A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Are You Experienced?

It occurred to me while writing my last post that, in suggesting we make a place for the undocumented (and perhaps the undocumentable) in publications in comp/writing studies, some readers would say, "Have you read any work on the possibilities and problematics of experience as a font of knowledge in writing research?" I wasn't able to address this concern then, but I'll take a quick stab at it now.

I'm not talking about experience in the same way it is generally thought of in comp research, i.e., as personal or private experience. I'm talking here about shared experience that is nevertheless not a part of the historical record. I'm willing to bet we've all felt the sense that the spirit of a particular movement or conversation is richer, more complex, messier than its textual incarnation(s) seem to suggest. For example, there is a sense among some researchers that the "ethical turn" in writing research has served to demonize traditionally empirical methods (as the term empirical has come to be understood in comp, meaning non-situated, non-ethnographic methods) . Yet if you read the influential works in the ethical turn--Kirsch and Ritchie's "Beyond the Personal," the essays in Mortensen and Kirsch's Ethics and Representation, e.g., you just won't find this rabidly anti-positivist, demonizing bent.

Still, I don't think researchers like Ellen Barton, Davida Charney, Susan Peck MacDonald, and (to a lesser extent) Cindy Johanek are simply--to borrow a phrase from my previous post--fleeing reality. It seems to me more likely that they have all had interactions with others in the discipline whose speech or behavior, unmoderated by editorial processes and unchecked by speakers' internal censors, implies or outright states that researchers who do empirical research are at best naïve and at worst cynical careerists. It may be that there are "vulgar" ethicists out there who, modelling the epistemic choices of people like Kirsch, Mortensen, Ritchie, and others, nevertheless fail to model their thoughtfulness and acceptance of difference. (It may also be that a once rabid anti-positivism is both tamed and dialectically preserved as a historical moment that is present in work in the ethical turn but that need no longer be trotted out at every rhetorical occasion, in which case careful historiographic and textual/citation analysis could illuminate it sufficiently.)

How, then, do we represent this shared, at least partially common, but undocumented, experience in our published work? Or do we?


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