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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Intellectual hygiene v messy methods

Harry just suggested that I keep a different blog for personal, non-technical stuff. That reminded me of why I don't like Blogger. In Wordpress or Typepad, for example, you just categorise your different posts; you don't need different blogs for different parts of your life.

But then, that reminded me. My problem is the act of categorising, especially in the traditional, hierarchical way. How do I know what's personal and not personal? How do I distinguish between technical and non-technical? They cross over, change and are often both at the same time. It's those kinds of dilemmas that have got me interested in autoethnography (and also what fascinates me about tagging).

Lilia, making her doctorate reflections on Mathemagenic, writes a post about "Defining expertise and messy methods". She points to a great article by John Law, Lancastar University, called "Making a mess with method". I follow up John Law and see that he's written the next book I have to buy: After Method.

Most current methods look for clarity and precision. It is usually said that only poor research produces messy findings, and the idea that things in the world might be fluid, elusive, or multiple is unthinkable. Law's startling argument is that this is wrong and it is time for a new approach. Many realities, he says, are vague and ephemeral. If methods want to know and to help to shape the world, then they need to reinvent themselves and their politics to deal with mess. That is the challenge. Nothing less will do.

I also see Shawn on Anecdote talking about "wicked problems" that you have to be sufficiently intelligent and well-informed to remain undecided about. Wicked problems aren't easily categorised. Wicked problems need a mindset for working with patterns and meanings, where you have to be comfortable not knowing, yet still have a desire to know. With this mindset you find ways to explore patterns and meaning through your story and through narrative approaches.

Wicked problems and method are foremost in my mind as we work at finishing our paper for the Prato Conference. I'm very excited by what we've done. Messy method makes most sense to me, although it's still a bit on the fringe in academia. I must say that I am happy and impressed that my doctorate orientadora in Portugal (Universidade de Aveiro) is encouraging about me using it.

The very long title of our paper (a literature review) is now:
"A conference paper about narrative, community memory and technologies - or from piles of books around a sofa to an ongoing collaborative literature review in a wiki".

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