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Good to think [as]: Uses and Methodological Advantages of Character in Research Amelia Walker, PhD Candidate, University of South Australia.

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Presentation on theme: "Good to think [as]: Uses and Methodological Advantages of Character in Research Amelia Walker, PhD Candidate, University of South Australia."— Presentation transcript:

1 Good to think [as]: Uses and Methodological Advantages of Character in Research Amelia Walker, PhD Candidate, University of South Australia

2 Creative Writing As Research: A Timeline Early 1990s: CW’s academic validity = precarious 1996: Establishment of AAWP and TEXT 2011: CW = ‘a well established discipline in Australian universities’ (Camens & Wilson 2011:1) 2000 – Present: Adoption of ‘creative’ writing methodologies in disciplines other than Creative Writing itself (ethnography, QIS, Azul’s voice research) ‘Creative analytic practices’ (Richardson 2000: ) ‘Writing into’ rather than ‘writing up’(Pelias 2011: 660) ‘Good to think with’ (Webb 2010)

3 Character = Often mentioned, but little elaboration. Therefore, 2 aims: (1) To explore ways in which character has and can be used in research writing, and what benefits it might have for the presentation of research (2) To consider character’s methodological benefits – how characters can be, rephrasing Webb (2010), ‘good to think [as]’

4 Overview Examples of how character has been used in research writing What benefits does character offer in terms of presenting research? Methodological benefits of character Behaving beyond control – ‘autonomous agency’ – can lead to unexpected yet relevant research outcomes But How and Why? Butler’s theories of Performativity / Theories regarding character construction and interpretation

5 Character in Research Writing Can be argued that all research writing uses character: ‘the voice of theory is a fictional device like any other’ (Deane 2010); Giving An Account of Oneself (Butler 2005) ‘Self portraits’ (Muecke 2008:13) Splitting the self into multiple characters; “innerviews” (Azul 2011; Popovic 2012) No need for characters to represent author – eg. Muecke’s Monsieur Mouche (2008: 18-25) Dialogues between characters / multiple voices (Galilei 1953; Davies 2009; Foucault 1972; Deane 2010)

6 Using Character to Present Research – Benefits? Exploration of multiple and conflicted points of view No need for any single point of view to appear privileged over or more ‘true’ than others When it’s useful: A writer-researcher may be torn between several points of view, or may have a point of view, but recognise it as problematic → Through character, these conflicts and uncertainties can become fertile territories for inquiry, rather than inconvenient frustrations to be glossed over, disguised and swept aside

7 Character as a Methodology Character behaviour = beyond prediction or control (Forster 1927: 46; Catron 1993: 65; Grenville 1990: 36; Bird 1988: 7-8) ‘Autonomous Agency’ (Taylor, Hodges & Kohanyi : 361) Consider issues one otherwise wouldn’t in ways one otherwise couldn’t → Good for research Example: Writing as Ern Malley helped me ‘discover new aspects of [my] topic and [my] relationship to it’ (Richardson 2000: 923) But How and Why? ‘Autonomous Agency’ = shaky premise

8 Performativity & Character Construction Performativity: subjectivity constructed in discourse through the performative citation of norms; no original subject or ‘I’; agency limited (Butler 1999: 4-12) Correlations with theories about character construction and interpretation… Commonsense: writers work independently, fully creating and controlling all aspect of their texts Writing is an intertextual, collaborative process in which writers select and rearrange existing materials including language, culture and other texts (Pope 1998: 177; Kelen 2000); Bricolage (Barker 2004: 17) ‘Social Persons’ (Fowler 2006: 59; Keen 2011: 299)

9 Not Real People, but Real Subjects… ‘Social Persons’ & ‘Existing Materials of Language, Culture, etc.’ = Discursive Norms which characters cite Each social person comes ‘trailing clouds of the inglorious discourse in which it is drawn’ (Fowler 2006: 59) Potential objection: characters ≠ based on discourse, but on ‘real’ people (Catron 1993: 71-74; Bird 1988: 10; Grenville 1990: 36-37; Kress 1988: 74-80) However: ‘real’ people’s subjectivities = always already constructed in discourse (Butler 1999: 4-12) Character construction processes = not so different from those which construct the subjectivities of ‘real’ people

10 Character Agency as an Effect of Discourse Agency = effect of discourse; do not ‘have’ but ‘enact’ (Salih 2002: 120) Character agency ≠ autonomous; both enabled and limited by the discourse of its construction Limitations on character agency = crucial to viability as methodology. Ensure relevance to research topic Character agency = different from writer agency → Access to possibilities the writer’s own subjectively limited agency would ordinarily foreclose Writer-character interactions change writer subjectivity → expands agency → expands research possibilities

11 Methodological Benefits of Character Character = a methodological approach to subjectivity in research; expands subjective limitations on agency Approach to – not ‘escape from’ or ‘way around’ Character does not enable ‘objectivity’ Writer-researcher can not use character to get ‘outside’ subjectivity. They may be able to ‘do’ subjectivity in different ways Can expand the potentials for thinking and research When it’s useful: Challenge own preconceptions; think beyond the limitations of one’s existing subjective position

12 2 Original Aims: (1) To explore ways in which character has and can be used in research writing + its benefits Self portraits; Split self; Dialogues; Multiple Voices; No need to represent author Benefits = multiple POVs; no need to privilege one ‘truth’; conflicts become fertile territories for inquiry (2) To consider character’s methodological benefits Methodological approach to subjectivity in research; Expands subjective limitations on agency; Expand potentials for thinking and research; Challenge own preconceptions; Think beyond the limitations of one’s existing subjective position

13 Works Cited p 1/2 Azul, David 2011 ‘Gramophony of an Application for ‘Recognition of a Condition of Permanent Desire’’ in Qualitative Research, vol 11 no 1, p Barker, Chris 2004 The SAGE Dictionary of Cultural Studies, London: SAGE Bird, Carmel 1988 Dear Writer, Fitzroy: McPhee Gribble / Penguin Butler, Judith 1999 Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, London: Routledge Butler, Judith 2005 Giving an Account of Oneself, New York: Fordham University Press Camens, Jane & Wilson, Dominique 2011 ‘Introduction: Creative Writing in the Asia- Pacific Region’ in TEXT Special issue, Creative Writing in the Asia-Pacific Region, April Catron, Louis 1993 The Elements of Playwriting, Illinois: Waveland Press Davies, Bronwyn 2009 ‘Life in Kings Cross: A Play of Voices’ in Jackson, Alecia & Lisa Mazzei (eds) Qualitative Inquiry: Challenging conventional interpretive and critical conceptions in qualitative research (e book edition) London: Routledge Deane, Laura 2010 ‘Theorising the madwoman: fictocritical incursions – a performance’ in TEXT vol 14 no 2 Fitzpatrick, Katie 2012 ‘“That’s How The Light Gets In”: Poetry, Self and Representation in Ethnographic Research’, Cultural Studies: Critical Methodologies, 12:1, 8-14 Forster, Edward 1927 Aspects of the Novel, London: Edward Arnold Publishers Foucault, Michel 1972 The Archaeology of Knowledge, Smith, A.M. Sheridan (trans) London: Tavistock Publications Fowler, Elizabeth 2006 ‘Shylock’s Virtual Injuries’, Shakespeare Studies, 34, 56-64

14 Works Cited p 2/2 Galilei, Galileo 1953, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Drake, Stillman (trans), Berkeley: University of California Press Grenville, Kate 1990 The Writing Book, Sydney: Allen and Unwin Harris, Samela 2003 Ern Malley: The Official Website, at: (accessed 26 th June 2012) Keen, Suzanne 2011 ‘Readers’ Temperaments and Fictional Character’, New Literary History, 42:2, Muecke, Stephen 2008 Joe in the Andanams and Other Fictocritical Stories, Sydney: Local Consumption Publications Popovic, Megan 2012 ‘Moshka Rose from the Heart: A Prosaic and Poetic Embodiment of Yoga Autoethnography’ in Cultural Studies: Critical Methodologies 12:1, Rainey, David 2009 Ern Malley: The Hoax and Beyond, Bulleen: Heide Museum of Modern Art Richardson, Laurel 2000 ‘Writing: A Method of Inquiry’ in Denzin, Norman and Yvonna Lincoln (eds) Handbook of Qualitative Research, California: Sage, Salih, Sara 2002 Judith Butler, London: Routledge Webb, Jen 2010 ‘Good to think with: Words, knowing and doing’, Strange Bedfellows: Refereed Conference Papers of the 15 th Annual AAWP Conference, at: (accessed 24th April 2012)


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