Abandoning old-fashioned ideals like objectivity and rigor is bound to backfire.
It's hard for me to understand what Farrell is claiming, exactly. I can understand the claim that complete objectivity is a goal not achievable by mortals, but then that applies equally to the oppressor and the oppressed, so why bother discussing anything at all? Her essay doesn't seem to call for a more nuanced epistemology, but for 𝐰𝐚𝐫.
Zaid Jilani was right to criticize Lauren Farrell’s oversimplified and buzz-word filled post on the Urban Institute blog. But I think he also missed a different problem that it promoted. Writers like Farrell create a false dichotomy pitting “objective” research that supposedly reinforces historical power dynamics, exploits and harms communities of color, and aggrandizes white researchers against power-sharing research that “centers” communities and where researchers “check their bias” and “recognize their power.” This dichotomous thinking is patently silly, but what neither Farrell or Jilani acknowledge is that objectivity in research is a fool’s errand. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t rely on data collection or dismiss all facts as “perspectives.” But at every stage of research, humans are involved. We notice some things and discount others. We choose how to draw trend lines. We make human decisions about what data mean.
The idea, then, that we should support or reject “objective” research misses the point. Harvard Professor Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot has illuminated this challenge poignantly in her writings, explaining that when we attempt to remove ourselves from our research, what we are really doing is not trusting our readers to understand context. By revealing more of who we are as researchers (our starting assumptions, the biases we hold, what surprised us along the way, etc.), we give our audience the tools to separate us from our research and therefore see our subjects more clearly.
"While we all have our own ideological preferences, we should always want truth to win in any conflict with a political agenda."
Of course, but honestly I believe very few people think this way. It's demoralizing. The only thing more irritating than the pronouncements of idiots like Farrell is to observe people who share one's own worldview deliberately twisting the truth to advance it, and I see this all the time. I wouldn't believe what I believe if I didn't think it was supported by the facts. Why do so many people have to manipulate the facts to make their points? Don't they really believe what they say they believe?
Applying just a tad of good ole' Wittgensteinian analysis to Farrell's prescription reveals it to be utter nonsense. What exactly does it mean to "contextualize" a fact that does not support her obvious ideology? What would in principle count as "contextualizing" such a thing? Is it tantamount to disregarding it? Ok, then what? Farrell's position falls into a long line of intellectual psychobabble that sounds right, perhaps even commonsensical, but in application (which is where it counts) devolves into nothing more than ignoring facts the left does not like.
The only 'telos' for an institution is grants. Grantors don't want truth.
This specific prejudice against linear thinking is hardly new. Most institutions started honestly and openly pleasing the grantors back in the '70s, and often maligned linear thinking in that decade.
If you want objectivity, you have to make it for yourself. Believe your own senses and experiences instead of someone else's senses and experiences. Be your own beacon. There's no alternative.
The whole article from Ms. Farrell seems totally misplaced. I'd have a heck of a lot less problem with it if its thrust was something more like "Objectivity and research rigor are critical to the investigating the facts of the world and arriving at policy goals. However, as they are currently practiced in some cases, they obscure rather than elucidate the world. The principles described herein will strengthen the objectivity and improve rigor."
I still may have some issues with the specific recommendations, but at least we can agree on our overall values. If you think objectivity and rigor harm research, you don't belong in research.
They could have said something perfectly reasonable, something like
" There's a history of using claims of objectivity to reinforce racism, so be aware of it." But noooo! ( Apologies to John Belushi.)
From the article: "...Sarah Rosen Wartell, stepped in with her own statement assuring the public that posts on the blog “represent individual authors’ views and not Urban policy.”
When I read that, I immediately thought about the ACLU and one of its most prominent lawyers, trans-right advocate, Chase Strangio, who also has made some unusual, let's say, remarks about regarding the ACLU and its mission.
Eventually, the ACLU issued a weak-tea disclaimer about them. But the disclaimer is just that.
Thank you for the article! May the telos of truth prevail!!