Disability Studies

Self-Reflexive Research

I’m back to dissertation writing. Specifically, I’m working on the last major chapter of my dissertation (save the conclusion) that involves parsing out the data I collected from students and instructors about their perceptions of the in/accessibility of writing classrooms and writing centers.

To get myself in a methodological mindset, I decided to check out a piece I had meaning to read for a while: Margaret Price’s “Disability Studies Methodology: Explaining Ourselves to Ourselves.” Price addresses the complexities of disability studies methodology and what it means to research and account for disability—to ourselves as researchers, to our research participants and co-authors, and to our respective disciplines.

She writes, “DS is a messy, rather contentious discipline, due both to its hugely variant constituency and to the sometimes conflicting goals it sets forth” (160). Because of this, she argues, we have to account for the overlaps and disparities in our work, the conflicts and the contact zones. Drawing on Mary Louise Pratt’s articulation of contact zones (“social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power”), Price argues that the chapter “is as much about alliance as about conflict, but our research must pay attention to both. By ‘our’ research, I mean not just that of DS researchers but also of qualitative researchers more generally” (165).

By adopting a DS methodology, we may begin to notice that long-held methods are inaccessible both to researchers and to participants, that we cannot always account for the unknown and must be prepared to adapt our methods, and that we can learn from the DS tendency to be reflexive and transparent about our practice.

It is this focus on reflexivity, in particular, that I’m trying to highlight in the chapter that I’m writing. Price writes, “I argue that DS research must make more space for explicit identification by researchers—not in a rote, ‘here’s my diagnosis’ way, but in ways that are characterized by creativity, contradiction, and revision over time” (169). Following this—which I’m thinking about in terms of researcher disclosure—I hope to make transparent the methodological choices I made when designing this study of students and instructors’ assumptions and assessments of accessibility and also how I negotiated my role as a researcher.

As it was recently noted to me in a presentation I was giving about the accessibility of digital texts and foregrounding accessible practices in our classrooms, I read as non-disabled. That is, I am a white, privileged woman with no apparent (physical, intellectual, emotional…) disabilities. And for the purposes of the presentation I gave, I didn’t disclose otherwise because it was a presentation about our ethical responsibilities as instructors and digital scholars to produce texts that are accessible. It wasn’t about me.

And for the purposes of the student survey that I disseminated—and the instructor workshop that I led—I didn’t disclose any information that indicated otherwise because my goal is to talk with students and instructors about their experiences with disability and accessibility, not share my own. I didn’t want to impose my beliefs (as an individual, teacher, or researcher) onto what students and instructors were willing to share. I also didn’t want to fixate too much on myself. As Price notes, “the researcher who spends too much time on self-reflexive pondering may end up in what Brueggemann (1996) describes as ‘a solipsistic, rhetorical position in which the researcher (the self)—ah, once again—usurps the position of the subject (the other)” (19 qtd. in Price 170).

I’ve been thinking about disclosure a lot recently, particularly as I applied for jobs and filled out each school’s “voluntary self-identification” forms about my gender, race, ethnicity, veteran status, and disability identification. The first time I encountered one of those forms, I was startled. I stared at it for a solid 30 minutes, wondering why I felt obligated to fill it out even thought it was voluntary, wondering what the consequences of disclosing or not would be.

I’ve also been thinking about disclosure as I work on the special issue of Reflections I’m co-editing. After writing the introduction—a reflection of the really incredible, critical and self-reflexive pieces included in the issue—the editor noted that it might be useful to share our own connections to disability studies. Asking to share connections to a discipline is certainly different than disclosing, but again in that moment I felt compelled to share. In the context of other individuals and scholars and instructors, in the context of a collective reflecting on their experiences, I felt compelled to share.

And in the chapter I’m working on, I feel compelled to share my experiences because it informs how I shaped the study (by asking questions about students’ learning styles but not asking students to disclose specific disabilities, for example) and how I make sense of the pieces, but also because—as someone who has been greatly influenced by feminist and now disability methodologies—I want to be as self-reflexive and critical of my choices as possible.

 

***

Price, Margaret. “Disability Studies Methodology: Explaining Ourselves to Ourselves.” Practicing Research in Writing Studies: Reflexive and Ethically Responsible Research. Ed. Katrina M. Powell & Pamela Takayoshi. New York: Hampton Press, 2012. 159-86.

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