If gentle methods were a kind of music it would be slow, quiet, fine-textured, repetitive. It is appropriate to speak of the ‘music’ of methods since, in this case, gentle methods is inspired by Goethe, and his belief that knowing involved aesthetics and sentiment. We have developed these notions in various previous publications – perhaps most notably an article by Ansdell and Pavlicevic, and in our own earlier work on music and mental health and ‘slow sociology’. In this project we hope to make further departures in gentle, or ‘delicate’ empiricism….
Poetry of Departures? We (Gary and Tia) are exploring the uses of poetry in ethnographic research. This is different from writing poems ‘about’ what happens in relation to health, wellbeing, illness and care, and sharing them with audiences as a form of ‘research engagement’.
Poetry of Departures, 2 We are great believers in the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. But we also believe, along with philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, in the power of, ‘faint, suggestive imagery’ (Murdoch 2000: 332), that fiction can distil truth and so bring us closer to the realities of lived experience in ways that, as Murdoch says, ‘are often so much less definite than pictures’ (ibid).
On cherry picking data There are, in other words, many qualities of ‘fruit’. If we want to achieve a balanced, nuanced, realistic portrait of music in scenes of care, we probably need to try to ‘pick’ them all.
We talked in the previous post about ‘cherry-picking’ – the negative term directed at researchers who are accused of selecting only the data that fits their pre-existing theory. The implication is that their nice, shiny cherries are idealised and partial data, and that a ‘complete picture’ of a phenomenon needs analytic and statistical methods that ‘process’ the ‘full data’. But what often comes out of this is an ‘average cherry’ or even cherry pulp. The unique qualities and context of the thing being researched disappear, and the ‘processed data’ becomes lifeless. Both quantitative and qualitative research often end up with colourless and tasteless data fruit, and the sense subsequently made from them becomes what Goethe called ‘grey theory’.
But there’s another way of thinking about the research process, especially for subjects where the unique and varying qualities of the particular things you’re studying are important. Here the purposive use of the best examples – exemplification – is a way to keep theory ‘green’ and useful. We suggest how strategic and imaginative ‘arranging of cherries’ can be an important and valid stage and process in qualitative and ethnographic research.
They say you really start to see things when you draw them. Recently, we’ve been experimenting with drawing, the notion of Goethe’s gentle methods always on our mind. We’ll probably never be a Rembrandt (though we are learning and improving). But the process of spending time looking, and learning to look by drawing, reminds us of why ethnographic drawing was integral to ‘classic’ anthropology and why it being revived by visual anthropologists and communication scholars today.
The Research Alliance. As part of the project outreach we’ve joined a new group of socio-musical researchers focused on advanced methods, coordinated by Jo Parsons, who is a PhD Scholar at Nordoff Robbins and also a Music Therapist working in a school setting.
The Alliance draws together ethnomusicologists, sociologists, music therapists, musicologists, performers and community musicians from universities in Canada, the UK, Iceland, Norway, Portugal and Germany. We meet online to present and discuss ‘experimental’ and ‘new’ ways to explore musical experience and activity, and new ways to produce ‘rigour’ in research. We hope at some point to feature some of those discussions in these pages. Our view was that at a time of social distancing, when we cannot travel in the physical sense to meet each other, it was a good time to ‘step out on a limb’, try to innovate, and take some risks. Tbc.