Kirsch, Gesa E. and Joy S. Ritchie. “Beyond the Personal: Theorizing a Politics of Location in Composition Research.” In Cross-Talk in Comp Theory. Ed. Victor Villanueva. Urbana, Illinois: National Council for Teachers of English, 2003.
Kirsch and Ritchie discuss the implications of research grounded in feminist principles and the politics of location. Researchers must be self-reflexive: they must understand how their own histories and values shape their questions, inquiries, and methodologies. Feminist scholars must strive to bridge the gap between the “known” and the “knower,” positioning themselves closer to their subjects so that they might understand how their subjects’ own histories and values influence their contributions to the research. This close collaboration is more complex, rich, and multivocal than the traditional univocal and “objective” research, yet it is also raises difficult ethical questions at times. How does a researcher separate the personal from the non-personal? Is there knowledge that is a-personal? Feminist scholars must understand their positions of power and approach their work with an “ethic of care,” realizing both that their work has social consequences and that it is their responsibility to help change the systems that oppress the “others” they are working with.
“If our research is centered on a politics of location it demands an extra measure of responsibility and accountability on our part. It requires using research as “praxis” to help those who participate with us in research to understand and change their situation, to help those who have been marginalized to speak for themselves. Under these circumstances, it will not be possible to walk away from the research site or those who live in it. Our research instead will need to extend to theory-generating in a self-reflexive and mutually dialogic context to help researchers and participants challenge and change the conditions that keep oppressive structures in place. Only in this extra measure of “care” can our research truly be ethical.” (542) I was caught by Kirsch and Ritchie’s passion for their “ethic of care.” I like to ask myself (especially during 670 meetings), “What are we doing here? Why are we doing it?” I find this answer to be an inspiring one – one that stirs the revolutionary passions inside of me. I want to know more: what oppressive structures? The university? Or larger than that? How can we show our students the agency created through composition and rhetoric to create this sort of change? I thought the articles on Poland and South Africa in LWP’s class were intriguing examples of this – showing our students how language creates the world they live in, the world that might oppress them, but that to counteract it, to change it, they use language themselves. Language is the Excalibur that everyone can whip out of their pocket. People just need to be told that they have it there, ready to use.
“Multivocal reports also disrupt the smooth research narratives that we have come to know and expect, highlight rather than suppress the problems of representation in our writing, and expose the multiple, shifting, and contradictory subject positions of researchers and participants.” (541) I get that collaboration leads to these complex, interesting texts that approach perspectives not possible in individual research, but what conclusions can you come to? Is there no conclusion? Or a conclusion just for the moment? And how useful is that in creating a theory that people can use to change the power structures they are entrapped in?
“The questions that guide our data collection, the stories we decide to tell or eliminate from our research narratives, the range of conlcusions we suppress or include – all are guided by our own positionality and must be acknowledged.” (540) I thought this was an elegant way to define how the politics of location shape our research. As I read it, I thought, “What demon in my past is leading me to underline and annotate certain parts of this text?”
“[Traditional ethics] also homogenizes differences in contexts and perspectives and fails to take into account the connection between political and moral questions. In general, feminist philosophers disavow traditional rule-governed ethics based on ‘universal’ principles and on unbending rules, because acting from principle entails acting without experience and context, without a politics of location. An ethic of care often comes to different conclusions than an ethic of principle.” (537) I admit I am excited about seeing ethics as multidimensional and shifting. However, something about the subversion of ethics bothers me more than the subversion of positivist science. Is there value to homogenizing differences? Can you create meaning through seeing the similarities instead of focusing on the differences? I know some call that ignoring the differences, but isn’t ignoring the similarities just as problematic? What would our research look like if we did that?
“We argue that composition researchers need to resist the drive to generalize about men and women, that we can learn as much from studying the multiple ways in which both men and women can express themselves, and that composition teachers need to develop pedagogical practices that encourage students to write in a wide variety of discourse forms.” (527) I was thinking about this when we read the feminist rhetoricians in LWP’s class: it is foolish to categorize and distinguish between “men’s” and “women’s” rhetorics. Feminist scholars need to look out for and help all people – white, black, men, women, rich, poor – challenge and overcome the power structures that oppress them. Is there anyone who is not oppressed? Can we complicate our thinking on oppression?