I am suggesting a new approach to scholarship that relies on several elements. First, it requires us to acknowledge our individual contexts. What we learn depends in large part on cultural, social, and historical circumstances. An examination of context, however, goes further than just these categories; it should also consider details of
experience such as clothing, housing, and lifestyle. We must also consider how we first came to the texts with which we deal. Did we discover them through a class? Tangential research? At a friend's suggestion? By self-consciously examining these parts of our personal identity, we can establish a more holistic approach to our scholarship. Second, we must reconsider the relationship between the various texts we have at our disposal. To do so, we need to become aware of the contingent nature of much of our experience. Several texts may appear to be randomly in our hands and minds, but through a close scrutiny of our unique relationships with these texts, we can construct meanings, narratives, and explications that had previously been unnoticeable.

Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
I may seem to be suggesting a scattershot approach to scholarship, but I insist, instead, on a heightened consciousness and extreme awareness of process. Thomas Kuhn explains, "An apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs espoused by a given scientific community at a given time."1 If we seek to appreciate these "accidents," we can better understand our positions within a specific paradigm or ideology. From that vantage, a micro-analysis of ourselves can reveal surprising angles on our work. We must notice, too, Kuhn's use of the phrase "apparently arbitrary." When we examine the contexts and contingencies of our lives, we do so not with the object of acquiescing to cosmic randomness, but with the goal of seeing a consistency within the chaos.

In finding this consistency and outlining our context, we recognize some of the influences on our thought. These influences are not completely determinative, but they do impose limitations on our thinking. Gene Wise explains that "what people are willing to admit as real and right and important is deeply implicated in context."2 We can never fully escape these limits, but we can learn to understand them and work with them. Instead of bemoaning our position, we can utilize this subjectivity; rather than trying to avoid our circumscription, we should analyze it and allow possibilities to open up.

This type of thinking supports Kuhn's idea that standard methodological procedures are insufficient "to dictate a unique substantive conclusion to"" many questions.3 He believes that we can reach many of these conclusions through experience, accident, and individual makeup.4 The methodology I propose seeks to reveal the nature of these factors and to give us a functional self-consciousness. In this process, we resist a problem that Lionel Trilling considers a facet of ideology. He writes, "Ideology is not the product of thought; it is the habit or the ritual of showing respect for certain formulas to which, for various reasons having to do with emotional safety, we have very strong ties of whose meaning and consequences in actuality we have no clear understanding."5 Through analyzing our individual contexts, we can prevent ourselves from giving formulaic responses to our questions (and perhaps even from forming formulaic questions).

a hand mirror

Although it may appear otherwise, in this discussion I do not call for an end to paradigm use. Like Kuhn, I think that the dissolution of paradigms would render us unable to successfully produce and communicate effective research.6 A group of people working through individualized paths would not find solipsistic discoveries and inarticulable arguments. They would simply bring idiosyncratic commentaries to the public table. I also do not expect my proposed methodology to elevate research into the realm of the "objective." We need to realize that our frame is still a frame, but hopefully it can be one that we engage with more self-awareness.


1Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996, p. 4.

2Wise, Gene. American Historical Explanations: A Strategy for Grounded Inquiry, 2nd ed., rev. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980, p. xxi.

3Kuhn, p. 3.

4Kuhn, p. 4.

5Trilling, Lionel. The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society. New York: The Viking Press, 1950, p. 286.

6Kuhn, p. 60.