Saturday, April 23, 2011

From the editor's desk: Communing with research subjects by Debra Merskin

As I consider the papers of 9 (1), issues of inter-subjectivity leap to mind. By inter-subjectivity I mean the ways in which we as researchers interact, later I will use the word “commune,” with research subjects. Conventional research training prompts us to treat research subjects as passive, albeit, respected objects of data collection. Action research acknowledges the subjectivity of the research subjects, which in interaction with ourselves, becomes inter-subjective inquiry.  Our engagement as persons first and foremost allows for knowledge to be shared that otherwise might have gotten lost.

Consider  Debra Merkin’s “Hearing voices: The promise of participatory action research for animals.” This paper is remarkable for  how it pushes the limits out beyond the familiar “humans-only”  boundary normally used to determine who constitutes a research subject. The implications for all our work are quite thought-provoking.  Debra seeks to articulate a PAR approach that fully envisions those who are silent, most especially in inter-species studies. Her paper focuses mainly on participatory research with primates.  When I first sent this paper out for review, the reviewers included a colleague well known in the natural sciences. She responded, perhaps a tad huffily, that work with creatures so similar to humans (the warm and furry ones such as primates) really tells us too little about how to work with the ones who are very different, e.g., the worms or crocodiles.  I was not so sure. Now as I see the article in its finished form, I am in fact more sure than ever that the ideology of superiority that insists upon a strict boundary between human and other than human. When breached at all (and doing so with familiar mammals is as good as any place to start the breaching) is indeed so strong a re-sensitization that it can call into question how centrally we place ourselves and, more broadly, human interests in our inquiries. We may yet come to know that – as Debra quotes -  the universe is composed of subjects to be communed with, not of objects to be exploited.  Therefore I see in Debra’s article a formal turning point for ARJ in expanding how we define research subjects.
Read for yourself:

Hilary Bradbury-Huang, Ph.D.

Editor, ARJ

Oregon Health Sciences University


1 comment:

  1. I totally dig Debra Merskin's work on the use of PAR with other beings. Also see biopolitanism (the ARJ Blog 11.22.10, and R. Ryder's the idea of speciesism). The ethical implications of these Earth - centered works are huge!

    Alan Wight