PAB #7 – Powell & Takayoshi

Powell, K. M., and P. Takayoshi (2003). Accepting Roles Created for Us: The Ethics of Reciprocity. College Composition and Communication, Vol. 54 No. 3, Feb. 2003, pp. 394-422.

Powell - Portrait

Katrina M. Powell (Profile)


Pamela Takayoshi (Profile)

“At the heart of calls for reciprocity in research is a recognition/assertion/insistence that research involves building relationships among humans.  At a basic level, research is about understanding other people, their lives, and their experiences.  As researchers, we asked for admittance to our participants’ lives, thoughts, and experiences, and our participants opened their lives to us in sometimes surprisingly intimate detail.  Thinking about our relationship with participants only within the bounds of our study would have limited the relationships we might have built with our participants.  Indeed, as we relate in this article, our experiences suggest that participants’ desires often fell outside the “researcher” roles we had constructed for ourselves when we built our methodologies” (399).


So, my feeling is that the main problem with my argument – that RAD might be seen as its own growing/nascent discipline with foundational literature and scholarship within the field of English Studies – is that some of the definitions are a little… blurry.  Which is to say, last week I talked about OoSs that were largely meta-analytic.  RAD scholars study data, often data they don’t produce; they study the study of that data, and it just gets more complex from there.  When scholars study how we all study, it becomes difficult to extricate their theory and methods from their literature and data.

What this means in application is that some things that may be OoSs are also methods within RAD.  In the same way that – in education – pedagogy may be theory, source, OoS, data, and method, there is significant crossover in RAD.  The desire to know how we research and learn better often treats methodology itself as a legitimate Object of Study.

That said, I don’t want to retread old ground and say nothing new this week, so I’ll be looking elsewhere for answers to the question of what theories are used in the field, and I’ll largely be downplaying “methods” since that already significantly intersected with my OoS findings.

Let me put this in more personal terms.  I don’t – at this point in my academic trajectory – want to be what would traditionally be labelled a “Writing Center Studies scholar.”  I don’t want to be Technical Communications guru.  I don’t want to be a WPA/FYC wonk.  I don’t want to be a Lacanian post-modern Marxist what-have-you.  I do want to be a researcher and a research advocate.  And I want to be able to use the tools of WCS, TC, WPA, (and, yes, Lacanian Postmodern Marxism) to contribute meaningfully to those discourses while still maintaining an identity as someone who values how we get to truths as much as what those truths are.  I just wanted to be transparent about that up front.

So, in talking about theory, I think it might behoove us to prove I can do just that.  I’m looking at theory and epistemology that I don’t personally use, in contexts I don’t personally study – then I’m talking about whether or not that “works” within the context of my greater RAD argument.

Maybe I’ll prove myself wrong.  After last week, wouldn’t that be ironic?

Let’s do feminism.


Feminism.  Hey, I’m as surprised as anybody, because I thought that feminist theory was about as far from RAD models of research as one could get – seeing as much of feminist epistemology deals with the situated nature of knowledge within research, and works to overcome the limitations of RAD approaches by essentially torpedoing the researcher/subject relationship, “negotiating” protocols, “intervening” in power dynamics of objectivity, etc.  However, it turns out that there’s a huge body of theory on feminist research out there right now – much of it dealing with empiricism, and a good portion addressing the ethical questions at the forefront of the RAD concern today.  And they’re doing some really cool work that pushes the definitions of the field and gets rid of a lot of the cobwebs in the attic of STEM’s influence on humanities-based RAD work.

Article Review – “Accepting Roles Created for Us: The Ethics of Reciprocity”

In their 2003 “Accepting Roles Created for Us: The Ethics of Reciprocity,” authors Powell and Takayoshi investigate how the concept of researcher-subject (or, in the language of the feminist epistemology, “participant”) reciprocity functions to create more dynamic research.  From this, they call for the disclosure of what they at points label “moments of dissensus,” or those instances that are counter-indicative of the intent or direction of study, but equally informative in different ways.  Citing Sue Wilkinson (1992) and Patricia A. Sullivan (1992), who in no small way built the modern field of feminist research, their work establishes that feminist research (especially ethical concerns within feminist studies) is making explicit the implicit design philosophies of research in general: transparent protocols, open communication between subject and researcher, objectivity protocols that are aware of the research power dynamic, awareness of the risk of speaking for “the other” ex officio, maintaining the rights and humanity of the studied and the sanctity of the data, etc. (394-95).

However, the authors have an ethical concern.  Much as the RAD empiricist risks imposing power upon the research relationship, as previously discussed, the feminist researcher risks engaging in what Ellen Cushman refers to as “’missionary activism: intervention without invitation [which] slips into paternalistic activism” (395).  By contrast, purely “activist” research sets protocols and expectations of both researcher-“participant” and subject-“participant” and foundationally includes both in the design, execution, collection, and interpretation of research.

That said, Powell and Takayoshi work to distinguish between what might be collaborative – that is to say, within the framework of preexisting power structures but towards a common goal – and what might be defined as “reciprocal,” or serving the specific needs and desires of each party in exchange towards the research process. “Studies can be collaborative without being mutually beneficial,” the authors warn; “researchers can construct methodological frameworks in which knowledge is collaboratively developed […] but when the roles of participants are confined to the research project […] the research relationship may benefit only the researcher, and, thus, not be reciprocal at all” (396).

This is all very terrifying.  This does not sound like the general bailiwick of things that RAD scholars write about.  This sounds, for lack of a better word, very feminist-y. It’s all relational, and relationships, and a bunch of other stuff people who crunch numbers don’t do well.  But, far more importantly, it’s a way of thinking about research that is quite novel, and would need to be modeled and executed to provide guidelines for newly ethical research before it would be useful for all RAD research in the humanities.

An excerpt from the article, showing conversation between the researcher (Powell) and a student, "Andy."
A sample of something that I would not precisely label “ethically empirical” ethnography – (Powell & Takayoshi 409)

The good news is that the authors do exactly that, providing two qualitative studies which experienced these “moments of dissensus” – both of which demonstrate these methods and provide viable, real-world models of the research ethic described – but, more importantly, the pitfalls the researchers fell into in their execution.  I will return to these specific research findings in my paper next week.  For now, let’s suffice it to say that they are… unorthodox.  However, the originating protocols are carefully and well designed.  And they do great work to prove the lie that research – empirical or not – has to be unemotional or disinterested, for better or worse.

Questions for consideration:

This sounds all very risky for the researcher.  It sounds like what the authors are proposing is giving up design control of experiments and studies to non-expert non-researchers.

It is.  And research is inherently risk-averse, in that it attempts to control variables.  I would never say that all empirical RAD research should be reciprocal, nor that feminist epistemology has a role in all research, honestly.  However, as counter-intuitive as this notion is, and as much as it pushes the definitions of empirical study far left (it would not, for instance, score very well on Driscoll’s analytic scale for RAD status – trending towards, essentially, auto-ethnography), it also allows for the discovery of new lines of inquiry and new types of knowledge which may only be located within the participatory model of research outlined.

Isn’t there an entirely separate ethical concern to getting so involved in the private lives and thoughts of research participants? 

Oh, yeah.  I have no idea how you get this kind of thing past an IRB (not because it’s unethical, but because it’s unpredictable to the point where ethics cannot be determined), and that’s part of what my research will be going into next week.  At one point in their research reporting, one of the authors notes that a student was having an emotional breakdown and crying in her office based on personal counseling issues that came up while discussing content from the ethnographic study (a roommate’s suicide).  That’s… let’s just say “not ideal.”  I think this doesn’t provide a perfect model for how we should be compassionate and reciprocal in research design – in fact, it is highly problematic – but I think it does prove that we need to keep thinking about these issues.


Powell, K. M., and P. Takayoshi (2003). Accepting Roles Created for Us: The Ethics of Reciprocity. College Composition and Communication, Vol. 54 No. 3, Feb. 2003, pp. 394-422.


One thought on “PAB #7 – Powell & Takayoshi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s