the person/al and the structural?

posted by Pat Thomson

I’ve been musing – overnight sadly – about the apparent binary between the personal and the structural. As a feminist, any separation of the person, the body, affect, the haptic,  from the larger social, immediately arouses suspicion. I know of course of problem of individualising experience, of failing to recognise the ways in which the personal/the person is also social, political, economic and cultural. But I’m equally concerned when the focus falls primarily on the macro, on framings and (re)productions. The person/al is political and all that.

This idle wonder about structure and person/al wormed into my mind yesterday when I attended a workshop, run by Ruth Pearce, about action and research. Ruth’s workshop was designed to engage people in a conversation about when and how we might take action in our research – action that responded to an event or critical incident, action which changed the relationship between researcher and participants. What obligations do we have, Ruth asked, to our participants if we are part of the same community? If we are attempting to work in socially just ways with communities that are oppressed? And what obligations do we have to take action to look after ourselves if we are working with/in a project where the processes or relationships might endanger us, physically, emotionally? These questions erode the notion of a detached researcher, a notion which is variously seen as important to research practice and to the quality of the knowledge that is generated.

Since then, I’ve started to notice where and how the person/al and structural appear in conference conversations and presentations. The person can’t be ignored if we are talking about the injuries of class, gender and race and the practices in higher education that casualise employment and impose draconian performance expectations. And I’m musing on how much person-ning is about un-disciplining, undercutting, unlearning what it is that we might take for granted in the practices of sociological research. And then of course, how much this is simply another way to centre the human, as opposed to the non-human and the relationships and actions betwixt and between us…

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