I recently read someone arguing that ‘knowing a thing requires loving it’. Be it a place, a person, a Petri dish with microbes, a strand of DNA, an enzyme, a tree, a bacteria or an animal. ‘To know persons we must love them first and look at the world from their perspective. To know any thing, we must love it and become its friend’ (Braud and Anderson 1998: 80-81). Reading this made me happy.
Often I hear the opposite and I’m urged to keep in place a certain ‘distance’ towards the places and people I research. This is what is commonly understood to be needed for scientifically rigorous research: do not get too close and attached or, God forbids, emotionally connected.
I never felt very comfortable with this idea. I will hereby admit that I always get emotionally involved and attached. I often cry when I leave a place I have been staying for some time to do research and I can’t help getting into personal relationships with my research participants. Reading that I’m allowed to fall in love with the places and people that participate in my research and that in fact, this might make me a good researcher, is comforting.
If you give it a thought it seems pretty logical. What is the best way to make another person reveal him or herself to you? And what is the best way to trigger an unstoppable curiosity in someone else?
One possible problem remains: if you start loving, are you still able to see the bigger picture, the flaws and the imperfect parts? This is an unresolved issue to which I do not have a full answer but I do have some reflections. The ones who love me most are also the ones, I think, who know best those part of me that are a bit ‘darker’, imperfect, my flaws, my not so nice character traits and my challenges in life. For this, you need to be allowed back stage and I need to know you will love me anyways and not immediately reject nor judge me.
If this holds as well for the places and people we research, what then means scientific rigor?
Braud, William. and Rosemarie. Anderson. 1998. Transpersonal Research Methods for the Social Sciences : Honoring Human Experience. Sage Publications.