FQS Debate "We Are Talking About Ourselves! Exploring How Cultural and Social Scientists Work"

Cultural and social scientists are interested in analyzing the lives of others. In so doing, they specifically do not limit their perspective to the surfaces, but see the pinnacle of their art in entering and illuminating the backstage of social representation. Regarding their topics, however, they have long been silent about themselves. In this new FQS Debate, which replaces the Debate on Ethnography of the Career Politics, we take up Francis BACON's much-hailed dictum but deliberately turn it around: "Of ourselves we speak!" is our motto.

The purpose of this debate is to scrutinize not only the social backstages of others but also our own. For both are inextricably linked in the processes of knowledge production. With an increasing interest in the social studies of the social sciences, a deliberate estrangement of our own scientific culture has begun more recently in the field of qualitative social research, see also FQS 3(3) and FQS 4(2). This has opened up a line of investigations dedicated to the creation of an empirically supported reflexivity in qualitative research. In this way, some of the dynamics of social and cultural science work already were made visible in qualitative social research and beyond. However, much remains in the dark.

In this FQS Debate, we, the editors, invite authors to conduct empirical explorations of cultural and social science work, including their own. We hope to see not only classic scientific-analytical articles, but also autoethnographic narratives, fictionalized reports, videos, clever polemics, graphics, and drawings; and we are open to alternative forms of presentation.

Authors may choose between two different forms of publication:

  1. Contributions in FQS format, which go through a peer-review process, and
  2. Contributions in moderated blog format. This format includes the option of anonymous authorship, which should, for example, enable the discussion of power issues in academia. It is still in preparation. We are planning to make it available in August 2021.

In both formats, we would like to see an open, lively, critical and respectful culture of debate in which the authors refer to each other. We are interested (in the broadest sense) in qualitative studies of all social and cultural science research traditions, regardless of their concrete disciplinary or methodological location. Explorations of inter- and transdisciplinary work contexts are specifically welcome.

In particular, we invite contributions in three interrelated areas of study. They are to be understood as suggestions and contributions to the debate that go beyond these are also welcome.

1. Explorations of Cultural and Social Scientific Research

The production of knowledge in the cultural and social sciences involves numerous stages, from the selection of topics, methods, and teams to the publication and reception of results. Cultural and social scientists initiate, maintain and terminate research relationships. They produce, process, interpret, share, archive, lose, and discard data. They interpret and discuss their work in research teams, reflect, write notes, memos, comments and essays, read, and edit. The list goes on. Exploring the many facets of knowledge production in detail has great potential for science studies (where the focus—until recently—was on the natural sciences), but also for cultural and social science research itself. First of all, the envisioned debate may help increase the level of reflection. It creates an empirical basis that may raise awareness for details of knowledge production in concrete research projects. Furthermore, it may make visible which aspects of cultural and social science work—that up to now have not (or not sufficiently) been reflected upon methodically and methodologically—are epistemologically effective and should therefore be subject to methodological reflection. Last but not least, a qualitative investigation of work in the cultural and social sciences also has great potential for the teaching of methods, because it shows which elements of the research process should be emphasized in the classroom—especially when they have not, or only marginally, been addressed in methodological textbooks so far.

Possible questions in this area include:

  • Who produces cultural and social scientific knowledge and how does it come about?
  • Which actors, practices, materialities, and institutional contexts are relevant?
  • In which places do cultural and social scientific knowledge emerge, and how do these geographies or architectures translate themselves into knowledge?
  • How do cultural and social scientists mobilize their extra- or preacademic resources (networks, habitus, experiences from paid or voluntary work, travel, etc.) in concrete research projects?
  • How do they reflect, justify, and use methodologically dubious but epistemologically productive dynamics and events in the research process?
  • How can we use these insights for the methodology and teaching of cultural and socio-scientific research processes?

2. Explorations of Cultural and Social Scientific Career Policies

Here we would like to stimulate self-reflection on the scientific field in regards to its dynamics, work and careers with which difficulties and with which practices do cultural and social scientists establish and assert themselves in the scientific endeavor? This also means: What does failure (which is even more concealed and hushed up) look like? What constitutes failure? What form does failure take?

  • How do social scientists align biography and business, i.e., how do they fit everyday life, life plans, partnerships and scientific ambitions into the requirements of the scientific business?
  • Which strategies of advancement, attention generation and self-protection do they choose? How do they act to indicate their own position? How do these dynamics (re-)shape one's own scientific work/interests/topic choices?
  • How do new forms of life (e.g. commuter existences or globalized careers) shape intellectual work? How is intellectual exchange organized, how does it possibly suffer when researchers constantly or often are on the road? Do (video) conferences replace the former continuity of on-site reading circles and colloquia?
  • How do cultural and social scientists deal with power situations? What role do conflicts play in the production of knowledge?
  • How do cultural and social scientists present themselves? What role does their appearance play for their own reputation? Were there situations in one's own or an observed career in which performance was decisive?
  • What role does gender, social origin and migration background play? Can language skills hinder (dialect) or promote (active English) reception?
  • What do forms of communion look like at institutes? Does the coffee kitchen and the evening pub still have meaning? How are positions in (informal) social processes balanced? How are conflicts defused, channeled, rendered civil? and Does increasing mobility possibly fuel conflicts due to non-presence?

3. Explorations of Cultural and Social Science Scholarly Communication

As authors of scientific publications, cultural and social scientists face specific writing challenges for different academic and non-academic publics. It is necessary to bring about communicative translation performances to appropriately depict which field-immanent and represent them in (scientifically) legitimate modes of presentation and argumentation. For successful scientific careers it is becoming increasingly relevant to have the competence for engaging in scientific communication that resonates in and with different public spheres. The writing process resembles a complex assembly of practices, which we want to investigate in this debate.

Although the performativity of ethnographic texts is now often cited as a quality criterion for the presentation of qualitative research results, it is not discussed in terms of concrete knowledge products such as articles in journals, ethnographic monographs, or graduate theses. In the production of various written formats, it is again up to the authors to make deliberate decisions concerning: the selection and fit of the targeted peer-review journal or other, (including non-academic) publication venues, regarding the basic textual-aesthetic composition (non-fit/fit with established standards of presentation); the choice of stylistic as well as theorizing framework; the representation of field actors in relation to the mapping of social-structural explanations; the type and extent of the thematization of the (for example ethnographic) self for the production of researcher credibility; the types of argumentative persuasion; the chosen degree of generalization; and so on.

Possible questions in this area include:

  • How do cultural and social scientists produce texts for different publics? And what role do the chosen genres/representation modes (feuilleton, interviews, storytelling, science slam, etc.) play? What resonances, relations to each other, and pitfalls can be observed?
  • Which (il-)legitimate modes of thematization and tabooing of field-involvement can be reconstructed?
  • Which topics and actors are (not) represented in cultural and social science work, for example in the field of social inequality, and why? Which social narratives are thereby potentially reproduced?
  • What do authors experience in formulating and receiving feedback regarding the ethnographic writing and reception, for example in journalistic formats, but also in peer review contexts?
  • How does the follow-up communication of different actors take shape in response to the science communication conducted?

Forms of Contributions and Modes of Participation

The qualitative investigation of cultural and social science research processes and their academic actors requires methodological self-reflexivity and distance of the investigators from their field involvements. Against this background, we facilitate participation in different genres, as outlined above.

Please send your contribution as text, video, blog entry, drawing, photograph, etc. to: deb_explore@qualitative-research.net

Section Editors: Franz Breuer, Thomas Etzemüller, Debora Niermann, Andrea Ploder, Jo Reichertz, Wolff-Michael Roth

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