Fifteen Ironies of Research work and Militancy
Who is the object? Who is the subject?
Many of us have been trying to escape from the objectivist basis of mainstream scientific research. We have encountered allies in some literatures going from feminist epistemology to critical ethnography ( and possibly actor network theory) to more extra-academic traditions such as militant research.
But somehow there is always an institutional and social expectation that a researcher is the subject of knowledge, the one who looks for data, who ask questions; and the rest of mortals are objects, passive and spatially circumscribed, limited to answering queries coming from nowhere in order to justify researchers’ hypothesis.
In dealing with some social movements though, this standard notion of research can get turned upside down. We would like to offer a brief recollection of our fieldwork experience in Spain thus far. We have been funded to do research on the current changes in the European Union and responses by civil society, specifically focusing on cartographic and research initiatives undertaken by social movements. As PhD students we are supposed to arrive to a far-away place Ã¢â‚¬â€œthe more exotic the better- and start a one-year search for data; however, what happens when the research comes to you? Here are some instances where the subject/object simplification gets ridiculed and substituted by a more fractal experience of multiple roles taken by both parties and its consequent richer relationship and research work.
Irony n.1: The object is the one who poses the questions
Irony n.2: The object invites you to speak at their conferences
Irony n.3: The researched explains Deleuze, Negri and other social theorists to the researchers
Irony 4: The object asks you to edit their work; work that will become primary research material for the researcher
Irony 5: The object asks you to translate material you will need for your research into English, and pays you for it!
Irony 6:The object/researched asks you to write about your research trips and pays you for it
Irony 7: The researched organized a conference where the speakers are many of the authors you had/have to read for your doctoral degree
Irony 8: The researched ask you to write about your organizing work and publish it.
Irony 9: The researched translate the researcher’s work and publish it.
Irony 10: The researched contact and converse with the researcher after having read the researcher’s work, work that the researcher had been paid to write by other researched
Irony 11: The object corrects the subject
Irony 12: The researched uses the reseacher’s material to teach in their class
Irony 13: The researched thanks the researchers for quoting them
Irony 14: The researched comes and lectures at the researcher’s university with the researhcer’s PhD supervisor in the audience and has dinner at a PhD committee member’s house
Irony 15: The objects offer the possibility to join a research project of their own. The researched asks the researcher to do research with them.
We proceed with our investigation by embracing these ironic instances where assumed notions ascribed to the figure of the researcher were reversed (the one that ask the questions, organizes and attends conferences, that publishes, that reads big books, etc.). We are sure that many of these instances are not unique to our fieldwork experience, but are often ignored as legitimate research experiences (especially in writings and publications) in order to follow the expected standard procedures. By writing these notes, we don’t want to call attention to the exceptionality of this research, but to give importance to these growing moments in the practice of research as epistemological fractures from which to re-invent modes of inquiry attuned to current conditions and political commitments. Could these moments be points upon which to construct networks of political affinity?
After all, what are we to do? Should we force the “subjects” into a regular research paradigm and assume we share little or nothing with “them”? Should we tell “them” not to pay “us”; not to correct “us”? What if the supposed to be objects accept a more “traditional” framework for discussion (rigid formal interview-questionnaire), would that lead to better research results due to its form? How would those results be better if they lead to more enmity with the researched and a lack of access for the researcher? Should we even be thinking in terms of “us” and “them”? So after this experience couldn’t we conclude that we’re all subjects and objects to some extent? Or should we even think of ourselves as singular nodes relating to each other in a broader network of affinities?