Doheny-Farina, Stephen. “Research as Rhetoric:  Confronting the Methodological Problems of Research on Writing in Nonacademic Settings.” Writing in the Workplace:  New Research Perspectives. Ed. Spilka, Rachel. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993. 253-67. Print.

  • D. notes early on in this piece that Writing Studies is moving progressively toward a Social Science research perspective.  This research paradigm values qualitative research and especially ethnographic studies of non-academic contexts (253).  Yet, as DF notes, the construction of an account of research – an ethnography – is just that: a construction, a fiction, a retelling of what actually happened.  As such, DF states that a tension exists in our field:  the claims that we make in our research in TC tends to be taken up and implemented in the way that other folks do their jobs; however, if those are constructed claims that arise from disciplinary biases and methods (rather than data) then the results of our research aren’t results at all. . . they are actually just what we, as researchers, bring to the research event (254).
  • According to DF, the way to get around this issue is to make our research activities “rhetorical in nature.”  This means that we must “expose the arguments that guide our research actions” (254).  If we do that then we are going to have more realistic, ethical research practices.  In fact, not only will research be more ethical, we can use our self-disclosure as researchers as a source of ethos.  As DF notes, “our strongest authority comes not from our representation of data, but in our attempt to do ethical research” (254).
  • DF takes up three central critiques to writing studies methodology in this section:
    • The Role of the Researcher:  There are two problems here:  first, the researcher doesn’t want to be a threat to the researched; however, this often happens in ways the researcher can’t anticipate.  Second, because of the researchers present in the researched situation, the outcome of the research will be different.  The researcher can affect the situation in which the research occurs.  Smagorinsky considers this second problem in his critique of Graves’s work.  In fact, S. recommends calling this kind of work “reportage” not research as the researcher is actively involved in the processes being researched.  Kleine offers three versions of the researcher in this context:  1) researcher as missionary – this is ethnographic research as ideological commentary (empowering the natives); 2) researcher as apologist – this is advancing an uncritical line or idea in the middle of the process being researched; 3) researcher as sympathizer – researcher becomes emotionally involved with the researched participants in such a way that prevents the research from being published out of respect for the researched (256-7).
    • Manipulation and Interpretation of Data:  A key tension here: the difference between research as testing of hypotheses in the scientistic paradigm or research as participation and selection of data (ethnography).  So, from the scientistic perspective of Smagorinsky ethnography corrupts data.  From the ethnographic perspective of Kleine the point is to understand the manipulation and selection of data so that it can be foregrounded in the write-up and used as a source of understanding in the coconstruction of researched reality.  As a partial remedy for this problem, DF recommends asking the researched to participate in judging the validity of a test/write-up to see if it is true to the folks it analyzes (260).  This is referred to as internal validity and is of paramount importance in ethnographic studies.  Of course, this method too has a problem: What is your conclusions are markedly different from the researched participant’s conclusions and what if this difference is rooted in political/power issues?  So, how is something valid?  Well, if it has what DF calls “practical validity” then it can be considered successful.  Practical validity is a high level of acceptance by the multiple audiences of scholarship: research participants, scholarly community, disciplinary audience, etc.
    • The Construction of Research Texts:  DF claims that an ethical research write up will acknowledge the different persuasive attempts the research writer is using to increase the validity of the research.  Because this is an acknowledgement of the subjective nature of research this ethical move is often frowned upon by folks publishing materials (editors) in the field.  The construction of texts in the discipline of Writing Studies usually involves 5 key textual strategies: 1) State of the art research claim – this means grounding research in other research and improving on it; 2) Set up a problem  solving framework – The organization of the text logically moves the reader through to the logical solution of problems; 3) Base analysis on certain privileged terms – By using disciplinary terms the text gains ethos by borrowing disciplinary authority; 4) Represent a dual researcher persona of participant/observer – this move makes the research report appear objectivist; however, it is actually quite subjective; 5) Cite irretrievable field notes – by citing notes from the field and the observations this move creates ethos because the researcher receives the cred of “being there” while still borrowing the authority of cited scholarship.  (259-262).
  • After considering these three “moves,” DF notes that research writing and the research process is actually an intensely rhetorical enterprise: “We are building arguments as we work in the field and construct our analysis and inscribe our interpretations. . . . What we see, then, is a methodology that is large a rhetorical enterprise” (263).
  • DF notes that the realist (scientific objectivist ethnographic stance) and the impressionist (rejection of scientific objectivity in favor of constructed account) draw on different forms of authority to make their arguments.  As such, the audience of the research (journals, forums, etc.) should determine the research process.  DF identifies five kinds of audiences (and their attendant research demands):
    • Actual participants in the study:  this often requires a “sanitization” of our research to make it palatable to the organization.
    • Disciplinary colleagues – speak to the discipline and (often) relate to pedagogy.
    • Gate-keepers – we must present “new knowledge” to get through the “gates” of publication.  As such, our research is often dictated by this desire for new (does this play into its own positivist epistemology?)
    • Nonnative practitioners – these are non disciplinary experts who also aren’t researched.  They want our research to be able to inform their practices.
    • Our bosses – Institutional pressures of our own academic location – tenure, deans, chairs, colleagues, etc.
  • DF closes by noting a danger in self-reflexivity:  Don’t let it become navel gazing!

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