Year: 1992

Author: Johnson-Riordan, Lorraine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

I recently came across a piece written by Paul Willis as long ago as 1976 which supports the "beyond method" argument that I want to take as my point of departure in this paper. It's called "Notes on Method". Paul Willis, "Notes on method", Culture, Media, Language. Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972-9, London: Hutchinson (in association with the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham), 1980: 88-95. There, Willis wrote: "I shall be arguing that positivism's unwilling acceptance of 'qualitative' methodology sees more clearly than its own admissions that the emphasis on methodological variety may leave the heartland of the positivist terrain untouched. In its recognition of a technical inability to record all that is relevant - and its yielding of this zone to another technique - positivism may actually preserve its deepest loyalty: to its object of inquiry truly as an 'object'. The duality and mutual exclusivity of the over-neatly opposed categories, 'qualitative' methods and 'quantitative' methods, suggests already that the object is viewed in the same unitary and distanced way even if the mode is changed - now you measure it, now you feel it" (p.88). In his conclusion, Willis argued that "we must liberate the whole notion of 'methodology'" and turn, instead, to the relations between researcher and researched (p.95). While the directions I want to go in now, in educational research in the '90's, are somewhat different to Willis', I retain his spirit of skepticismabout the old method debate, and his insight that there's not much difference between the 'quality' and 'quantity' sides of that debate.