July Blog Post: John Beaton

John Beaton

When I was asked by DRILL to do this blog my initial reaction was to feel privileged and a personal pride that my opinion may be of interest to other people out there in the big bold world of the internet age. This was quickly followed by a wave of  anxiety. What if people thought I was stupid? What if what I wrote was a crude perspective and was ill conceived and executed? Should I reference the literature to support my position?


So I settled down to write something a bit more personal, a narrative if you will. Indeed narrative therapy for the people with lived experience has shown positive results in the literature (opps there I go!), so why not try my hand at something new. So not professional, not scientific, and certainly not intellectual (after all these are only pretensions on my part anyway!).


What I have decided to write about is how by becoming a researcher I have changed my relationship with myself, and in doing so changed my relationship to the research itself. This in itself provoked questions for me.  As good research does it provokes more questions than it answers and provides a platform for new discourses to be fostered within academia itself.


The subject of discourse is something I would like to feel out a little bit dear reader so bear with me whilst I gather my thoughts.  For me there are three discourses at play in what I do, all which I think are of equal value.  Firstly there is the quantitative/empirical/scientific discourse that plays out on paper, in protocols, peer review, consenting documentation and ethics applications.  Where I justify my research and explore its rigour, by holding if up by scrutinising under these different but crucial magnifying glasses. I decided upon a method of critical friends, tough going when you have no undergraduate degree in the discipline in which you are researching (you need all the friends you can get)!  Secondly there is the discourse of the narrative (there is that word again), the qualitative voice, the unabashed subjective.  Not what is to know, but what is felt.  The emotional, often raw, experiential knowledge which resides in the hearts, minds and gut instinct of the people who the topic of this research is played out with. Thirdly is the political.


Did he say political? Did he write it with a small “p”?


Emancipatory research, is often simplified into the problem by blending the first two discourses with equal validity.  Many address this problem by adopting a fixed philosophical standpoint (indeed critical realism may neatly blend these discourses).  Or by adopting a mixed methods approach, blending the quantitative and qualitative.  But what of this third discourse.  Emancipatory research must blend this third discourse in its intent, execution and impact (no pressure then folks).  The political in this context is not far away.  If indeed we wish to subscribe to the social model of disability, where these barriers reside in how society is organised, not the person’s difference, then so should our social research.


The overwhelming subscription of published literature to the scientific model and hence medical model of disability in itself creates of form of intellectual stigma, creating its own barriers to publication and dissemination indeed some may say doing violence to the data collected. So what does this the godfather of stigma research Gofmann (1963) (here he goes with the literature) have to say about this back in the heady days of the civil rights movement, one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century he posited


“…that the individual’s relation to a stigma into three categories:

  • the stigmatized are those who bear the stigma;
  • the normals are those who do not bear the stigma; and
  • the wise are those among the normals who are accepted by the stigmatized as “wise” to their condition.


The wise normals are not merely those who are in some sense accepting of the stigma; they are, rather, “those whose special situation has made them intimately privy to the secret life of the stigmatized individual and sympathetic with it, and who find themselves accorded a measure of acceptance, a measure of courtesy membership in the clan.” That is, they are accepted by the stigmatized as “honorary members” of the stigmatized group. “Wise persons are the marginal men before whom the individual with a fault need feel no shame nor exert self-control, knowing that in spite of his failing he will be seen as an ordinary other.” Goffman notes that the wise may in certain social situations also bear the stigma with respect to other normals: that is, they may also be stigmatized for being wise.


Until recently, this typology has been used without being empirically tested. A recent study showed empirical support for the existence of the own, the wise, and normals as separate groups.  But, the wise appeared in two forms: active wise and passive wise.  Active wise encouraged challenging stigmatization and educating stigmatizers, but passive wise did not.”

(thanks wiki…)

We need look no further than this as a justification of the emancipatory nature of disability research. We are the wise “intimately privy” and “sympathetic”, we are the “marginal” for whom as subjects of research need “feel no shame”, nor exert “self-control”.  However if we wish to transverse from peer to emancipatory research we must inhabit not the “passive wise”, but the “active wise”. However a word of caution, we can easily move as peer researchers from the “wise” to the “stigmatised” should we not clearly mark the boundaries of our research.


We can see Goffman’s work as a point of demarcation for emancipatory research, a stepping of point and one which will unite our participation and action, from the traditional roles of advocacy and activism, taking social research back to its roots and grassroots. After all there is no small “p” in quantitative or qualitative.


So what of this changing relationship I mentioned at the beginning.


In becoming engaged in conceiving, writing and executing my research (incidentally on stigma), I have re-framed my relationship with my mental illness intrapersonally, changed my relationship with my critical friends interpersonally, and recognised the content and context of these new relationships as equally important. A trinity of the internal, relational and external if you will.


Now that would make for a good paper.

Incidentally I think narrative therapy might be good for me.

Blog post provided by John Beaton, a member of the Scottish National Advisory Group

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