Fear and Honesty: On Reconciling Theory and Voice, in Two Parts

Kate DaleyThe second post in our guest series on critical methodology and narrative, this time from Kate M. Daley. Kate is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at York University in Toronto, Ontario. Her doctoral research in feminist political theory explores responses to privilege in the context of feminist relationships and her current research interests include narrative research methods, social science education, indigenous methodologies, and anti-oppression knowledges and discourses. She lives in Waterloo, Ontario, where she advocates for projects and policies that support transportation choice, environmental protection, and vibrant public spaces.

Part I: Fear

I am lucky in this room, among my colleagues. I am working in feminist political theory, not international relations, and my discipline has been advocating for and responding to feminist work that is in one’s own voice and that tells one’s own story for decades. Still, I feel a sense of paralysis. I am 27 years old. I have passed my qualifying exams. I have written dozens of graduate papers. My work is starting to get published. I am now starting to stare down my dissertation. And I am not sure that my work has ever been truly honest.

It was my Master’s supervisor who graciously began to break my training. She encouraged me to write in the first person. In her class, I had argued passionately with some of my more conventional colleagues. I had defended the overt positionality of narrative political theory, and valorized those who had the courage to write in their own voice. And yet I most often continued to write as though I was not there at all.

So I started to use first-person pronouns in my academic writing. Sometimes I even included a personal anecdote to make my writing more compelling, more convincing. I believe firmly in the importance of personal narrative for political theory, and for social sciences scholarship. I have thrown in the occasional story to illustrate a point. But I have never really, truly, made myself visible and vulnerable in my theory.

I am afraid. I have come to a place where I can no longer only speak an I that serves as nothing more than a grammatical device between abstract ideas, or a persuasive tactic to convince others of a conclusion I have already drawn. But I cannot wholeheartedly embrace autoethnography and my own narrative, either. I am afraid.

I fear that I will learn that I can write as a faceless academic, but not as a whole person. Continue reading