Troubling the familiar: Epistemological shudders as an analytic lens to explore performativity.

Year: 2012

Author: Charteris, Jennifer

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper is a methodological contribution based on a doctoral study located in a New Zealand secondary school. Learner agency is conceptualised as a complex rhizomatic performance and a poststructural discourse analysis methodology is employed to trace lines of flight within the data. In particular this paper explores the notion of an epistemological shudder as an analytic lens to enable researchers to address contradictions between epistemologies when undertaking poststructural research. This process can challenge researchers' and research participants' epistemologies, providing an opportunity for a shift in perceptions. Epistemological shudders have been employed by researchers (Giugni, 2005; Giugni, 2006; MacNaughton, 2005; Leafgren, 2007; Lisle, 2010) to explore equity and social justice issues over the last decade.

Poststructural research aims to trouble or disrupt what is 'taken for granted' and discourse analysis can support a deconstruction of discourses of power. The study's conceptual framework utilises Judith Butler's notion of performativity to explore how learners are subjectivated in discourse. The epistemological shudder outlined in this paper troubles a humanist view of learner agency where teachers and students are unified, rational subjects and agency is something that teachers can impart to their students as a form of empowerment.

The use of Gee's (2011) discourse analysis frame tool during a research interview prompted an epistemological shudder which enabled a teacher to question how she construed learner agency. This epistemological shudder episode surfaced how a student who was engaging in an act of resistance could be afforded different subject positions. It provided an opportunity to 'make the familiar strange,' and to problematise liberal humanist notions of agency. Epistemological shudders can furnish a means for reflexivity. Reflexivity from a poststructural stance sees the researcher, as well as the researched, discursively subjectivated. Reflexivity involves turning one's reflexive gaze on discourse, turning language back on itself to see the work it does in constituting the world (Davies, Browne, Gannon, Honan, Laws, Mueller-Rockstroh, & Bendix Petersen, 2004). The paper postulates that epistemological shudders can offer a mechanism for teacher reflexivity as it can enable teachers to problematise their assumptions.