Re: anti is ok (getting to 'why')

Steve Krause (
Tue, 30 Jul 1996 07:42:58 -0400

Well, I've got to post _some_ kind of response since Eric quoted me and
since he spent a lot of time making his e-mail look cool ;)

Sure, 'anti is ok' as long as we know what the implications are, what the
weight of the evidence is, what the validitity (sp?) is.

Eric wrote lots of good stuff, among it:

> Textbooks |_____\ These things, seems to me, are mechanisms for
> Protocols | / defining limits, for closing systems in order...
> facilitate the illusion of control and definite knowledge. It's a
> fine illusion to facilitate. It's the illusion upon which the academy as
> we know it is founded. All I want to assert, really, is that there are
> other illusions that are perfectly fine to operate under, including the
> notion that we can learn more by making less effort to control the
> variables.

Fair enough, but we have to nonetheless consider the implications of
these less than controlled variable situations. Now, I am not
advocating a sort of quantitative research that rules out ethnography or
teacher-based research or other models-- not by a long shot-- but there
are problems with these methods in terms of applicability to other
situations. Which is fine, but it's something we can't forget because
considering how things could be done differently in other situations
based on a generalization of some studied or experimental situation is
one of the primary purposes of research.

Which leads us back to the "why ask why" question. There might be a lot
of different questions about research and there are certainly many
different ways of approaching research, but this lack of goal and/or
this "doing it because we can" approach isn't very satisfying to me
personally. I mean, we could (should?) give our students beer,
sing them songs, make them play with crayons, teach them to juggle, send
them to the park, etc., etc, all in the hope (feeling?) that it might
improve their writing or prewriting or outlook on life in general. That
might be good fun, but that isn't research per se. It might be
"valuable" in some sense, but that's another question too.

Then Eric wrote (quite decoratively, I might add ;) ):
> -------------------------------------
> Steve Krause: | "A protocol, after all, is just a |
> | method for doing something, the |
> ----------------------------------- "rules" of research; why |
> | "Wouldn't that more or less be | would you want to re- |
> | the "Calvinball" of research | search without any pro- |
> | (making it up as you go along)? | tocol at all? |
> ----------------------------------- ---------------------------
> Calvinball *is* a protocol, even if it's an anti-protocol protocol.

This is starting to be like an abbot and castello routine of some note...

> might be the most appropriate primary rule under which to operate if what
> we want to do is *see what happens* as opposed to testing a hypothesis by
> pitting control results against variable results. Ya need protocols if
> proof is what you're after.
> But we don't *have* to be after proof, do we? We could just be after a
> new opportunitiy to edify and entertain ourselves.

I'd certainly agree with this, and I'd call this activity story-telling.
That's certainly a valuable and important practice in our (and many
others) field(s), and one that we all engage in on one level or another.
It may even be one that seems to have a great deal of validity. I'm not
sure how applicable our stories can be to other similar situations (as our
discussion on pre-writing suggests to me), but stories can certainly
inform and, as you put it here below, entertain.

It's not a better or
> worse goal than proof, just a different one, one that employs different
> methods. It's an approach that is peripheral to the main business of
> scholarship (which is mostly about *knowing*) and maybe to the main
> business of pop culture (which is mostly about *amusement*). That's OK.
> The periphery is where it's at if what you want is relatively unfettered
> pursuit of curiosity.
I guess there are two basic points of resistance I have to this. One is
that it sort of suggests a collective throwing up of the arms, a kind of
cop-out where we don't feel it's possible to evaluate our methodologies
(just like we're not willing to judge which prewriting method is best),
so we just don't. It's also like what a lot of my students say: "well,
everyone is entitled to their own opinion." I don't literally believe
that for a whole host of reasons that I won't go into now, but clearly we
can and do evaluate, categorize, and rank our different methods for
attaining what we wnt to call proof.

Second, our rhetorical practices suggest that an appeal to "evidence" and
"research" that is both valid and reliable and that is based on some sort
of methodology is valued more than "stories" or "anti-research." 4 out
of 5 dentists would agree ;). Clearly, research that is governed by a
methodology is potentially persuasive to an audience, especially when the
audience understands the methodology. Stories can be persuasive too, but
if I have the choice of siting a study about method "X" for teaching
students to write and siting a story that Eric told me for using method
"X," I think I'm going to site the study. I'm sure Eric's story would be
a good one and maybe Eric's ethos would raise the value of the story, but
I'd still probably want to go with the study.

Steve Krause * Department of English * Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH * 43403 * (419) 372-8934 *
*Soon to be at Southern Oregon State College in Ashland, OR*