From reflexivity to emotion ….



Leah Davcheva on 30 Oct 2010 ….

I feel privileged to be,occasionally, part of your discussions. Thank you for this tremedous opportunity. Right now I am at the stage of deciding what direction I want to take in furthering my research activities – whether I should orient myself to something which is already familiar and I feel posiive about, or it could be a field which I’ve had little experience of. Within this context, Richard and I discussed the role emotions play in making this kind of decision. We discovered that our positions on that one were quite far apart.

I was reading the SIETAR (Society for intercultural education, training and research) discussion forum this morning and below is a small excerpt from a recent contribution. I thought I would cite it here not only because it captures well my understandings at the moment, but because emotions might be an issue you are addressing at the moment.

Here we go:
“I believe emotions are very powerful indicators of a person’s rooted values and beliefs. I personally pay a lot of attention to my emotions (and to those of others) since they signal to me how comfortable or not I am in a given situation. Doing so, it enables me to adapt (at least I try) to circumstances.

Emotions lively talk about a person’s experience and that is why it is so interesting to share about emotions with each other. Dealing with diversity and multicultural aspects of life makes it mandatory to me to first listen to my own emotions and then intellectually get closer to the other person as to know and understand that person better. If my emotions are positive I will feel at ease to get closer and learn from that person or situation. If, on the contrary, my emotions indicate I feel uncomfortable, I have to do an effort to “reprogram” my self and to regain personal stability …”

Although the person is clearly positioning himself as an intercultural trainer here, and not a researcher, I think his observations are relevant for the research field as well.



  • Richard Fay

    Magda replied on 2nd Nov:

    Yes, there is a lot there (in “Ponderings…”) – just going over it now. I can see some parallels between Magdalena’s thinking and mine. All interesting and useful to me.

    To get back to the current discussion, I’ve read the exchange between Richard and Leah on emotions – not sure how I feel about emotions…, but I think I’m hovering around the topic myself, not quite able to decide how to approach it, particularly that it seems to be so closely related to values and beliefs, as the fragment quoted by Leah clearly shows. Proceed with caution…

    Anyway, moving somewhere in the vicinity of emotions, I’ve been trying to reshape the notion of a “passionate teacher” to fit into the idea of a “passionate researcher”.

    Robert L. Fried writes in his essay on Passionate Teaching (in The Jossey-Bass Reader on Teaching, 2003) that it’s hard to translate great individual narratives into “a useful pedagogy” because they often deal with passion, something which is difficult to decipher in intellectual terms. He then goes on to say that passion “can be analysed and put to work.” He talks about teacher “passion-in-action” and to me, this reads like passion-in-research, the ability and effort to enagage with what we are researching on a personal level. Through that engagement as well as through reflexivity directed at it, the researcher’s voice becomes more audible in the narrative, whether in terms of “a quiet, refined intensity” or “thunder and eloquence”, as Fried puts it.

    I don’t know if this would be Richard’s “emotional dimension” of research and how it might relate to Rosaldo’s heart-breaking anthropology – but I would argue that perhaps the concept of passionate research(er) takes us somewhere slightly beyond emotions and heartbreak and into a starting point for an intense, personal, intellectual journey, but without the kind of discomfort that feelings (and related values and/or beliefs) may cause.

    The intercultural trainer in Leah’s posts said, If my emotions are positive I will feel at ease to get closer and learn from that person or situation. If, on the contrary, my emotions indicate I feel uncomfortable, I have to do an effort to “reprogram” my self and to regain personal stability …”

    A passionate researcher, I think, I hope, I imagine, wouldn’t have to re-programme him/herself – in research, passion “embraces” both feelings, positive and negative, and thus gives the research process its depth and intensity, through the researcher’s comprehensive engagement with the subject, the process, and his/her own role in both. We know what we love but I also think we want to know what we hate, if I were to be extreme about it.

    Thus spake magda and now it’s time to go.

  • Richard Fay

    Richard replied on 31st October:

    Thanks for this Leah. I’m not so sure our positions are as different as you suggest but I welcome the lead on emotion you have brought to our discussions. This is a big topic and not one that we discussed much in the seminar – but is it perhaps one we could (collectively) explore via these discussions?

    One thing that reflexivity enables us to bring to the fore in our research is, I think, our relationship with our research topic/context/purpose/agenda/etc, and, as Julian eloquently points out (in an earlier reflexivity discussion thread), this relationship is bilateral.

    Further, emotion is. I would suggest, something that is both part and parcel of our reflexive relationship with the topic/context/etc, and also something which is managed (in the interests of e.g. transparency and rigour) by our reflexivity in the research and in what we say / write about it in our research texts of various sorts.

    Some research is very much ‘from the heart’ – and here e.g. Michelle Rosaldo’s ‘The vulnerable observer: anthropology which breaks your heart’ springs to mind – and this is part of its power. Other kinds of research may be less so, and may invoke their power from a different source. In the kind of ‘journey of discovery’ Made speaks of, one researcher may choose to work their research in this way, and others in that way. And this may change from one research study to another. So, for me, a key question is how we choose to manage any emotional dimension in our research. I see this as a primary contribution that reflexivity makes.

    As I make these comments I am thinking back to my own research texts over the years – MA dissertation, thesis, book chapters, papers, articles, and, more recently ethnomusicology assignments – and what I can see, I think, is a year-by-year more confident voicing of (my)self in the texts. But I also have some question marks about where and when this is relevant for the task in hand, i.e. I can see sites of emotion (often linked to the presence of (my)self in the text) and I can see how I have, I think, become more confident in this aspect of writing (and thinking) but I am still pondering when and why I have invoked (my)self in the text and what this adds to the text’s clarity and what this adds (or not) to the rigour of my work.

    Lurking in the background of my discussion here are, I realise, the influential words of my own supervisor about self-indulgence potentially getting in the way of research rigour and contribution (this is my formulation of what I ‘remember’ she said on various occasions!). I am, perhaps, beginning to have an response for her but I am a long, long way from reaching a resting position in my thinking on this point …