Marxian influences and his unabashed devotion to Roman Catholicism, its specific focus, inspired by his occupation as an educator, is upon conscientization, which is to say, a consciousness raising process among students regarding specific categories of oppression accompanied by the means to realize liberation.

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