Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"Plugging In" Epistemology: A Theoretical and Methodological Manoeuvre in Qualitative Research

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"Plugging In" Epistemology: A Theoretical and Methodological Manoeuvre in Qualitative Research

Article excerpt

You must learn to use your life experiences in your intellectual work: continually to examine it and interpret it. In this sense craftsmanship is the centre of yourself and you are personally involved in every intellectual product upon which you work

(Mills, 1970, p. 216)

This article is a response to Jackson and Mazzei's (2013) call in their paper "Plugging One Text into Another: Thinking with Theory in Qualitative Research," to avoid simplistic and mechanistic approaches to qualitative research that is devoid of context. In this article, I specifically aim to disrupt simplistic treatments of epistemological insights in research that tend to restrict the potential for epistemology to introduce substantive and multilayered new explorations and thinking with/through theory to academic research. Articulations of epistemological foundations of research allow researchers to be explicit about the meanings ascribed to knowledge creation and it facilitates a thoughtful space in research to share our researcher worldview and acknowledge that it is integral and therefore impossible to separate from our research. I propose that epistemology is critically useful in placing research firmly within context and is another avenue through which research is able to think with and through theory. Often epistemology is limited to a paragraph or two, a gesture towards researcher positioning that whilst may be interesting, I argue, misses the creative and theoretical potential in utilising epistemology to open up research to alternative meanings. I advocate for a three-way manoeuvre through epistemology in research, a three-way link between researcher experience, theoretical framings which then open up research questions and tighten the framework of research projects. This paper incorporates illustrations from my own research that demonstrates this three-way manoeuvre that facilitates "thinking with theory" (Mazzei & Jackson, 2012, p. 745) and embeds research work within context and theoretical engagement.

In their piece, "Plugging One Text into Another: Thinking with Theory in Qualitative Research," Jackson and Mazzei (2013) articulate a methodological practice that opens up ways of thinking with data through theory. They argue that this thinking with theory through data interaction enables them as researchers to question "question what we hear and how we hear (our own privilege and authority in listening and telling)" (Jackson & Mazzei, 2013, p. 262). They take up Deleuse and Guattari's (1987) concept of "plugging in" as a process not as a research concept. The process of "plugging in" was useful to me in articulating my own "plugging in" of epistemology in qualitative research and in this paper I aim to offer a methodological foundation for "plugging in" theory into qualitative research through epistemological processes and articulations. Jackson and Mazzei's (2013) "plugging in" theory and data assisted me in responding to feedback I received in response to my epistemological writing and sharing in my research. This feedback strongly claimed that my epistemology section was "self-indulgent" and even "embarrassing" for me and limited my capacity to produce "objective" research. This feedback was from a friend from outside the academy, but his claims were frustrating to me in that I had failed to strongly argument in my research work for the imperative I felt for a coherent and detailed epistemology section in my research. For me, the epistemology section of my research enabled me to "plug in" my researcher-becoming subjectivity, to reflect on the ways how I came to think what I think is infused throughout my research project. I understand this embeddedness of my researcherself as mandatory, as fundamental to interesting and honest qualitative research, so I began to grapple with how to explore and understand the links between my epistemological frameworks and the theoretical frameworks I drew on to examine my research topic. …

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