06 November 2009

In Anguish

Failed Seduction and Class Affect

More words that encapsulate my final reflective piece for class.

I've been reflecting quite a bit (by hand, in pen, in a notebook) on why my potential participants didn't respond to my queries. I wondered if it was the medium--through email for most, by phone for one--or the timing. It is a busy time in the semester, and the last thing a first-year student needs is another task to complete.

Or maybe it's that, for all of my posturing as "one of them" by outing myself in the introductory email, I created this paradigm of institutional sincerity that wasn't authentic.

The women were all part of a UT program that assists at-risk students. Most of them, I am told by the registrar, come from working-class or blue-collar families who can't afford the rising costs of higher education. Sounds familiar. Sounds like my story.

So I pitched the project as one of co-creation. They would work with me--really just one of them, a few years later--on establishing the parameters of the project. I learned quite a bit from Sharon Miller's article on betrayal. Tony was invited to be her co-researcher, and he took that role to heart.

What I totally discounted was emotion. The emotional baggage inherent in such a project. I nodded to my discomfort in asking women to plumb their experiences where there might be pain, and I alluded to the fact that I would have to win their trust.

Qualitative research is a believing game. It's a faith-based enterprise. They have to trust me, have faith that I won't, as Thomas Newkirk asserts, give out the "bad news." But my participants' lack of response is a response itself. Their silence tells me more about my project than any verbalized critique.

I think it's that, as much as I posture as one of them, they see the informed consent and my position in the university as masking my working-class roots. I am, by proxy, still always and ever a representative of UT. And UT is an institution that they may have a tense relationship with. I can empathize.

So some questions to guide me as I reflect on what might be seen as a wholly productive failure: What is their silence achieving rhetorically? Can I postulate without contacting them to ask? Did I not perform working class authentically enough, or is it that the digital age has made face-to-face communication uncomfortable? Are these even questions I should be asking? Why isn't there a space on the IRB form D (Termination of Project) for "Project could not be completed because students resisted the social structures implicit in the project"? Is their non-compliance only a symptom of their age? If so, why did two of them work to contact me?

With all of our talk of coercion, the bounds of DP, and how my attitude toward qualitative research in general has changed since September, I'm inclined to be okay with the messiness of this potential article. Lack of messiness is one of the points I critiqued in Reynolds, so I should definitely embrace the experience in all of its contradictions and ambiguity.