Sunday, November 6, 2011

Normative and Nowhere to Go

I found this week's readings to be the most difficult of the semester thus far, not only because the material was quite unfamiliar to me but also because it is much more research focused, rather than theory-based. In particular, the case-study methodology is alien to me and, as such, I found it difficult to work through.

In my academic pursuits thus far, I have not had to perform any "hard" research nor even read much research conducted by political scientists. Material for class has been primarily theoretical and this is the space where I've grown comfortable.

It seems in theoretical writing, the "player-agents" (as described in Moeller's and Christensen's System Mapping) and normative assumptions of the authors are much more apparent, even overt. I have a more difficult time grasping a text when the "should" is couched beneath the descriptive - research appears to move at a glacial pace, moving the dialectic (dialogic?) in a steady direction, while theory has the potential to change thinking in a much more disruptive way. Of course, this understanding over-compartmentalizes "theory" and "research", as the two are much more interconnected, perhaps even "interwoven" (as per Spinuzzi), then my characterization allows. I come to the table "normative and ready to go", so to speak, with my truths plain on my sleeve which is definitely problematic for a number of reasons. However, when doing these readings, I couldn't quite understand the implications of the research - what does contributing to research methodologies for genre-field analysis do? I understand the problem with the "seed" conceptualization via action theory - that the abstracted germ obscures the means by which ideas/production occur - but I'm not a researcher and I don't know how to contribute to the network through splicing or interweaving. By this I mean that I'm not a player-agent (I don't have a stake in the outcome of the interactions being discussed [National Science Foundation Grants]) and I'm certainly not a genre-agent as I'm not in a position to contribute knowledge to the dialectic (dialogic?) on networks. I guess what I'm struggling with is application of the material, but in a broader sense. I need a prior question to be addressed and a genealogy to be performed - what is "good" about network theory / genre field analysis? What things does it presuppose? Ultimately, I guess these questions just reflect my lack of knowledge in rhetorical/ technical communication theory...

I don't mean this post to be read as a critique of researchers or be a really silly post lamenting my some odd-man-out feeling that I would have as an undergraduate political science student ; I'm sincerely wondering what I can do. Is the inability for old-school marxism to provide an understanding of how labor-networks are evolving/becoming-spliced symptomatic of the broader phenomenon of globalization? Is the increasingly rhizomatic-ized nature of labor networks a better description of globalization? Should workers resist incorporation into rhizomatic-labor networks? Should the state be called upon to reinvigorate the boundaries of (perhaps now antiquated notions of) divisions of labor? Is technology the cause of the integration of labor networks? Ahhhh, I'm normative and have nowhere to go.


  1. interesting discussion on the bottom of page 185 of your linked article. we try to resist such a positioning of the human and bureaucratic actors as centered and authoritative with genre field analysis. that's precisely why we look to posthumanism as a theoretical influence.

  2. I must be your opposite in the class. I found this week's readings to be the easiest because they WEREN'T theory-based. Perhaps it is because I'm comfortable with research methodology and research reports.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Ryan. Within genre field analysis, are there normative assumptions to the research that is performed? By this I mean, what if research ends up informing bad institutional practices? I know I'm falling into the normative trap of "good vs. bad" presupposing, but what "amount" of autonomy do any of us have? Certainly, we aren't cartesian subjects, but we don't have to be subjects chained to certain things that, once interrogated, we can decide are "bad".

    I guess I just feel a bit powerless. If all I can do is produce knowledge without the (perhaps illusory sense of) control that normative thought grants, then I don't seem to bear any responsibility for what my research could/could not do. Can't normative thought be the vehicle for the disclosure of our non-cartesian subject-status? In fact, can't normative thought be understood as disclosure? Research without normative disclosure seems as though it runs the risk of making the same mistake "naive normative" thought would make - that authorship is unimportant, that audience is unimportant, and everything is neutral all of the time. Maybe this is the wrong forum to be asking these questions but this is where my thinking is taking me at the moment...