Transcending Subjectivities: Academic Writing, Narrative Method, and the Creation of Discourse
Paper presented at International Conference “Excitable Writing”, Department of Thematic Studies, University of Linköping, Sweden. Interdisciplinary Research School, InterGender, funded by the Swedish Research Council. December 2014
PhD Research Scholar
School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
This paper is based on the narratives from – and the reflections on – a field that is located in the conceptual space of social marginality. That it is a category based on identity politics and social symbols, becomes evident during the process of engagement and analysis with the stories emerging from within these narratives. My work is contingent upon the descriptive stories of human relationships and the pedagogy of self-assessment and self-governance, typically prevalent in our society. Thus, the specific location of my field is not only a geographical space but also an experiential space.
The understanding of this category is furthermore based on a detailed narrative engagement with these individuals, grounding the discourse on a comparative paradigm with subalternism and governmentality as its theoretical departure. So as to move the argument directly from its objective political footing to its core component: down to the individual. Although this is not a psychological exercise, my position does not undermine the psychoanalytical insights; primarily because it becomes increasingly necessary to engage with the individual as independent agents capable of fruition. Correspondingly, at this level of research, other than the basic loyalty of our background disciplines, any research is but preordained to draw from other sciences that provide the probability of finding answers to our questions, whatever these questions are.
This technique of qualitative research allows a certain degree of subjectivity in the method of collection and analysis of information from the field. However, the tradition of writing this narration, especially if it is translated from a colloquial tongue, is overtly objective and mechanical. I encountered this dilemma during translation of my own field notes and interviews. During translation, the active voice is molded into passive voice so as to present the narrative as “data” for a scientific study: in other words, it is a systematic elimination of sentimentalities and emotional excesses. However, during my own fieldwork, these excesses provided the most intimate and honest confessions on the truth of human relationships as experienced by marginal identities.
How we write: Reconsidering boundaries of academic writing
As a social scientist, working in a field defined by subjective relations, I also confronted the impasse that is the “self” within the scope of this research. Was I to undermine the “self” in all paradigmatic scopes? Not only was I expected to maintain objectivity between the subject and the science, but also extend it to my “self” as the researcher and my work. I often resort to Weber to understand the extent of verstehen allowed within the parameters of rationality, as a researcher. Social science argues that the distance between one’s own prejudices and the research would qualify for an objective analysis, which is required for rational thought. I, however, fail to see this parity between objectivity and rationality as the - be all and end all - rule of thumb.
To express this discontent, I would present two comparative narrative excerpts. The first is an excerpt from a compilation of interviews with lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, by the research and support based non-profit organization ‘Sappho For Equality’ working with such individuals and volunteers from Kolkata, India. As a part of their awareness program, they publish these personal histories, simply as a methodical tool to: first, spread the knowledge to overcome the deep-seated prejudice in society against deviant sexualities and gender identities; and second, to be able to put forward multifaceted individual accounts to both attract newer members who empathize with the accounts as well as provide a space for critical associations, based on identity politics and heteronormative regulations.
“What were your feelings about your identity as a child?
I was a little kid then, I never thought of myself as a girl, it was like this till class six or seven. I have played with boys, marbles, cricket, danguli. I used to go to school with them, but I also had female friends, I had no problem with that. (Sappho 2010, pp. 1)
Did you think of yourself as a boy?
Yes, I guess, I did think of myself as a boy. (Ibid. pp.2)
I think, it was in-born. I could not figure out why but I always liked girls, but then I didn’t have much sense of things. I have always preferred women as romantic partners, there was no change of that. But I never thought of being one of them. After madhyamik, I got inspired by the volleyball team and cut my hair short and started wearing only trousers and shirts regularly. (Ibid. pp.2)
Do you still consider yourself a man?
See, to tell you the truth, my life has taken its own course. In 1995, my father passed away, and I took up all the responsibilities of my family as a son. Starting from paying taxes, electricity bills, etc. I even got two of my sisters married, as my brother was very young then, and so I practically do everything for the family, like any son would. (Ibid. pp.2)
You call yourself TG, your body is that of a woman, and your soul is that of a man, but what would you say to those TG persons who have the body of a man but the soul of a woman?
You see, I wish them well, as I wish all of us well. All of us are born with these orientations, but I think their situation is worse than ours. A girl wearing men’s clothes is not much of an eyesore, as it is if a man wears feminine clothes. For me it’s a step up, while for them it’s a step down. (Ibid. pp. 8)
You have many heterosexual friends, what do you think of them?
It used to trouble me before, when I saw my male friends fall in love, get married and have children, I used to think how great that would be if I could also do it. But now I don’t think like that anymore, today I think they got their share, as I got mine. Some more, some less, no complaint. (Ibid. pp.11)
This above narration has also been translated from the regional spoken tongue; however, if you notice the voice of this interaction has a specific predetermined gap of emotional subjectivity. It can be very simply put as two traditions of writing: academic and creative. In the former, the voice remains intact to its original spoken language thereby mandating mechanical translation; and the other alternative provides the scope to dwell in the ‘intent’ of the voice, picking up clues of the meanings of the disguised information. Often, when conducting interviews dealing with intimately personal information and emotional reactions, the stories begin to reverberate with subjective sentimentalities. Now, as a social scientist, should I discard this scope of considering that which is left unsaid or should I reconsider my own role in this field and thereby create an academic narrative that does not purport to reductionist position simply to follow rules? I suggest a middle path, where academic objectivity may coincide with subjective involvement in the nature of technique of recording the objectively deduced data from a subjectively experienced field. However, this is not to suggest a more ethnographic outlook, but a distinct shift of gaze is considered as a possibility. I would like to now present one recorded narrative excerpt from my own field of research, so as to provide a comparative understanding.
Lets take an example: this following narrative was collected based on my interview with a pansexual – an individual who is not bound by gender or sexuality preferences, and experiences sexuality based primarily on a pleasure principle, thereby eliminating the prejudice of subjective conformation.
 Subalternism: In the context of this paper, I would be drawing primarily from Partha Chatterjee and Gayatri Spivak’s views on the political location of the subaltern subject, understanding it as a category created by exclusion and misrepresentation.
 Governmentality: Here, I draw from Foucault’s ‘subject’ and the relationships of power that govern selfhood and its understanding within ‘biopolitics’ and concepts of self governance.
 TG is used often as an abbreviation for transgender, especially in the field I studied.
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- seminar paper conference paper gender sexuality academic writing creative writing academic literature gender studies foucault narrative research qualitative research intergender LiU excitable writing gender and sexuality alternative sexuality biopolitics