sue watling

The word radical is not one I use often. I’m not political or revolutionary and don’t think of myself as activist. I like to work behind the scenes – preferably behind a screen.  I’m a critically reflective practitioner,  using action research to explore my course Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age and don’t much like speaking in public. Radical was not how I saw myself. Until I found Radical Research by Jill and John Shostak (2008). The book presents ‘radical’ as a mirror where I can see everything I do reflected; raising awareness of digital inclusion, developing online communities of support, exploring how critical reflective practice can emerge from virtual communities and spaces.

Radical Research is bringing together the different elements of my travels in philosophical places. More notes are over on the PhD page. For a book which only mentions postmodernism once, it contains multiple ways of seeing and a respect for alternative world-views which could easily be described as postmodernistic. For example, fragmentation of the social order, reconfiguration of forms of expression and an emphasis on language. ‘Just as the multitude overflows the boundaries of power so language slips from its bonds with content and opens up the possibilities for reconfiguring the visible, the audible, the real according to desires, interests, needs.’ p 10 Data is not given as fixed but is open to configuration and, thus, alternative ways of seeing while ‘…language itself provides the means for the destabilisation necessary for a reframing that includes the excluded.’ P 11

Radical research includes in its designs the means through which voices can be heard. It can do this through the reflective process of action research and collection of narrative which includes voices which have been silenced. ‘Writing difference into the ways in which the world becomes meaningful is itself a radical act.’ P12  As a writer with interest in slippages between the sign and its signification, I liked the book’s emphasis on the power of writing within the research process. This is an area I don’t think is sufficiently addressed. Like the prerequisite digital literacies for engagement with virtual learning environments, there’s an unspoken assumption all postgraduates can write and critically reflect through their writing. ‘Radical research is itself a writing project at every stage. With every interpretation of what the research ‘really means’, a new writing of it emerges. Through the process of writing, the radical becomes embedded in ways of seeing and acting.’ P12.

Chapter 10 W/ri(gh)ting fashions contains much which would not look out of place in a postmodernist text for example the ‘…parading of positions over the truth of a text invokes a catwalk of intellectual, cultural, social, political fashions. Each calls to an audience: look at me; take notice; my interpretation is right. But where in all this is the writer’s intention?’ P 244 Derrida appears in this chapter, Barthes is present elsewhere but there is no sign of Foucault in spite of the book’s attention to power structures, bodies and (Ill)legitimate knowledge(s). Deleuze, Negri and McCluhan make an appearance but Marx, is absent. I can’t position this book – as befits a postmodernist text. Maybe I haven’t read widely enough but I recognise much in these chapters which bring together the disparate range of books and papers I’ve worked through this year. If radical research is about writing as an emancipatory practice, and the making cases for the  inclusion of difference, it looks like I may be more radical than I realised.




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