The approach starts from the assumption that research methods tend to look for and try to describe order. That’s fine. No doubt there is plenty of order, and it’s appropriate to go looking for it. But what if this is wrong? What happens if a scene isn’t orderly, or it there are multiple orderings at work? What happens, in short, if the scene is messy?

Often, perhaps usually, we assume that if we can’t see an order then we’ve got it wrong, and that our methods aren’t doing the job that we’ve set them, that they aren’t up to it. But perhaps we need to broaden our way of thinking about method. Perhaps we need to cultivate methods that acknowledge non-coherence (not in-coherence, but non-coherence). But what would those methods be? That’s the core question.

But there’s another. What happens if research methods are performative? What happens if they tend to produce the realities that they seek to describe? Though the argument needs to be made carefully, there’s quite a lot of evidence that suggests that they do. Here’s the paradox: realities are multiple and messy; but our methods tend to enact singularity and coherence. Of course they don’t succeed, at least not completely. But perhaps they do succeed in the places where they circulate. Perhaps, then, the social sciences live in a bubble of attempted and partially created coherence. And perhaps we need to join forces with other ways of knowing that don’t subsist in the bubble.

Method, non-coherence and performativity, a research theme at CRESC | Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change 

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