Desperately seeking EMILY...and me?
conference contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 authored by C Jakobsen
The theme of self-discovery through research has now become part of my PhD project. Although this may not be uncommon in the context of qualitative research methodology and practice (Meloy 1994), particularly amongst women, the realisation that I may be seeking myself in the face, form and philosophy of my subject organisation is nevertheless an unexpected discovery of my academic journey. If we are what we … experience or join, then my thesis topic (‘An exploration of the philosophy and operation of the feminist political support group EMILY’s List Australia’) must simultaneously be an investigation of my own investment in EMILY. As a foundation member of that organisation, a socialist, feminist, progressive political activist and former federal Labor MP, I find whole slabs of (seemingly) my own persona emerging in the responses provided by my research participants, most of who are also members of EMILY’s List. But does this discovery invalidate my project? On the contrary, it can actually enhance and enliven its potential. For, if I am ‘like’ my subject organisation, I ought be able to reveal its weaknesses as well as ponder its strengths and interpret its social and political imperatives by virtue of a shared placement in class, gender, history and, possibly, race, ethnicity and sexuality. The personal is still the political – no matter how fragmented our own (or academic) understandings of the personal might have become. With an eye to some of the prospects for postmodernism (Lather 1991) and in the tradition of feminist standpoint approach to research, (Harding 1987; Harstock 1998) therefore, I argue that it is necessary firstly, to declare a position that encompasses the (marginalised?) self, secondly, to acknowledge and minimise the shortcomings that position implies, and thirdly, to recognise and maximise the research possibilities it presents. The challenge is to devise protocols that distance the researcher from the subject somewhat while still permitting and valuing her proximity to it. In this regard, the deliberate pursuit of difference and the introduction of randomness and/or anonymity can aid critical academic analysis even while individual involvement and experience distil, inform, energise and empower it.