Methodology, theory and partitions

One of my fieldwork notebooks in the field (it was beautifully covered by a friend)

I do not hate writing about methodology. However, I usually have a strong preference for using theoretical work which speaks to research methodology, rather than work based on explaining methodology. My work in my first year of candidature was partly focused on Bourdieu, which makes such an approach very easy. My shift in focus to Rancière also allows me to continue this sort of ‘theory wrap around’ approach, whereby I can use the same ideas to unpack my methodological practice as I bring to bear on data.

The methodology paper I have been working on slowly has reached the point in a draft where I have to decide if I can repackage my analysis, or if some ideas have to completely go. I have a little bit of Bourdieu (and Wacquant) sitting a little uncomfortably against some Rancière. In some ways this works, they (along with I am sure a multitude of other theorists) allow me to talk about fields or divisions in the order of things.

Such an approach suggests why sharing some of my descriptive reflections directly with groups and through my project blog helped with developing relationships supportive of my work. While I do not know this for sure, perhaps sharing this writing was a way of communicating that I am not in the ‘game’ of trying to seek prestige within the suburb. This may seem like an odd motivation to have, what is so good about being known in a suburb, but I had been asked if I was going to run for local council. I [think I] was able to communicate that I was not interested in taking sides so much as pursue a different type of reflection. Bourdieu can reassure me, and those people who wonder about my intentions, that my field is the university.

However, drawing on Rancière, sharing my reflections also problematised this distinction between my field site and the university. In posing ideas that are supposed to be shared within the university, I assumed that people in the suburb not only had the capacity to understand (which is certainly not a hard thing to assume in my field site) but also that they were not only volunteers or group members, they too engage in social reflection.

As I have probably written before, I am all for a toolbox approach to theory. So using these two French thinkers together for different parts of my paper is possible. However, I am also uneasy about skipping through theoretical work in such a way that I only toss in a reference when it fits what I am saying anyway. Perhaps this is why I am privileging the work of Rancière in my own writing at the moment? There is something attractive about being encouraged to go beyond pointing out how neoliberalism is implicated in how I was able to carry out my project (the premise of my paper) and to as the question,

‘how can we characterize the situation in which we live, think and act to-day?’, but also, by the same token: ‘how does the perception of this situation oblige us to reconsider the framework we use to “see” things and map situations, to move within this framework or get away from it?’; or, in other words, ‘how does it urge us to change our very way of determining the coordinates of the “here and now”?’ (Rancière 2009: 115).

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