The starting premise is that open methodologies do not assume a reflective person as the originator of knowledge and meaning, but neither do they wholly relinquish the notion of the human, or favour anonymous forces. Central to the approach is a concern with the formation and nature of subjectivities that are set in motion by methods, as well as the social worlds that are created by applying such knowledge of the social. In other words, open methodologies imply that there is no pure, original or universal human, or social. Instead, the knowledges, practices, experiences and capabilities of a person or people are built by the tools, networks and expertise that make up their particular way of life. This includes their ways of knowing about social and personal life. Whilst the person and their situation are indivisible, their situation is more than a minor variation of an overarching classification or force. For example, people are more than a minor variation upon the twenty-first century contour of their class. In fact, their situation is both more specific and less pre-determined; more specific because the particularities of a locality, history, community and organisation matter, but also less pre-determined because these specifics are highly changeable. It can be difficult to think in scales of global economic tides and social values, but the individual, workplace, family or locality is easier to apprehend and to alter.
A political aspect of open methodologies is that they approach methods not in terms of grand narratives, but as practices through which worlds are enacted. This is a reaction to, and qualified rejection of, that research which associates particular methods with particular political outcomes. To take some examples, interpretative and qualitative methods are not necessarily linked to critical emancipatory knowledge – an interview can demean the interviewee and their knowledge, or disrupt organisations working towards positive ends, whilst the results can be misinterpreted during analysis. Of course, interviews can also be properly done and lead to solid understandings of social matters. Ethnographic methods have been used to challenge stereotypes and prejudices but also to further colonial oppression. Similarly, statistical methods of investigation do not only create positivistic knowledge for regressive or conservative ends; they can be used to better understand scales that are difficult to comprehend through personal experience, and so to inform critical and progressive responses. CCIG members have analysed these processes in many ways, for example, in the Mapping Refugee Media Journeys project, the What could critical psychosocial (anti) self-help look like? project, and many more in CCIG’s Research Archive.
An open methodological signature integrates technical expertise in methods with a critical conception of method. As such it sees method as a social accomplishment to be built, rather than an objective truth to be uncovered. This makes each method a practice (or set of practices) that becomes linked to discrimination and violence, solidarity and emancipation through the way it is used, and which must therefore be navigated with skill and reflexivity. Furthermore, social and technological systems create ways of knowing that are caught up in the processes by which they remain coherent; because knowledge and social life are self-referential, their inequalities can seem self-evident, natural or even beneficial. The corollary is that inventing new ways to know the world allows that world to be changed. By exploring how we know we also learn about what we don’t know. Open methodologies allow us to destabilise these naturalisations and reveal and resist violence and oppression; to reconfigure social forms, striving for greater equality and freedom.
Methods in motion therefore brings CCIG’s research interests in methods together with its research interests in social change. Methods in Motion highlights the role that methods play in creating particular worlds, and the development of new methods that can capture such worlds in motion. In brief, our proposal examines how methods can create and recreate, but also challenge structures and instances of power that contribute to discrimination and violence. Our goal is to further the development of creative methods that address some of contemporary society’s most urgent social, cultural, political and ethical issues.
These reflections draw from discussion within CCIG, mainly among researchers in the Methods Group, led in 2014-5 by former CCIG director Professor Jef Huysman. With my thanks to everyone.
The Methods in Motion blogs are by researchers linked to the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance. The blogs represent their opinions emerging from research in progress, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Research Centre or Open University. You can discover more about Methods in Motion on the CCIG website.