Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapther 12.1 Theory and practice

12.1 Theory and practice

I will first reflect upon the traditional dichotomy between theory and practice (which can be illustrated by a theoretical researcher investigating the field of practice) and discus an alternative perspective using Nicomachean Ethics (Aristotle 1984) as a starting point for bringing the fields of theory and practice closer together (Ramírez 1995). Then I wish to reflect upon active interviewing and grounded theory in a constructivist perspective, before I discuss how I have used this in the methodology and design of my exploratory study of the concept of shame.

Fontana and Frey (2005) argue that although interviewing others implies asking questions and getting answers, this task is much more difficult than it may seem at first. Russell Bishop (2005) writes that

Much qualitative research has dismissed, marginalized, or maintained control over the voice of others by insistence on the imposition of researcher-determined positivist and neo-positivist evaluative criteria, internal and external validity, reliability, and objectivity ( Fontana and Frey 2005: 129).

Such a view maintains the distance between the objective, theory-seeking researcher (theory) and the subjective respondent who is the source of the empirical data (practice) that can be given to the researcher if the correct scientific methodology is used. Holstein and Gubrium (1995) say that the subjects being studied are usually seen as passive vessels containing answers to the experimental questions put to respondents by interviewers and that validity results from the successful application of the traditional interviewing procedure. Active interviewing represents an alternative perspective by being:

A form of interpretative practice involving respondent and interviewer as they articulate ongoing interpretative structures, resources, and orientations with what Garfinkel (1967) calls “practical  reasoning” [1] (Holstein and Gubrium 1995: 16)

Ramírez (1995) speaks of theory and practice as two of our most common dichotomies. We spontaneously associate theory with thinking or knowledge, and practice with doing. The first sits in our head and the other in our hands. The question is whether one can think without doing, or do anything without thinking. Ramírez explains that we are responsible for our actions, because we are conscious of them. Thinking can therefore be considered a form of action.

Knowledge, Ramírez (1995) explains, is a problematic word, because we often use it to denote an objective result or a product. To know something is to have something inside one’s head, but also to manage or to cope with something. Knowing something is first and foremost an activity and involves the competence this activity forms in the individual. Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics) writes about theory as a way of living. The Ancient Greek word for theory (Greek: theoria) does not mean the same thing as the word theory means as we use it today. We most often think of knowledge as an objective result (passive) while the Ancient Greeks were inclined to think of it as an activity (active). In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle did not see theory as the product of scientific activity, manifested in compositions and stored in texts or other information media. Aristotle used theory to refer to the activity that is produced when we investigate the world around us.

Scientific knowledge must not, according to Aristotle, be seen as the scientific product which is attained, or the objective result, but the subjective capacity to attain such results, through theoretical activity. Theory can thus be understood as a verb: a productive and creative activity, a form of doing. If doing means building a house, composing melodies, or caring for the sick, then theory is an activity concerned with using words in different situations in order to describe, codify and store these descriptions as knowledge which can be used by others.

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