Post qualitative inquiry and the ethics of an intercultural, socioecological entanglement

Year: 2021

Author: Germein, Susan

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Post qualitative inquiry provides an open and playful space within a flat ontology, as a refusal of hierarchies and boundaries. It arose as a response and resistance to conventional humanist qualitative methodology, and is seen by proponents, in particular Elizabeth St. Pierre, as incommensurable with traditional qualitative inquiry approaches that position the human, and the researcher, as separate from the world that they are acting upon. This incommensurability extends to a refusal of qualitative methods, such as interviews. Post-qualitative inquiry is often not seen as methodology at all, but rather as emergent inquiry that arises from an intense and foundational theoretical engagement with ontology and epistemology. Most often associated with posthumanism, new empiricism and new materialism, post qualitative inquiry offers the promise of decentring the human as an ethical response to the challenges of the Anthropocene. It also offers the promise of decentring the researcher as a decolonising move, with the consequent opening up of a more equitable intercultural space for knowledge-making. This paper takes up the experience of working across post qualitative approaches in my doctoral research, in which I engage in a ‘productive muddling’ of post/qualitative methods, within an ethnographic inhabitation of a ‘socioecological’ educational community in India. Thinking theory through/with the actuality of interviewing Radha, a senior school leader, I come face to face with the ethical opportunities inherent in a post-qualitative approach (e.g. the de-centring move) but also the ethical problems implicit in post-qualitative theorising and its implications for methodology (e.g. the politics of de/re/colonising). In particular I grapple with the concept of voice in interviewing, and how I can discount Radha’s voice as someone who knows herself and knows what she means.What does a post-qualitative approach mean for an intercultural and socioecological inquiry? What are the implications for an ethical engagement in a host community? And specifically: How can I refuse the authenticity of Radha’s voice? In an intercultural context, is a deprivileging of voice just another colonialist violence? I hope that these questions (asked by a doctoral student not an expert), offer a provocation for discussion about the work that post qualitative inquiry does in helping us reimagine research in the socioecological and intercultural contexts of environmental education.