I have just returned from South Africa where I ran several workshops both at Wits and UJ. I always find the questions from participants to be thought-provoking and this time was no exception. When I’m in the midst of a workshop, I’m focused on the points I want to get across, but on the drive home, the next morning and at odd moments after that, I find myself thinking about a question someone asked.
I always begin a workshop on research writing by stating that in academic contexts when we write we always convey an argument (rather than a ‘truth’) and that argument becomes more ‘truth-like’ when the evidence convinces the audience and more opinion-like when it doesn’t. Some arguments are very subtle and embedded while others are upfront and obvious. We, as academic writers, make the choice based on the discourses we work in. I always urge researchers to be cognisant of what they are arguing even if they decide to downplay the argument in writing. Otherwise one writes an argument into the paper without even knowing it. One workshop participant asked me: “But if you know what you are arguing, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the research?” The ‘simple’ answer is that (for me) all research is ideological, so any researcher carries a worldview into the research, in the way s/he sets up the research project or frames the questions. That worldview carries an implicit argument. You can still be open to contrary results but only if you are aware of your position/argument. Sometimes worldviews are so deeply part of who we are that it is difficult to pull it away and hold it up for scrutiny.
The more complex answer to the participant’s question is that when a researcher connects worldview, identity as a scholar and research interests, research becomes meaningful and writing that research becomes an imperative rather than a chore. The only way to make these connections is through reflection – reflection through writing, I would argue. I keep a journal on my desktop, for my eyes only, and in there, I reflect on what I believe, argue, and what I take for granted. When I’m writing a paper, I jot thoughts down in the journal on what I’m trying to say. Some of those thoughts go into the paper, others don’t.
Stephen John Quaye (reference below) has written a lovely paper, well worth reading, about exactly why it is so important to ask yourself questions like: What is my role in this research? Why does my identity matter when I’m constructing interview questions? Whose interests does this research serve? How does this research serve my interests? Somewhere, underlying these kinds of questions is the tangle of our worldview and identity as researchers and our implicit views of this research project – which often appears as our argument.
Well, I hope this has generated some food for thought and I would love to hear your comments.
Quaye, S.J. (2007). Voice of the researcher: Extending the limits of what counts as research. Journal of Research Practice, 3(1). ArticleM3. http://jrp.icaap.org/index.php/jrp/article/view/60/81