In Defense of Rogue Scholarship: Performing the Scholar in Qualitative Work
Stacy Holman Jones
I am waiting. My fingers have gone cold and thin, blood pounds in my ears. I stare at my colleagues--friends, scholars, women--across the conference room table, its faux wood a sea of separation. Motherly concern wraps silently around me and I push it off. Footsteps and laughter. Here they come, my thesis committee. Bill first, his wavy hair and deliberate gate somehow entering the room before him, wistful grin trailing behind. Then Gerri, smiling and warm in white. She looks at me, wills me confidence. And Nick, his baseball cap and shorts camouflaging serious questions.
My final performance. A play in justification and explanation--of my words about other people, presented to still other people. A parody in which I defend my choices, including the choice to include myself. A simulacra of the ethnography, the performances, the writing, the ethnographer and the participants. Conjuring them all up in a sterile room before the tribunal of hyperreality. I'd like to begin by welcoming everyone, Gerri says. The onlookers rustle in their seats, then settle in for the ride. I sit rigid, try to remember my lines.
We'll begin with a few questions about the thesis. Nick, why don't we start with you.
Sure, he says, offering a half-moon grin. You say you've written a postmodern ethnography. I'd like to talk about the theoretical implications of this choice, but first, let's start with methodology.
My eyes furiously scan the pages in front of me. Of course I'd written it down, an elaborate discussion of my methodological choices. But my voice is gone. I look at Nick.
The door opens and two leathery old men shuffle into the room. I know them. I've seen them at conferences, circled by an ever-present congregation of enthralled graduate students. They're the Methodology brothers--Reliability and Validity. They both have brilliantly white hair and translucent skin and a penchant for perpetuating the interminable quantitative-qualitative debate. They take seats on either side of Nick and fix an immovable gaze on me.
Ah, I'm glad you made it, Nick says to them, looks at me. Why don't you spend some time talking with Validity and Reliability about your methodological choices? His bearded chin jerks, beckoning me to begin. My stomach doubles back on itself.
Well, as you know, I say, then stop. Do you know about my work?
You studied communication at a nonprofit folk music club, correct? Reliability asks, white eyebrows punctuating his question.
Yes, I say, relieved. I was interested in the organizational culture.
Okay. I'll begin by telling you about my field work. Over the last 2 years, I've spent approximately 75 hours at The Club. This breaks down to 40 hours of performances . . . 25 hours of formal interviews with Board members, staff, and musicians . . . and 10 hours of meetings, document review, working the ticket window. All of this is detailed in the appendices.
How did you select the performances? Validity asks.
At first I went to a variety of shows--bluegrass, country, world music. I focused on the different audiences The Club drew.
Yes. Originally, I was interested in how different types of music might serve the interests of various groups within the organization--all of which exist in opposition to mainstream music interests.
Reliability leans forward, frowns. Did this change?
I became interested in womenís music, a specific type of music presented at The Club, and decided to focus my study on those performances.
You changed the focus of the research?
Yes. My cheeks flush with fire.
Go on, Validity urges, flashes a nasty smile.
So I focused on womenís music performances.
Reliability inhales loudly, interrupting me. You interviewed only women's music performers and audiences?
No. I started doing the interviews before I decided to concentrate on women's music. I asked questions about organizational operations, the culture, the role of music in daily activities and communication, stories they remembered about The Club. As the interviews progressed, I asked people to define women's music.
Making your research totally unreliable! Reliability shouts, pounds his fist on the table.
How? I ask, defensive.
Don't you know about measurement reliability?
Making sure my measurement is consistent over time, which makes my results reliable over time, which. . . .
Changing, he interjects.
Which has nothing to do. . . .
His voice booms over mine. Changing the research population--and the interview protocol--on a whim guarantees that your project is not reliable! The measurement error here is incredible. Tears sting my eyes. I look around the room, eager to find a friendly face . . . or a way to escape.
Tell us what you were trying to accomplish in these interviews, Nick says, ignoring Reliability's withering scowl.
A number of things. I pause to collect my thoughts. I don't want to make any false moves. First, I asked questions that gave me insight to how people perceived the organization and understood their day-to-day experiences. Altheide and Johnson say ethnographers must be committed to capturing members experience of their own social reality. The interviews allowed me to do this--to contexualize what I experienced in terms of their experience. I look at the Brothers. Their eyes are empty. As my research progressed, I became more familiar with the culture, and my questions changed accordingly. They had to change so I could, as Fetterman suggests, gain access to the stories and themes of the culture. So I wouldn't simply impose my perceptions and interpretations on the members, but discover what people thought and how. . . .
We're familiar with Fettermanís work, Validity interrupts. He looks at Reliability, who shakes his head but remains silent.
I exhale, realize I'm holding my breath. And I began some very rewarding relationships during these interviews. A wave of dread sweeps over me.
Relationships with your subjects? Reliability screeches.
More like collaborators, I say brazenly. No, friends.
Validity's eyes widen. You were concerned about making friends? Young lady, we have a big problem with objectivity here!
Maybe, if you view objectivity as a way to objectify those you study!
Gerri clears her throat. Stacy wanted to look at the culture from more than just her own perspective, to gain a deeper understanding. I think this illustrates her commitment to an objectivity that recognizes the pluralistic nature of qualitative research.
But it was more than that, I say, my anger turning melancholy. This was more than just my thesis. I looked at it as a collaborative work . . . our thesis. The members voices had to be present.
Reliability laughs, then chokes on his own amusement. It's not a thesis at all, he croaks.
I cannot speak.
A thesis, Validity begins, waving the Guide to Graduate Studies above his head, is a written, systematic study of a research problem.
Reliability nods. It must identify a research problem, articulate the importance of the study, describe the methods for gathering information, analyze the data collected, and state the significance of the findings.
In short, it must be based in theory, must use rigorous methodological and analytical procedures, and ultimately, must make a contribution to theory, Validity says.
Reliability smiles. It must be responsible research.
Calm cools my skin. Isn't that what I've done?
No! Reliability spits, rage giving his milky skin a rosy glow. What you've done is string a few awkward lines of prose. This is a collection of immature musings, little notes. It is not responsible scholarship. It does not meet our tests.
The fire returns to my cheeks. I think of all my field notebooks . . . pages and pages of little notes. As long as she writes little notes, nobody objects to a woman writing, I whisper.
Did you say something, young lady?îhe asks.
Your work is not reliable because you cannot replicate it, the brother says. And it is not valid because your procedures are biased and flawed.
Hmm? I look at him, see thin lips move over coffee-stained teeth, but I can't make out what he ís saying.
Validity issues a heavy sigh. Miss, are you listening?
Yes. I blink hard, will myself to focus on the conversation.
Your research is not valid because you have clearly influenced the people youíve studied, because your procedures for conducting the research are not sound, and because your involvement with your subjects has no doubt affected your data.
Doesn't this type of research actually maximize validity because people are studied in natural contexts and because data are collected over long periods of time? Nick asks, coming to my defense.
Perhaps, Validity says, turning to him, however, the problems of emotional involvement, personal bias--not to mention access--interfere with any increased chance of validity naturalistic methods might offer. He talks as if I'm not in the room.
Aren't researchers who use naturalistic methods particularly sensitive to potential discrepancies between the meanings they presume and those understood by the members? Nick asks. I'd argue that ethnographic research achieves a level of validity not realized by most quantitative methods.
And what about measurement validity? Reliability asks.
Ah, yes. Thank you brother, He says, ignoring Nickís remark. You do not establish that your measurement techniques--especially these interviews--are sound or accurate.
I think she does this quite well, Gerri says.
How? Validity demands.
She clearly establishes construct, or theoretical, validity. . . . She uses a solid theoretical framework that provides the conceptual means to measure the validity of her work.
She ís fooled even you, dear woman, Reliability taunts. She does not test theory. She does not demonstrate how this organization behaves based on theories of organizational communication--or any theory for that matter. No. This study is in no way theoretical.
Maybe we need to talk about theory and how it relates to methodology. . . and the two of you, Nick says. Stacy?
I take a deep breath. I find it hard to separate theory and method from ideology. My ideological position dictates the theoretical questions I've asked and the methodology Iíve used.
I look to Reliability for some sign to continue. He stares back at me, eyes frozen pools. It also creates new criteria for validity and reliability, I add.
Validity ís voice breaks our stare. You'll need to explain.
I can. May I talk about ideology and theory first?
If you make it quick, He says.
Sure. Ideologically, Iím most comfortable with a feminist, actually a postmodern feminist agenda.
What does that mean? Reliability demands.
Well . . . feminism really resists a definitive definition. And of course, there are many feminisms . . . However, Sheryl Perlmutter Bowen and Nancy Wyatt provide a useful general discussion. I rifle through my notes.
Okay, here it is. First, feminism is concerned with women's lives--particularly with the absence of women in certain places in our society, and the ways in which women are silenced, or silence themselves, in all cultural contexts, based on gender.
What cultural contexts? Nick asks.
Personal, economic, social, political. . . .
Reliability and Validity look bored. My heart races.
Feminism also focuses on cultural practices--the ways gender differences are created and reified, normalized--at work, at home, in social settings. The idea is to articulate power discrepancies and work for the elimination of these arbitrary gender differences. I feel them slipping away. And last, I say, my words coming faster, Feminism is concerned with the nature of knowledge and the ways in which it is created and letigimated. Feminism works to reclaim knowledge for women and empower them to speak by being reflexive, multi-vocal, and making room for personal experience.
Reliability glares at me. You failed to address postmodernism.
I was getting to that. Postmodernism and feminism are very compatible because postmodern culture is seen as densely contextual--a complex network of power relationships that are constantly shifting and changing. These relationships are most invisible to us in discourse. . . . Discourse reveals, and Iím quoting Patti Lather here, the ëinteractive complexity, shifting-centered, and multi-sited constructedness of our selves and our worlds.
You are trying my patience young woman, he huffs. What is the connection between postmodernism and feminism?
A postmodern feminism questions not only the role of gender, but race and sexual preference, in oppression based on difference.. . . It views difference as culturally constructed, not as something determined by biology.
Reliability's cheeks balloon. He blasts hot air at me. Doesn't postmodernism deny the legitimacy of women as a category?
Feminism has struggled to eliminate discourse that essentializes women's experience by creating a pure, gender-based category for all of us. Rather than deny it, I think postmodernsim highlights the struggle of women to live and speak within and outside this category, problematizes their struggle to eliminate it. Lather writes that postmodernism offers feminists ways to work within and yet challenge dominant discourses. And postmodernsim says there are no grand theories to describe the experience of all women. Test and retest has little relevance here.
That ís where you're wrong. Reliability sneers.
Postmodern feminism, I interrupt, encourages self-reflexivity and critique by questioning its very form, method, import--by questioning the process of scholarship.
Reliability shakes his head wearily. Your research is flawed because at each stage--designing interview questions, conducting interviews, making observations--your bias distorts the work.
He thumps the copy of my thesis in front of him, dismissing it. There is no objectivity here.
Maybe we should return to methodology to sort out this objectivity issue, Bill suggests. Tell us why you chose to do an ethnographic study.
In order to enact--no, to perform--a postmodern, feminist perspective, I needed to experience the culture first-hand . . . I wanted to be involved with the people I was studying, and aware of myself in the process.
Tell us about ethnography, Gerri suggests.
Tell us about ethnography as social science, Validity warns.
Nick shoots him an angry look. Tell us about ethnography.
I pause to search for my page on postmodern ethnography. The clock ticks loudly, each second eroding my confidence. Fabian has defined ethnography as a search for understanding that begins with cultural performance. This definition is in keeping with postmodernism because it features performance, does not isolate the observer and observed. Postmodern ethnography is a collaborative performance in search of mutual understanding and misunderstanding.
I wait for Reliability or Validity to begin the questioning, but they are silent. Reliability's chin lolls on his chest. His eyes are closed.
Stephen Tyler says postmodern ethnography foregrounds dialogue as opposed to monologue . . . emphasizes the cooperative and collaborative nature of the ethnographic situation in contrast to the ideology of the transcendental observer . . . it is the mutual, dialogical production of a discourse, a story of sorts. Postmodern ethnography is dynamic, performative. Reliability's head bobs gently to the rhythm of my words. Validity sighs.
How is it performative? Gerri asks.
I think Conquergood gives us a good interpretation here. He views ethnography not as mimesis--imitation--or poesis--construction--but as kinesis--as dynamic motion. It is a multisensual, multifarious, and fragmented collaboration of authors and texts, that is intended to intensify everyday experience.
Reliability's eyes fly open and his mouth begins to work. If this is a cooperative project, how do you accomplish your own feminist objectives? Is feminism an objective of your collaborators?
Not all of them.
So your feminist bias did affect your research!
His words bruise me. I thought about that! I struggled with this question!
Weren't you picking up on the feminist ideals of a subculture within the organization? Nick offers.
Yes, I say, thankful. I did encounter a feminist subculture in womenís music performances. And I am a woman . . . a woman interested in articulating the discourse of difference, in creating change. Focusing on these performances--and yes, ignoring others--seemed natural and right for me. And for the members. I didn't impose my feminist agenda on anyone.
Reliability scoffs at my answer. Bias clouds your judgment even now. . . . You can't grasp what we're telling you. This research is flawed.
Maybe it is, I moan. Maybe this isn't research, or a thesis. Maybe it's literature, a novel. Does that mean it doesn't teach us anything about this culture, or women's music performances, or the process of ethnography?
Tell us what a feminist, postmodern ethnography looks like, Bill says, changing the subject.
No. I think weíre on to something here, Validity interrupts.
You win,î I say flatly. ìI haven't met your standards. This isn't scholarship. It's . . . what did you say? A collection of immature musings? Little notes? That's what it is.
I agree with Bill, Nick says. I want to hear you talk about feminism and ethnography.
It's about writing, I say feebly.
Talk about that, Gerri says.
I swallow hard, pushing back my tears. In Women Writing Culture, Ruth Behar says feminist ethnography bridges the gap ëbetween feminist commitment and textual innovationí. And Tyler tells us the postmodern ethnographic text is physical, spoken, performed. It's an evocation of quotidian experience, a palpable reality that uses everyday speech to suggest what is ineffable, not through abstraction, but by means of the concrete. It will be a text to read not with the eyes alone, but with the ears in order to hear the voices of the pages. I meet Validity's stare. Such a text allows me to work toward the goals of feminist ethnography . . . to be reflexive, multi-vocal; to make room for personal experience. I feel sick, false, trying to protect myself from their sharp words by talking with a certainty I don't feel, a certainty my feminist goals deny. . . . Should we talk about my writing choices?
No. Validity seethes, pounds his fist on the table. You must answer our question. How do you propose, using your postmodern-feminist-ethnographic ideas and methods, to create scholarship that is both a valid and reliable source of knowledge--to theorize--about communication behavior?
What? Validity asks, incredulous.
You've proven I don't meet your criteria. But I'm not sure I could have. Ethnographic research aggravates--threatens-- the tests of reliability. And yet ethnography is a powerful methodological tool for organizational communication scholars.
Reliability glowers at me. What are you saying?
I'm not sure you're the best people to judge my work.
Your ipudence is becoming quite tiring, he says.
All I'm saying is there are other ways to view reality and conduct scholarly inquiry. Other criteria for assessing reliability and validity.
Such as? Nick asks.
I think we should talk about validity and reliability in terms of reflexivity and particularly--not in terms of Truth claims. I think we should talk about poststructuralist criteria, which focus on multiple, relative realities, the subjective nature of knowledge, and research that is emergent, dialectic.
You'll need to explain these criteria, Nick says.
Actually, Patti Latherís concept of transgressive validity, works well. She says it provides a way to observe the staging of the poses of methodology.
Poses? Reliability hisses. How ridiculous!
The door creeks, swings wide.
Ah, I'm glad you made it, Nick says, winks at me. Come in, come in.
I crane my neck to see who he's invited, to see my new opponent.
A pink, bald head timidly peers around the doorjamb. Sapphire eyes dance around the room.
Here, Gerri says, beckoning him with a radiant smile. Sit here, next to me. The tiny man skirts into the room, fades into the seat next to Gerri.
I glare at Nick, but he looks past me, eyes fixed on a frail Asian woman with crimson lips and powdered sugar skin. A wave of his curved fingers invites her into the room. Her taut kimono sings a shrill melody in time with quick footsteps. Who are these people? I wonder. What's Nick up to? A man with spiky dreadlocks and burnished copper skin stiffly bows his head to clear the tall doorway, then dwarfs the frail woman as he sits next to her. He's followed by a man--no woman--no man--with golden skin and lush, green eyes.
Let me introduce our guests, Nick says. This is Ironic Validity. The bashful man nods solemnly. Paralogical and Rhizomatic, there, next to Ironic. The frail woman and imposing man smile. And of course, Voluptuous Validity. He--or she--looks away, distracted.
Gentlemen, I believe you know them.
We most certainly do not, Reliability says.
Don't you recognize your transgressive cousins? he prods.
Validity coughs. They aren't our cousins. Why, they look nothing like us.
Nick smiles at the newly arrived guests. Why don't you introduce yourselves?
The fragile woman stands, thrusts a hand toward the bald man. This is Ironic Validity, her deep voice booms, startling me. He is, of course, deaf . . . but he is a profound poet, a master of language.
Ironic shakes his head sharply, his hands speak in ardent protest. Paralogical watches his contortions, nods, then turns to meet our gaze. He says he is both master and slave to language. . . His mute poetry of simulation captures our inability to articulate reality, urges us to make multiple and contradictory readings of his verse, impels us to break down imaginary lines between object, author, text, audience.
Validity frowns. Bunk! He says.
And what do you make of me? Paralogical demands.
I see a very confused young woman, He taunts.
I remember her now. I saw her speak on campus last year. Sheís a film maker . . . lesbian, outspoken, provocative, controversial, troubling.
Precisely! she shouts at him. Confused according to your essentializing stereotypes . . . your homogenizing view of reality! A ruby smiles softens her angry eyes. Am I what you wish me to be?
Because I don't make sense in your logic. I parody your reading of me--and of her.
She points a scarlet-kissed finger at me, but her eyes remain fixed on the chalky man. I threaten your tidy interpretation of both of us . . . and yet I can set you free.
Free from what? Reliability bellows.
From the stranglehold of Truth, Rhizomatic interrupts. He slowly rises from the miniature chair, his mountainous frame filling the room. To be free you must listen to me, to my music.
My stomach tightens in anticipation. Music?
Yes. Music that resists a singular rhythmic pattern and sensibility. Music that is polyrhythmic and incomplete. Music that requires the listener, the dancer, to complete the rhythm.
Validity glares at us. What does this have to do with Me?
My music produces multiple, contradictory, unsteady rhythms. It resists static interpretation, renders me incapable of creating the music alone. It's the same for women's music, and for her, the writing, he says, jerking his head toward me. Wiry dreadlocks wave mockingly at Validity.
Reliability rips a brilliant yellow page from his notebook, folds it, and passes it to Validity, who peeks between the folds. He smiles, spreads his fingers out over their secret.
Voluptuous? Nick says.
Ah, yes. I am perhaps the most difficult for you to accept, my cousins. Velvet lids linger over almond eyes. A redolent presence fills the room . . . exotic yet familiar, magnetic yet distant. Difficult because I am created in your male, hegemonic image of knowledge, yet I am also feminine and resistant.
You can't be both! Validity challenges. You're a deviant!
Yes. I am a performer, an artist of knowledge--not banal and objective as you wish, but self-reflexive, spirited, creative. A wicked smile paints ample lips. You are incapable of comprehending me.
Reliability and Validity shrink in their seats, their rosy complexions ashen.
Thank you, Voluptuous, Nick says, then looks at me. Stacy, can you tell Reliability and Validity how their cousins have influenced your work?
I tried to crystallize each of them in my writing.
Reliability smirks. Crystallize?
To reveal the Ironic, Paralogical, Rhizomatic, and Voluptuous possibilities for understanding--and questioning--the multiple ëtruthsí of this culture.
I've had enough of this nonsense, Validity says. Back to our question. How is what you've written a valid and reliable source of knowledge?
You're asking me to legitimate your vision of knowledge--and theory--as grounded and authoritative. I can't.
You must! He booms.
Why? I understand your vision of reality and the process of inquiry, but I don't subscribe to a realist ontology. Is that wrong?
No. Validity says. Not unless you want to be a social scientist.
That depends on whether you see the social scientist as omniscient theologian or curious student of, and creative participant in, everyday life, Nick says.
I identify with Nickís curious student, I say, ìhis creative participant . . . which means I can't adopt a removed, objective pose as a researcher.
Do you think this declaration relieves you of all responsibility to academic rigor? Validity bellows.
I'm not saying my work shouldn't be evaluated. But I didn't test hypotheses created well in advance of my research . . . didn't conduct experiments under carefully controlled conditions. I tried to do something very different.
What did you do? Nick asks.
I created spaces for multiple knowledges--understandings--of The Club, women's music performances there. I consulted the poet, the controversial film maker, the musician, and the performance artist, rather than the social scientist, in order to understand this knowledge.
Were you successful? Gerri asks.
I think so.
What did you accomplish? Bill asks.
I revealed the poetic ineptitude of language, as Ironic does. I followed Paralogicalís advice and created a text that challenges these knowledges for the reader. I listened to Rhizomaticís music and wrote my own beat, a rhythm incomplete without the voices of others. And I followed my heart, as Voluptuous teaches, and challenged patriarchal constructions of culture, let feminist voices speak loudly.
Did you do this well? Nick asks.
I look at Nick, Gerri, and Bill. At the Brothers. Yes. I did all of these things well, and yet, I failed.
ìOh? Reliability says.
How? Nick asks.
I gave into my interpretations, privileged my rhythm over others. I masked the voices of some--musicians, audience members, and employees--in favor of the voices of others. And I failed to write the silences of people of color--performers, audience members, women. I succeeded and failed in creating a valid text in poststructuralist terms, and if I had it to do again, I might do it very differently. I might not write a text at all.
That's just it, Rhizomatic says. The text is always incomplete. If you understand that, you've learned a valuable lesson.
Blasphemy! Validity yells.
Sit down! Paralogical shouts. Her words make him shudder.
I will not take orders from an insolent girl! He seethes. Reliability, I suggest we take our leave.
Reliability pushes back from the table, jerks from his chair. He and Validity walk in stilted harmony to the door. It slams heavy behind them, sealing the rest of us inside. I look down. A single word, Reliability's script, stares up at me: Nihilist. The yellow paper casts a jaundiced shadow.
Let's take a short break, Gerri suggests. Ironic, Paralogical, Rhizomatic, Voluptuous, thanks for coming. Letís have the rest of the group meet back here in, say, 10 minutes? Tension releases its stranglehold on the room as they move quickly for the door. I sit numb, staring at the neatly bound jumble of words in front of me. THESIS, the title page proclaims. What I really wanted was ANTITHESIS. No, what I really wanted was to perform The Club in writing. The title page should say, A PERFORMANCE. But that's not what it says. That's not what it is. I'm standing in a classroom. Eager eyes look me up and down.
Today Stacy is here to tell you about her thesis, Sally says. It's an ethnographic study that shís done some rather unconventional things with.
A woman with wise eyes and sun-soaked hair smiles at me.
Sally turns to me. Tell them about your experiences . . . about how youíve experimented with writing.
I look at them, earnest graduate students, searching for answers I can't give. Their silence entreats me to speak.
I'm studying womenís music performances at a folk music club. . . . It's a nonprofit devoted to presenting all types of non-mainstream music. This project has allowed me to explore critical, feminist, postmodern, and performance studies ideas with regard to women's music performances. I pause . . . deciding . . . then begin. I wrote the text in a dramatic, impressionistic form, but it's more than experimenting with writing. In fact, I think I started this project, doing it the way that I did, for very selfish reasons.
The air in room goes still. I wanted to write something that was interesting. And evocative. And fun. But none of these motivations had very much to do with the people I would meet or the things I would discover. The students shift nervously in their seats. Now, after the fact, I see that innovative writing is a powerful means for presenting critical, feminist, postmodern, performative ethnography.
How is it powerful? the woman with wise eyes asks.
Because the aim of this type of ethnography is to highlight the multivocal, contested, incomplete, and performative nature of the culture studied, with the ultimate goal of social change. To do this in writing almost requires breaking with so-called conventional scholarly writing practices because of a desire to write others' voices . . . a desire to question your authority as an author within your own text . . . a desire to collaborate with those you study.
So how did you discover this after the fact? she persists.
Because these interests--postmodern, feminist, performative--only became clear in doing the project. And it's just me here. I wave a thick block of pages at them.
I worked to let the voices speak for themselves, to leave interpretation open, to point out the vicarious irony of the ethnographerís authority, the reader's role in making textual meaning, but I could have done more. This writing is narcissistic and useless unless it changes the members' lives. And I doubt it will.
But you tried, she soothes.
I tried for the wrong reasons. Experimental writing does not allow you to escape the commitments and problems of ontology. In fact, it's dangerous . . . dangerous because people use writing to skirt around these responsibilities, to hide from them.
Dangerous? Sally says. How is it dangerous
It's dangerous because it's seductive! I shout. People like the idea of experimental writing. It's creative. Eclectic. Fashionable. And dangerous.
I stop, gulp stale air. Failure embraces me, laughs at my hasty delight with my stories, my writing. I tear from the room, unable to face them.
The hollow ache I felt that day, nearly a week ago now, surges through me as I watch my committee, my friends, file back into the room. Reliability, Validity, and their transgressive cousins do not return.
Okay, Gerri says warmly. We've talked about method, and also about ideological and overarching theoretical constructs . . . but weíd like to hear a bit more about the specific critical and feminist theoretical choices you made in writing the thesis.
About cultural capital, persistence, feminist performance? I ask, unsure.
Gerri nods. Why don't you start by telling us about cultural capital.
I sigh, feeling theory weigh heavy on my body. Cultural capital is . . . meanings and pleasures that validate social experience of the subordinate.
Are the people involved with The Club subordinate? she asks.
They view themselves as members of non-mainstream society and their work at The Club as a contribution to ëcounter-culture.
Bill issues a weak cough. How do you know this?
They say they provide space for music that would otherwise go unheard by Bay Area audiences. This supports their interest in non-mainstream music--bluegrass, folk, Celtic . . . and in some cases, it validates their politics.
Do they set out to resist dominant culture or is resistance a by-product of their musical interests? Nick asks.
Fiske says that in order to create cultural capital, people must have certain knowledge and competence--knowledge of the force and meaning of their actions, and competence that comes from actively working against dominant culture in the creation and use of cultural texts.
Is that what's happening at The Club? he persists.
I think so. People describe their efforts as important. They say The Club is one of the few places where the focus is on the music. They are very much aware what they're doing is resisting mainstream music--mainstream culture. Brenna, my ever-cheerful friend, smiles for me to continue.
Whatís even more interesting is that The Club serves the interests of many subcultural groups . . . creates many cultural knowledges and competencies. Some people come to hear only blue-grass shows, others focus on singer-songwriters or instrumentalists, which throws these diverse interests, competencies, and capitals into conflict.
Why? Gerri asks.
Because the subcultural interests of individuals can't always be met. Conflict among cultural capitals causes conflict among members--over the political and social content of the music, the ethnicity and sexual preference of the performer, the composition of the audience.
Did you see this conflict? she questions.
In disagreements over who should be booked. In people who are uncomfortable with--who complain bitterly about--the audiences who come to see certain performers. In management's struggle to balance staying afloat with musical, social, and political agendas.
My skin itches with frustration. I don't understand these questions, or myself. Why am I answering them when I've written they can't be answered? When I've shown there aren't answers, only my understandings and the similar and conflicting understandings of others? Just get it over with, I tell myself.
While the idea of cultural capital was salient, it did not really describe The Club's long-term survival within dominant culture. I looked for a way to understand not only members' resistance, but their adaption and accommodation. Cynthia Lontís ideas on organizational persistence seemed to fit.
Gerri nods. Tell us about that.
Lont defines persistence as ëthe process that produces tension between political goals and the need for profití for the organization. Maybe we should back up and define resistance?
I think Mary Ellen Brown offers a clear definition, so I'll read from her work. The processes of resistance are ways in which subcultural groups contest hegemonic, or dominant pressures, and consequently obtain pleasure from what the political, social, and/or cultural system offers, despite that system's contradictory position in their lives.
I look up. Nick nods for me to continue. So persistence incorporates the ideas of resistance, and the pleasures and meanings of cultural capital, and it also accounts for the acquiescence of these groups to dominant pressures. Persistence is a continual and complex web of tensions--within the organization, between the organization and the dominant culture, and within the dominant culture. The organization is pushed and pulled by these tensions, and yet it persists, although not always in the same form.
This the case for The Club? Bill asks.
Seems to be. Despite numerous social, political and organizational challenges, it's managed to survive . . . I need to add that although Lont focuses on the struggle between a need for profit and a need to accomplish political goals, I think The Club struggles to balance musical goals--authenticity, skill, artistry--and economic viability as a non-profit.
How do womenís music and feminist performances fit with the resistance and persistence ideas?î Nick asks.
I decided to focus on womenís music because it didnít seem to coincide with the other music presented at The Club.
Why not? he asks.
All other music there fell within some identifiable musical genre--bluegrass or country or blues. But women's music didn't. I'd never heard that term before, and I couldn't get a sense of what the music sounded like. So I asked people.
Gerri looks up from her notes. What did they say?
Things like, It's about issues important to womení or It's a code word for lesbian music. I started wondering how this music served the interests of women.
What did you do? Bill asks.
What every good critic does . . . research. This draws a nervous laugh from my colleagues in the room.
What did you learn? he says.
I learned that women's music originated during the feminist and lesbian-feminist movement of the 70s . . . that the term women's music did serve as a way to identify listeners and musicians aslesbians. And also that women's music had strong political and social meaning for its supporters.
Bill's eyes widen. How so?
Let me read you what Lont says about this. The individuals and groups that produced the music were a tangible example of the power of women organized apart from the dominant culture. . . . The lesbian-feminist movement was made visible in concert halls and coffeehouses'.
Chicken, Laurel's voice hisses in my head.
What? I reply, taking the bait.
This is disgusting.
Listening to you talk about persistence, women's music. Listening to you scientize it. It's much better the way you've written it. Why don't you just tell them to read the book?
Hey! I shout. They have read it. This has nothing to do with what I've written. This has to do with me graduating.
She sighs. It's a shame, really.
Let's read your thesis! Your dissertation! I yell.
Stacy? Gerri says, pulling me back into the room.
Do you think you've written a postmodern, feminist ethnography?
Yes and no. They wait for me to explain.
That's what I've tried to write, to open the possibility for multiple interpretations, to challenge my understanding and create other partial glimpses. I think I've made room for multiple voices--women's voices mostly. I've written the ways performances create possibilities for resistance and change, as well as acquiescence. I think Iíve been persistent in my writing.
Persistent? Nick asks.
Persistence not only helps me understand the organization and women's music performances there, but understand my own scholarship. My writing.
How so? Gerri asks.
Because I've chosen not to write this in the traditional way. I chose instead to write a impressionist tale, a poetic representation.
Impressionist tale? Bill asks. Poetic representation?
I'm using categories created by John Van Maanen and Laurel Richardson, scholars who endorse experimental ethnographic writing styles.
Talk a bit about that, Nick says.
Iíve created what Richardson would describe as a mixed-genre piece.
Bill spreads his hands out on the table, examines his fingers. What types of writing did you do?
I wrote an impressionist tale.
How so? Gerri asks.
Impressionist tales are artistic, vivid, novel-like accounts of fieldwork. I used literary techniques to tell stories about myself, the organization, and performances through the experiences of the characters.
Anything else? Gerri says.
Yes. I also wrote a poetic representation using both songs and poetry. This was especially important because poetry and lyric allow silences and rhythms that other prose does not capture. Richardson says this type of writing engages the readerís (and listener's) bodies, in addition to, or rather than, their minds.
Nick opens his mouth to speak, eyes turn to meet his. Doesn't Richardson say poetic representations help problematize issues of legitimation--issues of reliability, validity and truth?
I exhale, smile. Yes. And Faye Harrison says this type of writing ëencodes truth claims--and alternative modes of theorizing--in a rhetoric of imagination.í This writing resists constructs of validity and reliability that privilege elitist, white male representations and explanations of the worldí.
My impressionist stories and poetic prose more closely align with Validity and Reliability's cousins--assume their poststructuralist poses--and work toward the goals of feminist ethnography.
How are they persistent? Bill asks.
They resist the kind of work the Methodology brothers advocate in both form and function. And yet my participation in this meeting means I hope this work still counts for scholarship within the dominantí paradigm. I guess time will tell whether Iím resistant or persistent. I hope Iím both.
Laughter erupts in the room, easing the tension. I press on.
I'd like to say something more about writing. In addition to being postmodern and feminist, if that's what I've done, I wanted above all to be performative.
Gerri's eyebrows lift, speaking before she does. Performative?
I wanted to perform the culture--perform women's music--in my writing. Conquergood calls for a performative cultural politics' where ethnographers actively reveal and question the tacit understandings of culture, the dynamics of oppression and resistance, and the knowledge upon which we base these understandings. Thatís what I tried to do . . . to write a performative ethnography.
Nick shakes his head. Why not perform it then?
Why not, indeed.
Stephen Connor, Postmodern Culture: An Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989) 57. Connor notes that simulacrum is Jean Baudrillardís term for postmodern culture--culture is pure simulation, in which reality is manufactured; experiences attempt to be, and are perceived as, more real than reality itself. Simulacrum produces not a state of unreality, but of ìhyperreality.
David Altheide and John Johnson, Criteria for Assessing Interpretive Validity in Qualitative Research, Handbook of Qualitative Research, ed. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994) 490.
David Fetterman, Ethnography Step by Step (Newbury Park: Sage, 1989) 47-48.
Jerome Kirk and Marc L. Miller, Reliability and Validity in Qualitative Research (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1986) 11.
Kirk and Miller 12. The authors note that qualitative research does have a commitment to objectivity, but that the nature of this commitment is pluralistic. They write, Natural human vision is binocular, for seeing the same thing simultaneously from more than one perspective gives a fuller understanding of its depth.
Research and Graduate Studies, The Guide to Graduate Studies: The Official CSUS Guide to Policies, Procedures, and Format, 2nd ed., (Sacramento: California State University, Sacramento, 1995) 41.
Woolf, Virginia, Orlando (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1928) 268. Paraphrase of Woolf's statement As long as she writes little notes nobody objects to a woman writing.
Lawrence Frey, Carl H. Botan, Paul G. Friedman, and Gary L. Kreps, Investigating Communication: An Introduction to Research Methods, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1991) 125-29. The authors discuss threats to internal validity in communication research.
Kirk and Miller 31-32.
Frey et al. 123. Drawn from the authorsí discussion of construct (theoretical) validity.
Sheryl Perlmutter Bowen and Nancy Wyatt, eds., Visions of Synthesis, Visions of Critique, Transforming Visions: Feminist Critiques in Communication Studies (Creskill, NJ: Hampton, 1993) 2-4.
Patti Lather, Getting Smart: Feminist Research and Pedagogy With/in the Postmodern (New York: Routledge, 1991) 21.
Johannes Fabian, Power and Performance: Ethnographic Explorations Through Proverbial Wisdom and Theater in Shaba Zaire (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990) 259.
Stephen Tyler, ìPost-Modern Ethnography: From Document of the Occult to Occult Document, Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, ed. James Clifford and George Marcus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986) 126.
Conquergood, ìEthnography, Rhetoric and Performance,î Quarterly Journal of Speech 78.1 (1992): 84.
Ruth Behar, ìIntroduction: Out of Exile, Women Writing Culture, eds. Ruth Behar and Deborah Gordon (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) 14.
Kirk and Miller 51-52.
Egon C. Guba, ìThe Alternative Paradigm Dialog, The Paradigm Dialog (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1990) 27. Guba summarizes the constructivist belief system (paradigm).
Lather, ìFertile Obsession: Validity After Poststructuralism, The Sociological Quarterly 34.3 (1993): 676.
Lather 677-83. Lather discusses these four senses of validity in detail.
Richard Rogers, Rhythm and the Performance of Organization, Text and Performance Quarterly 14 (1994): 230. Rogers discusses the differences between Western rhythms (which are singular and unifying) and African rhythms (which are multiple and incomplete).
Richardson, Writing: A Method of Inquiry, Handbook of Qualitative Research 522.
Guba 20. Guba summarizes the basic belief system (paradigm) of conventional (positivist) inquiry.
Yvonna S. Lincoln, The Making of a Constructivist: A Remembrance of Transformations Past, The Paradigm Dialog 85. Paraphrase of Lincoln, who writes, we have no models for scientific knowledge that account for nonhierarchic learning, and we may have to borrow from the poet, the artist, the madman, the mystic.
Cynthia Lont, Subcultural Persistence: The Case of Redwood Records, Women's Studies in Communication 11 (Spring 1988): 50-60. See also Lontís Persistence of Subcultural Organizations: An Analysis Surrounding the Process of Organizational Change, Communication Quarterly 38.1 (1990) and îBetween Rock and a Hard Place: A Model of Subcultural Persistence and Women's Music, diss., University of Iowa, 1984.
Lont, Subcultural Persistence 51.
Mary Ellen Brown, ìIntroduction, Television and Women's Culture: The Politics of the Popular (London: Sage, 1990) 12.
Lont, Subcultural Persistence 51.
Lont, Subcultural Persistence 50.
Lont, Women's Music: No Longer a Small Private Party, Rockin the Boat: Mass Music and Mass Movements, ed. Reebee Garofalo (Boston: South End, 1992) 240-42.
Lont, Womenís Music 242.
Richardson, Writing: A Method of Inquiry and John Van Maanen, Tales of the Field (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).
Richardson, Writing: A Method of Inquiryî 522.
Van Maanen 101.
Van Maanen 104-5.
Richardson, Writing: A Method of Inquiry 521.
Richardson, Writing: A Method of Inquiry 522.
Richardson, Writing: A Method of Inquiry 522.
Faye V. Harrison, Writing Against the Grain: Cultural Politics of Difference in the Work of Alice Walker, Women Writing Culture 234.
Conquergood, ìEthnography, Rhetoric, and Performance 95.