Paper Summary

Direct link:

Critical Qualitative Inquiry and Affirmative Ethics: Challenging the Status Quo Through Radical Cartography

Sun, April 30, 10:35am to 12:05pm, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Floor: Meeting Room Level, Room 207 B


In this paper I situate critical qualitative inquiry as an ethical engagement of affirmation, one that counters a contemporary fetishization of negative critique as the only mechanism for social change. Specifically, my paper focuses on three implicit elements of inquiry work that extend from an affirmative ethical stance: 1) the necessary collapse of being with knowing that is onto-epistemology; 2) relational forms of analyses; 3) inquiry work in education as practices of radical cartography. I situate these elements within our contemporary moment of the anthropocene, highlighting the value-laden processes of neoliberalism and hyper-globalization, formations that are ironically extended and accelerated by practices of negative critique.

Theoretical Framework
In-line with the theoretical orientation of Rosi Bradotti’s (2013; 2002) materialist engagement with critical posthuman theory and Deleuzoguattarian (1994; 1983) approaches of radical constructivism, affirmative ethics begin with the productive possibilities of relationality—that entities are never fully in isolation or external to phenomena. Because individuals can never be fully ‘known’ or contained, inquiry practices can no longer be driven by strategies of capture or logics of extraction (Kuntz, 2015). Instead, inquiry that stems from affirmative ethics takes on cartographic tendencies, accounting for the very relations that potentially shape what we have yet-to-be.

Though ubiquitous within the academy, negative critique—a theoretical positioning intent on situating contradiction and difference as absence or lack—short-changes the possibilities for becoming, ironically aligning with a desire for enhancement that so predominates neoliberal and hyper-global rationale. Often, this leads to an affect of paralysis—that one cannot operate amidst the overwhelming speed of the contemporary world and thus must give up the social justice project. Beginning from an affirmative ethical positioning, critical qualitative inquiry necessarily intervenes in the repetition of negative critique.

A key element of affirmative inquiry is a steadfast refusal to maintain the confected separation of the ontic from the epistemic, that being can somehow not entail knowing (or vice-versa). In counter-distinction, an onto-epistemological orientation recognizes that coming-to-be and coming-to-know are simultaneous processes of living; distinguishing between one and the other sets into motion a violent series of binaries (inside/outside; subject/object; etc.) that have plagued research practices for decades. An onto-epistemological framework foregrounds relational processes, modes of becoming that are never fully complete, known, or lived. Thus, relational logics are situated on the precipice of history, contemporaneity, and future (what was, what is becoming, what has yet-to-be), dwelling in possibility and the potential for becoming other than we are. Critical qualitative inquiry necessarily begins from an affirmative ethical positioning—one that focuses on production and becoming over negation and absence. This work begins by mapping our contemporary landscape and locating those spaces that remain unfulfilled. In this sense, spaces of potentiality are the cartographer’s goal.

Though educational inquiry has recently undertaken the “materialist” and “posthuman” turn, it has often done so without a necessarily attendant shift to an affirmative ethical stance—one that emanates from an onto-epistemological positioning, relational forms of analyses, and practices of radical cartography.