Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Subjectivity is to Ethics as Caring is to Social Justice

An ode to caring and qualitative research written in January 2016!

Once upon a time when I was early on in my work as a teacher of qualitative research, I created a little table to help students understand the relationship of inside and outside/subjectivity and ethics.  It looked like this:

(Values, beliefs, assumptions)

I was hoping it would help them to see the complexity of the problem and the ways that self is interacting with other in one-to-one and institutional contexts.  This table shows up on pg 40 of Qualitative Research Design for Software Users by diGregorio and Davidson—2008.

The development of my table came about as qualitative researchers were making the adjustment to being considered part of the whole Institutional Review Board (IRB) apparatus, and, concurrent with that the growth of the IRB within higher education and non-profit institutions. 

I am thinking that a similar table might be useful to help students see the relationship that caring has to social justice, and this idea coincides with another thought (see following paragraph)…

I recently got a request from an administrator to provide information on the ways ethics and ethical issues were presented in the classes I teach.  My response was that in qualitative research, ethical concerns are always present and always part of our thinking.  It is there from the start and continues to be part of the discussion through all phases of the work.  Being asked this question forced me to respond to one thing that had been bugging me about qualitative research textbooks—the one little chapter or section about ethics…sometimes sitting near the beginning and sometimes near the end of the book and the one little section on reflexivity with participants—also sitting out alone somewhere in the text and the one little section on critical theory approaches that always really grabs students, who, in my experience care an awful lot about the impact of their work. 

It seems to me that caring (or lack of caring) is part of subjectivity in the individual researcher…and this is the necessary starting point for an approach to research that is respectful of the other in all its forms. 

The Caring Self/Researcher
The Cared for Other
Individual researcher
Individual participant
Community of researchers (team, advisors)
Community of participants (interviewees, observed)
Institutional context;  university, NGO
Institutional context;  school, community agency, business
Disciplinary context:  Field, Communities of researchers addressing this issue, professional organizations
? :  Education, Umbrella Organizations


Care is the individual and interactive expression of social justice;  social justice then is the policy and political face of care. 

Care is understood in the way we deal with others as beings (whether persons, groups, or other grouping) that are personally connected to us.  Social justice is the way we resolve to make our ideas programmatic, legal, visible to the world. 

Caring is a stance.  Social justice is a politically enacted response to that stance. 

What is the opposite of caring?  What is an uncaring stance?  An uncaring stance is one where the motivation or perspective is selfishly motivated for personal gain—a kind of gain that could be economic, political, or social.  Uncaring seeks to put oneself above others.  Uncaring cannot share.  Uncaring is ultimately the basis of  inauthenticity.  One cannot be authentic (and genuinely reflexive) if one is uncaring. 

One can be blind, uninformed, or ignorant and still be caring…ignorant but uncaring contains the seeds of negotiation, understanding, and promise.  But if one were ignorant and uncaring, there would be no possibility of understanding.  In that case, social justice will not be served. 

Just as I am arguing in an earlier blog that problem, not philosophy, should be the starting point of a qualitative research inquiry.  Here I am arguing that caring should be the starting point of a qualitative research inquiry.  If caring (about the problem, the people, the context) is present, then social justice will be worked out through that stance. 

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