Hot Tub Methodology

Over the last month I’ve been doing a lot of reading on feminist research methods for my dissertation proposal, working in that way where you’re gathering yourself for something but aren’t really sure yet about the practical steps you’re going to take to accomplish that thing. Patti Lather’s Getting Lost (2007) has been especially important. I’m always grateful when a book of theory comes into my life at just the right time to offer not just an intellectual engagement but a kind of self-help. Lather is so good on theorizing how to turn the vulnerabilities and imposter feelings that come along with social research into ethically engaged research design.

Dissertation Proposal Step #1: start writing group that meets in change room at Y.

From “Plateau 8: Naked Methodology”

My interest in nakedness comes from the very material practice of time in hot tubs that has characterized Chris [Lather’s co-researcher] and my methodological wrestling in our study of women living with HIV/AIDS. Grounded in the hours spent in my co-researcher’s hot tub where we discussed the project, my interest in nakedness also comes out of a small research retreat in Wisconsin when this project was at its beginning. There, structured around each of seven women having two hours of “exquisite attention” for her work in any way she wanted, I stripped and sat in a jacuzzi in a bathroom surrounded by six dressed women who fired questions at me about the ethics and politics of what I was undertaking.

As was evident at that session, such work pushed a lot of buttons for those invested in the politics of knowing and being known. This is as it should be. While naked methodology became a situated practice toward an ethical encounter with the women in our study, it is not about presenting myself as transparent, vulnerable, and absolutely frank. Based on Nietzsche’s strong thesis that every word is also a hiding place, an apparent nakedness is but a mask that conceals a will to power. Any illusion of presence unmasked is interrupted by the difficult task Nietzsche invites us to: not to unmask and demystify but, rather, to multiply perspectives toward an affirmation of life as a means to knowledge without guaranteed. This is a rigor of staging and watching oneself subvert and revalue the naked truth in order to learn to live without absolute knowledge, within indeterminacy.