Johanek, Cindy. Composing Research. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2000. (209 pages)
Early in her book, Johanek outlines the key points of her book. As she writes, “in no context should we choose our methods first, allowing it to narrow what kinds of questions we can ask, for to do so is to ignore context itself” (2-3). Defined, context concerns both location—determining the kinds of research methods are possible—and the research questions themselves that determine what kinds of methods are necessary (3). Through these two baseline points, she confronts “narrowed, personal attachment to methodological choices [that] cloud our vision of what those choices are in the first place” (4). Likewise, she considers the structural effect of paradigms in governing or determining the kinds of methodologies we choose. She describes paradigms as perpetuating a cycle of inquiry, one that draws attention more to the body of research we, as a field, would like to explore rather than what students need. She offers, then, what she calls a Contextualist Researh Paradigm.
In this chapter, Johanek finds the quantitative and qualitative dichotomy reductive in composition research: it “has not only resulted in a near-abandonment of research that seeks and analyzes numerical data, but it has also divided us further into the more private worlds of personal stories” (11). Personal stories or narratives, while can be illuminating for some contexts, “they, alone, cannot be the primary knowledge-making vehicle that defines our field” (11). The methodological choices—and what compositions sees as knowledge in the field—is often defined by the interplay between “the disposition of the discipline and the intellectual climate and social complexity of the times” (Johnson, in Johanek 12). As Johanek writes, “the current climate of our field…has produced a battle for trustworthiness between a number and a narrative. And the narrative clearly wins—not because it necessarily offers more (or more accurate) information that the other, but because the narrative offers one kind of information that we clearly value more” (16).
Research in Composition
“The debate about the kinds of evidence we should use has been a harmful one to our field, resulting in decontextualized arguments that seemingly center on numbers vs. narratives regardless of the contexts that naturally produce both. As a result, those who argue that only naturalistic methods are sensitive to context paradoxically ignore the contexts in which numerical data are readily available, useful, and necessary” (53).
Numbers, Narratives, and He vs. She
“We must be careful not to dismiss particular methods—especially those that rely on numerical evidence—as anti-woman, anti-humanist, or anti-creative, for to do so would be to blame the vehicle for having had a lot of bad drivers. Research relying on numerical data is still a dependable vehicle for getting us to some of the places we need to go, and we need all possible vehicles in order to convey the most valuable and diverse body of knowledge possible” (83).
From Epistemology to Epistemic Justification
“A Contextualist Theory of Epistemic Justification reframes our current view of epistemology-in-competition and constructs instead an epistemological dynamic that emerges naturally from the need to know , from a question arising from a particular context that will, if we examine context fully, lead to the best research method(s) available for answering that question at that moment” (108).
Conclusions (and Beginnings)
“A contextual paradigm enables us to systemize that inquiry while still maintaining the flexibility of our multidisciplinary filed. In a Contextual Research Paradigm, one kind of research is not automatically more valuable than another, and one kind of evidence does not guide our quests. Instead, full attention to the rhetorical tradition that has guided our field from the start and full understanding of the processes of research that guide our inquiry converge to provide a new foundation upon which scholars can see our own research and research questions differently — a vision that can provide stability and growth at the same time” (207).