Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

Research Under Capitalism Can’t Be Truthful

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Breaking free of Romanticism within Capitalism maybe requires the poor downtrodden PhD student to affirm its value afresh and swim with its egregious truths and ‘piss on it’ from the inside? (Credit: )

“WHAT is actually morally reprehensible is, namely, the resting upon one’s possessions and the enjoyment of wealth.” In a nutshell Max Weber scribes the kernel of good capitalism. For Calvin wealth accumulation is fine, good, if not Godly, but sitting back to count it is an abomination. And our brand of capitalism was fine tuned in the Scottish Enlightenment and excess was restrained for us by the ascetic disciplines of a life well-led. What has this got to do with research methodology?

The current movement in social science is the validation of reflexive methodologies. That is the legitimacy politically of the individual to represent themselves freely as possible from the filtering of societal politics. As all students of research will know they’re confronted with the dilemma of positioning themselves on the continuum of truth. For we can now use this word ‘truth’. Which is the truth that our research will plump for we ask? A strange suggestion. The problem is we are unlikely to know what we mean by the word truth. It remains arbitrary. But more so it’s politicised and up for grabs like a rugby ball.

If we head towards a post-positivistic worldview where ‘truth’ isn’t rooted in a determined real world that governs us and our being then where do we end up? We may end up cutting all our ligaments to our social world, its meaning, and in the arms of Sartrean existentialism, alone in our world; a false freedom of a neuroscientific future that explains our consciousness and/or subjective idealism. The Holy Grail politically then for social science is freedom of expression in a political determined modern world.

Hence, capitalism. Research under capitalism is determined, I’d argue. There is no post-modern social science in the West. It’s an illusion as the market intervenes at the moment of true expression. So the reflexive progressive social scientist states what pragmatically will be acceptable in their ‘moment of truth’. Hence, Max Weber. All good activity must be productive. And being productive can’t be truthful. Research then can’t be truthful? Not in a modern world. It’s expedient. Not that that’s a bad thing entirely, however. But ‘the good’ is in acknowledging this in a big grown up way. There’s an artfulness then available for the poor PhD student grappling with the promise of reflexivity.

If we’re disappointed at this point remember that scientific truth is expedient. As it fails to remind ‘the people’ that science doesn’t study the real. It only interprets phenomena. The suggestion that phenomena is real is a neat sleight of hand. If the phenomena fits don’t knock it. Agree. But we’re not being truthful if we imply, as classical empiricists do, that the sensible is real. It’s not. It stands to reason. It’s only capitalism that wants phenomena to be real truth in the same way capitalism doesn’t want individual free expression to be truth.

Hence, the politics of the ‘good life’ and capitalism’s prescription for us. But, true creativity sits outside of productivity, in idleness. Something comes out of Nothing. You need Nothing to be creative. The entrepreneur, probably this expedient world’s greatest ‘artist’, creates something from nothing and takes the ultimate risk, that is their whole self, and puts it on the line. But the entrepreneur doesn’t conform to capitalism and its prescriptions but rather ignores it. Whereas the rest conform to the underlying message of the ‘good life’, consuming not creating. As existentialist writer Paul Tillich puts it, ‘protestants are the worst conformists’.

So what? Well the point is the ‘good life’ isn’t the good life. Good capitalism and productivity is a ‘romantic formalism’. The entrepreneur ignores it, so should we existentially, but the researcher must take account of it carefully. Social science Truth should be spoken reflexively and in the context of capitalism’s complex context. That just like science has to reports its truths according to the ‘good life’ social science has to reveal explicitly the links between capitalism and the voice of the individual.

Good Capitalism then is good conformism and consumerism. So social science truth then and its artfulness is in irony. That is to speak the truth about the social world involves exposing the conformism and consumerism within its own rhetoric. Empiricists can’t be reflexive as physics doesn’t wake up in the morning and say ‘I feel’. But social science can pour scorn on itself, wake up, and change direction.

In essence capitalism’s prescription is one of romantic formalism, affirming the good life as an ascetic journey of work for itself. Research can conform to supporting this unreflective message without batting an eyelid. The problem then is saying this in our methodologies. Inserting the dissensus voice that acknowledges the residual positivism in the Western context and exposes it to the reader. Or what Badiou terms the ‘contrapuntal and rhythmic force’ of Bartók. The music sways but questions.

So what of these dichotomies then? Positivism or Interpretivism, Anglo-Saxonism or Continentalism, Sex or Love, Science or Art. Because fundamentally these are running through research methodologies all the time as discourses. Badiou suggests we should put an ‘end to all ends’ and choose to affirm. I interpret this here as affirming the presence of these dichotomies in our research discourse and that we should avoid positioning starkly on continuums. Propose them as ironies, present pragmatically in ‘us’. Calvin then is the Didactic, Capitalism the Romantic and Science the Classical. The social scientist then can be the Affirmer.