Professor Dvora Yanow
Wageningen University, The Netherlands
About Dvora Yanow
A political/policy/organizational ethnographer and interpretive methodologist, I teach and research topics that take up the generation and communication of knowing and meaning in policy and organizational settings. I am a Guest Professor in Wageningen University’s Department of Social Sciences’ Communication, Philosophy, and Technology Sub-Department (The Netherlands) and am currently exploring state-created categories for race-ethnic identity, immigrant integration policies, and citizen-making practices; research ethics and their regulatory policies; practice studies; and science/technology museums and the idea of science. Interpretive Research Design (2012), with Peregrine Schwartz-Shea, launched our co-edited Routledge Series on Interpretive Methods; our co-edited Interpretation and Method is out in a second edition.
Interpretation in a Time of ‘Truthiness'
Truthiness: “the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true
based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals,
without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.”
US television political satirist Stephen Colbert introduced the term “truthiness” in the pilot episode of his program, The Colbert Report, on 17 October 2005. Its uptake was immediate and continues to have impact today. Why should this matter for interpretive research? The current political climate, and not just in the US, provides fertile ground for querying—and challenging—the epistemological claims of interpretive social science: if we do not lay claim to knowledge based on objective, “rigorous” research, what kind of science are we doing? Isn’t this just more impressionistic opinion-mongering?
Scholars doing “interpretive” work have often been challenged for doing research that does not conform to the hegemonic model of science, condensed in the “scientific method.” My concern is that it may now become more difficult than it was previously to have certain conversations, about research, about methods, and about teaching certain courses. Roxanne Gay wrote in the August 20 New York Times about having taken Hilary Clinton’s election for granted. It seems to me that many of us may have taken other things for granted: certainly “democracy” and its values, but also the values of “science.” Shared values, beliefs, and feelings that we took for granted before no longer seem so self-evident. These include the value of “pluralism,” however that might be named, including its presence in the academy and in methodological conversations and their enactments in conferences, journals, departments, dissertations, and so on. It is in this context, and more specifically in the context of interpretive methodological presuppositions and the methods that put them into practice, that I think we need to have a more explicit conversation about “truth” and knowledge claims than we have typically had in the past. That requires an understanding of what it means to “do” science and to “be” scientific, in addition to a grounding in what makes for interpretive science.