Being care-full: on methodology

One of the concluding talks at the Feminist Materialisms conference was done by a scholar who didn’t subscribe to new materialist thinking. He started his commentary in the affirmative, acknowledging the importance of a materialist ontology and then very quickly went on to say: “but this is where I stop agreeing with you.” He then listed all the points on which he disagreed with materialist thinking, aiming particularly at Vicki Kirby and Karen Barad, who were both in the audience. He delivered his speech in a loud, unwavering voice and although he had some good points (like how the justice system doesn’t care about materialisms and that there are still structural problems to be solved), his general delivery was harsh. It was clear that he had not properly understood the implications of the theory he was critiquing and the smugness with which he addressed the room was provocative. It was exceedingly cringe-worthy.

Karen Barad then took the stage to comment. She was clearly very moved by his words and said: “I don’t think you have care-fully read my work.”

I have been thinking a lot about this since then: what would constitute a care-full methodology.

If we are, as Donna Haraway says, always already bound together in the world, messmates and partners, then the way one engages with these worlds should be driven by care. Think of your own body and the myriads of human and non-human entities it is made up of: blood cells, bacteria, thoughts, memories, hair, skin. That’s a lot of messmates right there, and that’s only within the sort-of bounded space of your body. We’re all made up of thousands of worlds – we’re all in it together, so we should be care-full.

Caring for someone or something, my dictionary tells me, is providing something or someone with what is necessary for its health, welfare, maintenance, and protection while being careful means making sure of avoiding potential danger, mishap, or harm, doing with or showing thought and attention. Being care-full, then, means acting with care of your subject’s well being, with it’s best in mind. Being care-full of your subject means not only treading lightly, but trying to avoid harm, acting with empathy. This makes a lot of sense if we are, as Haraway says, all tied into each other and the world.  Barad uses a different concept, entanglement. We are always already entangled, we are of the same flesh of the world. If this is so, then there is no other way of acting than care-fully. Why wouldn’t you want the same for your messmates as you would for yourself?

What is so compelling to me in this approach, apart from how it feels kind and right in a moral sort of way, is that it seems to me so motherly.. Mothers treat their children carefully and with care, always with the best for their children in mind. As a core concept of a methodology challenges the researcher/doer to be the bigger person, the self-effacing one. And as we all know, that’s hard.

The scholar at the conference didn’t speak to us with care. He wasn’t care-full about his words and he didn’t act with empathy or respect. Instead he was self-righteous and down putting, and it did not strengthen his position or add to the knowledge produced. Had he spoken care-fully, with sympathy and respect, had he shown thought for his listeners, I think his words would have had more power. I think very few of us wanted to be entangled with him at that moment and it seems to me that this isn’t what one should aim for. So I’m adding this as a core concept in the Moist So Moist vocabulary: a care-full methodology.

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