Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Undermine the underground

I'm taking a qualitative methods class this semester and while I am by no means a qualitative researcher at this point, there is a particular method in qualitative research that has captured my interest: bracketing.

This article (maybe paywalled?) by Tufford and Newman has an useful definition of bracketing:
Bracketing is a method used in qualitative research to mitigate the potentially deleterious effects of preconceptions that may taint the research process (80).
The authors go on to suggest that what researchers may choose to bracket includes, but need not be limited to "beliefs and values (Beech, 1999); thoughts and hypotheses (Starks and Trinidad, 2007); biases, (Creswell and Miller, 2000); emotions (Drew, 2004); preconceptions (Glaser, 1992); presuppositions (Crotty, 1998); and assumptions (Charmaz, 2006) about the phenomenon under study" (84).

My sense is that the idea is that when a researcher brackets, they acknowledge the role that their lived experience plays in the work that they do. So while there isn't such a thing as neutrality in qualitative research, the researcher can expose their positionality and attempt to separate lived experience from their observations.

I think a lot about how lived experiences inform our work as catalogers and I appreciate the space that bracketing gives qualitative researchers to both acknowledge their lived experiences and to separate those experiences--to the extent it is possible--from the work that they do. In much the same way that lived experience informs qualitative research in some way, lived experience informs how we catalog. And, in much the same way as there is no such thing as neutrality in qualitative research, there is no such thing as neutrality in cataloging.

While it may be easier for us to make immediate connections between our lived experiences and the work we do when we are tasked with cataloging materials which challenge our worldview, those connections are always with us. As Emily Drabinski said in her talk at the ALA Midwinter President's Program regarding neutrality in libraries:
The principle of neutrality is one that asks me to leave my political opinions somewhere other than that reference desk. But the truth is, I don't even think of my opinion as political, or, even, as an opinion. I can't get rid of it. It's mine.
I think we focus on the wrong thing when we suggest that catalogers should put aside their opinions or beliefs in favor of a mythical state of neutral being. I think what is more useful is for catalogers to engage in self-reflection about their values, beliefs, emotions, and biases. Bracketing doesn't say that qualitative researchers should ignore their lived experiences. In fact, it suggests the opposite--that qualitative researchers should reflect on them so that they can be separated--to the extent that it is possible--from the work being done.

Who are you and what do you believe in? Which of your identities is privileged and which is marginalized? What do you value? What do you assume about the subject matter of the item you are cataloging?

I feel like there is real value in embracing the whole self and in identifying posititionality when it comes to the work we do. If we can't separate ourselves from the things that make us us, we should acknowledge those things and the ways they inform our work.

Stay positive,

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