Disability Research in Cultural Contexts: Beyond Methods and Techniques

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Book Chapter

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The invitation to participate in the expert meeting on disability research (see Introduction) came at a time in my career when I see myself more as a student seeking to gain a better understanding of the history and culture of the research enterprise so that I can increase the relevance and meaningfulness of my own research and become a better teacher and research mentor for my students. Over the past few years, I have come to characterize my excursions into the sociology and philosophy of science as a quest to develop deeply personal understandings of the ethical and professional responsibilities associated with the researcher role. I hope that the issues I have chosen to address in this working paper will not be deemed too esoteric to be relevant to our discussions in Bonn, because I think a meeting on disability research in cultural contexts is a most authentic forum for a discussion of these issues. The timing is auspicious too, given the ascendancy of the paradigm dialogue in a number of disciplines. The central premise of this paper is that research/inquiry is not a value-free enterprise. All researchers walk into the arena of inquiry with baggage. Embedded in this baggage, among other things, are the effects of one’s own cultural background on the way one views the world, the impact overt or covert of specific social and/or political processes or events that often provide the impetus for specific lines of inquiry, the impact of formally acquired paradigms of inquiry, and the biasing influences of specific conceptual frameworks within a chosen paradigm. In this paper, considerations of the ever-present influence of these forces on the inquiry process are subsumed under the general rubric, philosophical and socio-cultural underpinnings of inquiry. With the foregoing as the central premise, this paper seeks to develop the position that no meaningful discussion about research can be deemed to be complete unless it includes examination not only of methodological and technical issues but socio-cultural and philosophical issues as well. While I consider this position to be axiomatically applicable to discussions of all types of research, it is particularly central to a discussion of research that takes as its starting point the quest for cultural understanding and relevance. To initiate the discussion, I present two specific themes. The first highlights the chasm between philosophical and methodological considerations in scholarly work on inquiry. Recognizing that understandings about, and responses to, cultural difference lie at the heart of culturally contextualized inquiry, the second theme focuses on the importance of researchers’ self-reflections about their personal constructions of difference as a precondition for meaningful inquiry

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Disability in different cultures: reflections on local conceptions, p. 314-32