Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1997

Research Method in the Postmodern

James J. Scheurich
London: Falmer Press
0 7507 0645 7
£14.95 (pb)
190 pp.

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This is a provocative, inconsistent, valuable and irritating book. It sets out to do a number of things: to rethink research practices from a postmodern perspective; to confound modernist epistemologies; to establish a counter-epistemology called 'archeology'; to come to terms with relativism; to relocate the identity of the researcher - and, as a kind of side-show or even filler - to show how the researcher slipped from critical theorist (chapter 1 and 6) to transitional postmodernist (chapter 2), to mature postmodernist (chapter 3 and 8).

To start with the 'provocative' and 'valuable', Scheurich offers an ambitious account of 'archeology' (a foucauldian related concept, but somewhat inflected with deconstructive uncertainties), a very useful critique of the research interview and more generally traditional epistemology viewed against the prospect of a 'radical openness'. The central notion of the book, 'archeology', promises 'a multiplicative possibility within the emerging endeavours to dissolve and disperse realism'. Despite the ordering of the chapters, we seem to see an evolution of critical theorist into postmodernist (or poststructuralist as he'd rather be called), a movement paralleled in those he most insistently cites, like Lather. But, less convincingly, it is an ambivalent journey. 'Policy archeology' seems to me to invoke the structuralist version of Foucault (an identity he'd deny) wherein Scheurich, for example, outlines 'the grid of social regularities': [they] produce or construct this problem population (...). This targeting, naming, labelling is the reproductive work of the grid of regularities; the grid both attunes its listeners to hear (see) a particular frequency (the problem group) and constitutes the frequency (the problem group) itself. The grid, thus, constitutes both who the problem group is and how the group is seen or known as a problem'. In a footnote elsewhere he seems to confess this : '..there is inevitably, then, much structuralism in my poststructuralism'. So he is a structuralist, a poststructuralist, a postmodernist.

But he confesses both too much and not enough. There is, apparently, no contradiction between poststructuralism and constructivism, he confesses to Lincoln. He confesses to his readers that this is a 'raggedy pastiche': 'there is much in my writing that "I" do not control (perhaps very little or none at all)'. He confesses in the Conclusion that his postrealist perspective is 'somewhat rough hewn', a 'cartoon', an 'initial sketch'. Confessionalism, of course, is both weakness and partial strength in this strategy, as he articulates it in chapter 3. Yet his writing is both assertive and unapologetic elsewhere. In several chapters he outlines his strategy : first critique, then contrast, reconceptualise, and conclude (eg: chapter 3). The narrative is relentlessly ordered, yet culminates in a call for ' "playful" experimentation that exceeds the constraints of a determinate, knowable ordering of "reality" '. So he gets to this conclusion by means that his conclusion rejects. This structured, ordered, and deeply contradictory approach is best seen in the chapter on the 'masks of validity'. These epistemological masks, he claims, 'conceal an underlying sameness'. First he will follow them, then interrogate, name, and finally consider alternatives: it is a modernist pursuit of a postmodernist goal. It turns out that notions of validity police epistemological boundaries; they decide Same and Other (the other of 'radical heterogeneity'). In a telling metaphor the Same is the 'cooked', the Other the 'raw', the radically other in its 'wild profusion'. Therefore (and this is called 'civilizational imperialism'): '..validity is a social practice drawn from the heart of Western darkness'. But how is it that we come to know the raw, wild, profuse, and heterogeneous in its rawness, wildness, and so on? He inserts them as a 'natural', prior to epistemology. Like a Postmodern Rousseau. They remain a bipolar separation despite his ambitions elsewhere in the book that self, other and context should be related via 'fabric metaphors'.

In those ways the book disappoints: it is possible that we may celebrate difference but not through those sorts of inconsistencies. Scheurich addresses important problems but fails to dissolve them. He retains too much of what he wants to attack and reject: hence an exposition on behalf of indeterminacy and difference undermined by the tension between the ambition of its message and its contradictory narration. Not that the problem is solvable (this review enacts the criticism it decries in Scheurich). But it must be addressed.

Ian Stronach
Manchester Metropolitan University

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1997