Bringing Relationality and Processuality to the Field: The Outcomes for Empirical Research

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Elina PAJU, University of Helsinki, Finland
In my presentation I ask how the theoretical underpinnings of relationality and processuality can be translated into the creation of the researcher subject and what kind of the challenges they pose for ethnographic praxis.

The ethnographer is considered as an a priori condition for knowledge with a rather fixed set of qualities (e.g. ethnicity, class, gender) that make up the position of the researcher. Reflexivity towards the fixed position of the researcher is, then, needed before embarking on the fieldwork in order to assess how the subjectivity of the researcher affects the data gathered and the interpretations produced.

I challenge such a pre-fixed understanding of the researcher subjectivity. Drawing from A.N. Whitehead’s (1985 [1929]) conception of subject, or superject, as emerging in concrescence, that is, in relation and contact with various elements at play in a given event, I argue that the researcher-subject comes to exist in the research process, and does not exist prior to it (cf. Barad 2007, Michael 2016). The researcher-superject is created and dissolved anew over and over again with entities in the present but also some stemming from the past. I analyse this process through empirical research in the settings of 1) children’s day care, 2) activating workshops for the youth who have been left outside of employment and education, and 3) the home environments of children.

Interpreting the researcher-superject as emerging relationally and processually challenges the straight-forward use of reflexivity as the scrutiny of the researcher’s position at the beginning of the research. I argue that this use of reflexivity cuts the process of emergence of the superject and detaches the researcher from the process of the research. To adjust reflexivity to processuality and relationality I suggest that it should be taken as one entity in the concrescence, not as a detached measure.