Wednesday, October 5

the myth of objectivity


our conversation in 5371 yesterday didn't really start with hegemonies. it started with the idea of challenging dominant forms of discourse. scraping away at the prevalence of a certain perspective. shifting the weight away from certain ways of looking at things. digging past the black and white to celebrate a bit of gray. it was all really thought-provoking, in more ways than I can plug into this little blogpost tonight.

we'd read two articles from our textbook Central Works in Technical Communication: "Teaching Discourse and Reproducing Culture" by Carl G. Herndl and "Taking a Political Turn" by Nancy Roundy Blyler, all about how current research methods and teaching practices tend to skim the surface and leave out so much context. these two authors with odd names advocate a critical approach to research and pedagogy--one that makes sure to consider perspectives that might normally get marginalized or glossed over.

we tried to think up examples--dominant modes that so insidiously pervade our everyday lives that we hardly ever think about them. grades. euclidian geometry. base ten mathematics. taxes. gender norms. punctuation. these are constructs we function within almost unquestioningly, like they are too big, too encompassing, too everywhere to even see. and in failing to consider does that mean we're missing out on some different way of evaluating our work? some different way of looking at the world or making calculations or organizing sentences?

maybe so. but I know I kept asking myself, 'is this always the case? is the dominant form always in danger of crushing other just-as-worthy interpretations? does the status quo always need to be questioned? what if this way of looking at things is dominant for a reason...?'
when I brought my questions up in class, classmate Tim readily countered 'of course,' and went on to say that there is always someone thinking something crazy. and by 'crazy,' I'm sure he means 'different,' and in that case, yeah, no one's ever going to think the exact same way as everyone else. we're not meant to. but as some of our other classmates added, if you start questioning and fighting against every accepted system in the world, life gets chaotic.

so there's a balance. we don't want breed anarchy here... but neither do we want to walk around like parrots with blinders on. we just want to get our hands a little muddy, I guess. we need to stop pretending like anyone--professor or scientist or theoretician--can be completely objective when teaching or studying or writing anything. it's good to seek out a few totally unusual other-ways-of-looking-at-things. see what there is to learn from accepting as much of the crazy, not-so-black-and-white context as possible. be critical.


Janeheiress said...

I completely agree. The status quo should be evaluated from time to time or else we would be nothing more than lemmings, but there's a flip side. It's like the saying, "don't be so open minded that your brains fall out". There has to be structure to our understanding of the world. And lots of people preaching new ideas just because they are different, not because they are better (and usually it's just because they're trendy). I'm convinced that most people who think they are thinking outside a paradigm are actually pushing themselves farther inside one.

Chris said...

Good post. Dominant modes aren't always malevolent, but they're always worth questioning. Even if that's only to try and understand/appreciate why they're the dominant modes.

Heh... the first word verification thingy was inherd. I think that's somehow significant.

amelia said...

i'm always afraid that at least a few of these paradigms are inescapable. and i guess that's what the articles were talking about-- admitting that we all function as part of the system, even when we can look at it and evaluate it separately.

and yes. questions are awesome. questions are what i do. i'm going to eventually wear myself out chasing whys and why-nots.