Historical Social Research

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Franz Breuer, The “Other” Speaks Up. When Social Science (Re)presentations Provoke Reactance from the Field [Abstract]

This paper addresses science communication problems: How do researchers convey social science representations and findings to the researched? How are the latter described in research reports? How do they react when they read or hear such reports and when they subsequently engage in discourse with researchers? Typically, social science researchers approach a field site with an attitude of curiosity that is unburdened by an immediate pressure to act. The field inhabitants, by contrast, are subject to the practical constraints of these everyday worlds; they identify personally with their milieu and its protagonists, and they are correspondingly sensitive. The present paper describes their defensive reactions, taking as an example the reception of a research project presented at conferences attended by a mixed audience. It highlights the reactions and strategies displayed by the researched in the contexts of discourse and meaning negotiation in response to unwelcome representations. And it offers several interpretations of the interactions between the researchers and the researched. Field members may oppose the revelation of contextual and causal factors construing it as “washing dirty laundry in public”. Researchers react to this in their textual representations, and their reactions may take the form of score-settling. The present paper asks how such contradictory, conflict-laden constellations and perspectives in the discourse between the observers and the observed can be productively dealt with.