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DISCURSIVE RISKS: What are the epistemic assumptions of the analyst of collaboration?


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Mike Fortun's picture
August 11, 2019

Timmermans and Tavory settle on, or narrow an understanding of the ab- in abduction to one sense: it "suggests" a "leading away;" abduction is "an inferential creative process of producing new hypotheses and theories based on surprising research evidence. A researcher is led away from old to new theoretical insights."  (p.170)  In another annotation I'll muse on the theory fixation, or centrality, which I'll ascribe uncharitably to sociologists.  But here I focus on this narrowing of the ab- to its dominant meaning, away from.  It's what Mike Fischer might say is symptomatic of a symbolic approach, an approach I think is also symtpomatic of the coding paradigm: ab- symbolizes "away." Or: ab- is code for "away." End of story, end of analysis -- actually, no analysis necessary.  

So does abduction "suggest" abuse? It could, but the translation or substitution is far from perfect, and the difference or remainder is crucial.  Let's start with the difference in the ab- for Spivak: ab-use for her is first "to use from below." (Aesthetic Education intro, p. 11).  Or at greater length:

In 1992, asked to give the first T.B. Davie Memorial lecture at the University of Cape Town after the lifting of apartheid, I suggested that we learn to use the European Enlightenment from below.  I used the expression "ab-use" because the Latin prefix "ab" says much more than "below." Indicating both "motion away" and "agency, point of origin," "supporting," as well as "the duties of slaves," it nicely captures the double bind of the postcolonial and the metropolitan migrant regarding the Enlightenment.  We want the public sphere gains and private sphere constraints of the Enlightenment; yet we must also find something relating to "our own history" to counteract the fact that the Enlightenment came, to colonizer and colonized alike, through colonialism, to support a destructive "free trade," and that top-down policy breaches of Enlightenment principles are more rule than exception.  This distinguishes our efforts from the best in the modern European attempts to use the European Enlightenment critically, with which we are in sympathy, enough to subvert!  But "ab-use" can be a misleading neographism, and come to mean simply "abuse."  That should be so far from our intentions that I thought to sacrifice precision and range and simply say "from below." This too rankles, for it assumes that "we," whoever we are, are below the level of the Enlightenment.  A double bind, again." (p. 3-4)

So Spivak's ab- doesn't code for any one meaning; it doesn't lead "us" ("whoever we are") away from or toward any one reading, or to another place of reading.  As befits a double-binding situation, an ab-use remains right where it is and endures the contradictions of that place; it tries to activate or at least acknowledge the multiplicities and dissemination of the concept/term.

Mike Fortun's picture
August 7, 2019
In response to:

a nice analysis here that CAQDAS programs embody a kind of language ideology (not their term) or risk certain kinds of readings.  in this casee the analysis is not of collaboration but of "qualitative analysis" itself, and particularly as performed with or by (the preposition is kind of crucial) CAQDAS packages.  So one risk or ideological effect is that "qualitative analysis" becomes one thing, and namely the opposite of or everything that's not quantative.

Another risk/ideological effect is they "create the impression that analysis is actually done by the software. Here, the wow factor kicks in—rather than emphasizing that CAQDAS is a tool for organizing data...not a method of analysis, this view implies that the better the researcher is at working the program, the better the analysis." (p. 182) i.e. it conflates the tool with the analysis.

CAQDAS also set up a structural parallel or similarity between


"one that turns data into statistics and the other that turns data into descriptive codes." p182

this annotation also raises questions about our own codes: in readng this article I chose this analytic and question becuase it seemed the best "fit" -- but it runs on its own conflations, or maybe iterated differance: the epistemic assumption of the question is the risk in the annotation is an effect of a langage ideology. 

ideology-assumption-risk is the nexus of ab-use...

Angela Okune's picture
August 31, 2018
  • AO: A discursive risk in this analysis is the assumption of intellectual partners among “elite” communities. I think the example of “professionalized” Kibera research subjects who have developed critical perspectives and analytics about the work of researchers on them and could also be interesting intellectual partners with whom a collaborative engagement could happen if executed with nuance and sensitivity (and long standing commitment to the site). If such a case could be enacted, I think it could fit many of the conditions noted by the analysts but provide an alternative to the types of communities they give as examples and open up an interesting way of rethinking some of even those “older” more “traditional” anthropological projects.

  • AO: Going back to the “same subjects” that Anthropology has long been interested in (the development subject) perhaps with this approach advocated by Holmes and Marcus could possibly change the type of work and collaboration. The analysts write: “we must first meet expectations that anticipate what ethnography might mean for them and for us” (83) as if this is unique to working with elites but I believe this must also be a key part of good (ethical) research more generally. I think instead of the notion of collaboration with “elites,” another terms they use, “found reflexive subjects” could better categorize this kind of important work and broaden beyond assumptions of a particular economic class of people or occupation.

Angela Okune's picture
August 31, 2018
  • AO: The analysts assume that strategies of creativity and innovation are needed to move the field forward and further improve public health science and practice (S243).

  • AO: This analysis looks for “valid” and “stable” metrics to evaluate the “return on investment” of team science.

    • AO: QUOTE: “Systematically tracking the career development trajectory of transdisciplinary trainees over time and examining the influence of earlier transdisciplinary training on their subsequent productivity will ultimately help to gauge the “returns” on team science investments at both individual and societal levels” (S247).

  • AO: The analysts call for more flexiblity in incentive structures but not in the ways of opening up and pluralizing but rather in terms of acknowledging, legitimating and supporting transdisciplinary work within the existing systems (not a radical vision but more of solidifying the legitimacy of this new transdisciplinary field).

Angela Okune's picture
August 31, 2018
  • AO: The analysts believe that collaboration is particularly important right now because the “grand, complex, and wicked challenges of today’s world necessitate new coalitions of actors from a wide variety of knowledge and action domains” (1). Nonetheless, they also note that “critically reflecting about potential collaborative synthesis, rather than pursuing it as a good in and of itself” (8) is also very important. The paper is written at the middle of an on-going project so they focus on the “how” of enabling collaborative synthesis rather than just making a case for it or assessing its impacts. The analysts appear to be most interested in how to facilitate collaborative synthesis (rather than just “connecting people”).

Angela Okune's picture
August 28, 2018

AO: The analysts are very strong at the nano, meta, macro levels. They are largely missing an eco level of analysis (at least as expressed in this genre which was targeting natural scientists). They are focused on research that has already been done and how to get feedback from the community. In some ways this sounds like my idea for a community advisory commitee (in parallel to a PhD academic advisory commitee). I do wonder where the exact data collected was stored or how the infrastructure question is dealt with. I thought the paper would be on how to build a data base that was housed/managed/stored by the community themselves but they did not actually go into that side of the data, rather, they focused on the politics of data and where it was circulated. They did not talk about where it was stored and kept.

There was an underlying assumption that communities know what is best for themselves. I believe this was a known assumption (to push back against a more traditional IRB which is very paternalistic and assumes that communities do not know what is best for them per say). But given the target audience (natural scientists), the analysts did not make this explicit.

Angela Okune's picture
August 27, 2018
  • AO: Analysts do not provide a “right answer” at the end of their fictitious stories, highlighting their assumption that there is not one right way to tackle the ethics involved. Nonetheless, they have “learning objectives” identified in the index of case studies at the back of the book. For example, the data trouble chapter notes: “To explore access to, use, and ownership of participants’ health data in collaborative medical research, and through this to reflect on collaboration between unequal partners.”

  • AO: The analysts hold that collaborative relationships will also (always?) necessarily involve ethical challenges (in the context of research).

  • AO: Analysts believe that successful collaboration (which has strong dialogue and deliberation) creates a wide range of relations that now only allow for science but also growth of personal relations which then produce even “better science” (235). Analysts argue for this process of “long-term engagement across difference.”

Angela Okune's picture
August 26, 2018
  • AO: This is a discourse analysis of the way that organizational theorists are thinking about collaboration (authors map nine papers over 6 domains of collaboration to examine which parts of collaboration are studied; similar to the orals doc exercise we are also conducting!). Analysts are thinking about collaboration in terms of autonomy (see nano) amongst largely equal stakeholders who can negotiate on equal footing. They do not take into account unequal power symmetries nor do they consider multi-stakeholder relations (individuals, multinationals, activists, etc.) in one collaborative formation (probably because they are working within and towards organizational theory?) They rely on concepts of resource dependency and competitive advantage to describe how/why collaborative alliances may happen (not because of shared principles or values per say but rather for competitive advantage; control complexity and turbulence).

  • AO: An important idea from this paper is what they call a “commonality of experience”: the process of building a joint appreciation enables all stakeholders to increase their understanding of the problem by learning the desired and intended actions of others. (160)

Angela Okune's picture
August 26, 2018
  • AO: The analysts of this short piece are engaged in a collaborative project but do not necessarily describe explicitly the collaborative processes themselves, so it is hard to say concisely what is collaborative although it is assumed the collective decision-making regarding Somatosphere that is the collaborative aspect. They focus largely on questions of the value of labor and how to value volunteer labor in relevant ways other than financial capital. The analysts underline that open access should not be the goal in and of itself but should be about the values of the academic work: values of mutual respect, equity, intellectual generosity, difference, and care. However, they do not go into detail on the practices that fit such values and so it is still unclear exactly what they describe by the term “respectful.” Does this entail agreeing to disagree or simply coming to agreement? They value “diversity” within the boundaries of the shared values put forward. They put the values forward as if they are quite stable values and intuitive notions.

Angela Okune's picture
August 23, 2018

AO: The author calls for more reflection on the intertwining of multi-textual forms of knowledge production to see how multi-textuality can address the complexity of the ‘global’ world, understood as a process of cultural, physical, socio-economic and political intertwining in which the mapping of inequality is simultaneously ever present and shifting. Her focus is on what can be learned from the field of indigenous studies towards the goal of decolonizing anthropology. She describes several kinds of collaboration - collaboration between “indigenous studies” and “anthropology” as academic fields; collaboration between her and a research partner on a specific project; collaborations between engaged anthropologists and indigenous communities more broadly. Many of her points hold true for studied communities rather than just when one is  working with “indigenous” communities so I wonder why she makes the distinction. I find the analyst’s macro level of analysis strongest as she describes the context under which the field of anthropology has formed and grappled with “engagement” with interlocutors. She is lacking in any analysis at the data level and missing an eco level.