‘Independent study’ is a phrase many of us have heard, with the understanding that we should be an active participant in it. But what does it really mean to the individual?
Well, before I delve into dictionary definitions, I must set up this article as self-confessional. As with all of our research, the individual finds the words, then attaches the meaning(s). I am an individual, and this is the meaning of ‘independence’ to me.
The first thing to note is ‘independence’ which, alike the Declaration of Independence itself, still retains a sense of belonging. In order to be independent, you have to be independent of something. When the Declaration was adopted on 4th July, 1776, America broke away from the British Empire – yet, was still linguistically bound to Britain in order to determine itself as separate from it. And so paradoxically, ‘independence’ can be said to create a shift away from reliability on an authoritative other, to reliability on the self (to act ‘free’ of the former). So, can independence truly exist? Well, if you’re like me and are either, a) an interpretivist, or b) a pessimist, the answer is “no”. Or is it…
Well, yes, personally, it is (sorry I couldn’t keep up the suspense). The reasons lie in my methodology. Notably, the assumptions within my ontology, which is considered to be the ‘[…] the starting point of all research’. (Clough and Nutbrown, 2012). An implicit position about the ‘nature of social ‘reality’’ that, to quote Peter Sedgewick, is ‘[…] any set of [such] assumptions […] which are presupposed within a theory.’ (2002). From this then, it becomes clear that as researchers we all have subjective interpretations and assumptions about ‘reality’, which forms the basis for originality within our research. That is, as a researcher, I cannot be independent from the boundaries I have created to regulate my own realities, and so, my own self.
Moreover, as a researcher attempting to gain an understanding of the cultural dialogue, not only do I have to acknowledge that I am such a player in social reality, but also that I cannot even attempt to be separated from it. That is, as a British-based consumer of projected Americanised cultural identity, I justify what I know through the knowledge generated by appropriated cultural produce. Thus, interpretivism’s assumption that I must be ‘[…] inextricably part of the social reality being researched […] [and] not ‘detached’ from the subject [I am] studying’ (Grix, 2004), restricts the boundaries of knowledge and justification within the produce I have culturally bought, and within my national identity. Moreover, the use of subjectivity and experience itself becomes such a justification, not a constriction.
So, what does this mean when we return back to our little phrase, ‘independent study’?
Well, the main issue that has not been mentioned so far is the absence of participants in my research. This means that in effect I am the participant, and rely fully on the assumptions of knowledge located in my self-constructed social reality to justify it. That is, I am the justification. I cannot be independent from what, where, or who I’m studying. Moreover, I cannot be independent from the constructions of my self.
Am I saying then that ‘independence’ is unattainable in research? The short answer is, ‘no’. Of course, physically it is possible (i.e. sitting in an environment separate from the institution’s, or America’s separation from Britain), but mentally it is not. Most especially if the research is ontologically and epistemologically bound to the self. But, to be honest, it’s the way I like it. Or, maybe I’m just telling myself that…
As always, please feel free to leave a comment or two below.