Hypo(etry)thesis: Science meets Art meets Science

If you haven’t seen the little experiment I’ve been working on in the blog, you may want to check back a few postings. Initially, based on a course I was teaching in Sydney on Research Methods, I was inspired to write about ways that researchers can try to cross, or at least dive into, the divide separating qualitative and quantitative research approaches. I offered up an idea of transmutability, which would take qualitative findings and help to translate them into statements that looked more propositional or hypotheco-deductive.I posted a poem that I had written for CCT this year called “Stigmatic Enterprise.”

A major benefit of this experiment was the fascinating responses posted by three readers. Their fascinating interpretations of the poem point to the variety of interpretations that a poem can elicit.

  • Renan considered the poem to be a type of metaphorical exposition on the interviewer-interviewee research relationship.
  • Kiwi Anchy considered it in broader and more general terms as considering the consumption system, the role of needs, wants, desires, and the other in this system.
  • Daiane offered another systemic read, but she posited that it principally concerned stigma and stigmatization, and also finding the role of the media in this process.

Each of these interpretations is worth further close consideration. Following, I will present a stanza-by-stanza interpretation of the poem. There is, of course, considerable interpretive “wiggle room” in my interpretation, but the very act of interpreting it this way both solidifies particular meanings as well as illuminates alternate meanings.

The exercise shows that hypotheco-deductive style theory generation from polysemous (containing multiple meanings) poetry is a creative exercise in itself, one that can be quite productive for generating theories.

Channel Me/ channel my
Desires/ flotation
Devices in a sea
Of mes, of mys, of Other
Needs and faces and wants to

Here, I was considering what it means to be a self in consumer culture. The mechanical nature of structure, the freedom of agency, the sense of others and Other involved in the sense of “culture.” I choose in my interpretation here to narrow down into the sense of subjectively experiencing consumer culture captured in this first stanza.

Proposition 1: Consumer culture is subjectively experiences as an unending series of choices between desires that offer the consumer a sense of refuge, comfort, exciting alternate other selves, social contact with other people.

Hypothesis 1a: Consumer mentions of consumer culture will be correlated with positive associations of a choice of other self-identities.

Hypothesis 1b: Consumer mentions of consumer culture will be correlated with positive associations of belonging to social groups.

Get into it
Get over it

In this stanza, I emphasize the temporary but mandatory nature of trends, styles, and fashions that typify living in a consumer culture, and consider in these hypotheses how they can be subjectively experienced.

Proposition 2: Consumer culture is subjectively experienced as a series of socially driven commands insisting or demanding that particular cultures, subcultures, communities or lifestyles are desirable and should be entered, and then subsequently (at time t+1) that these cultures, subcultures, communities and lifestyle are undesirable and should be exited.

Hypotheses 2a: Mentions of consumer culture related topics by consumers will be correlated with negative associations of social pressure to enter into particular lifestyle-related behaviors.

Hypothesis 2b: Mentions of consumer culture related topics by consumers will be correlated with negative associations of social pressure to leave particular lifestyle-related behaviors.

Get in
Get out

Get on it
Get it

On channels/ in channels/from channels/ I channel it
Raw unfeeling feeling: I
Need it NOW

This stanza continues the prior theme of moving in and out of consumer culture and the role of the mass media (“On channels….from channels”) in the interrelated sense of identity (“I channel it”) and need to participate in the culture (I need it…”). As with the other propositions, I extrapolate somewhat freely, trying to turn a poetic statement into a statement that can be tested.

Proposition 3: The desire to partake in current consumer culture is experienced intensely through the consumption of the mass media and, in particular, through identification with desirable mass media personalities and characters (“channeling”).

Hypothesis 3a: Consumers exposed to desirable media personalities engaged in a particular consumer (sub)culture will be more likely to engage in that (sub)culture’s related consumption patterns and acts that those who are not exposed to that media personality.

Hypothesis 3b: Consumer who find a particular media consumer (sub)culture-associated media personality to be positive and desirable as a role model or image will be more likely to engage in that (sub)culture’s related consumption patterns and acts that those who find the media personality to be negative and undesirable.

Hypothesis 3c: Cultivation effects will be intensified by the attractiveness of media personalities and characters and their appeal to individuals.

You like it you like that
I like it
the way I like it

This stanza is perhaps more colloquial and risqué, wrapping words around the frequently-noted and studied connection between sexual innuendo and commercial culture.

Proposition 4: The desire for consumer culture has strong characteristics of fulfillment and the approval culture surrounding sexuality, attractiveness, and power.

Hypothesis 4a: The language expressed by consumers to describe their desire to enter into a particular consumer culture will have significant associations to sexual fulfillment.

Hypothesis 4b: The language expressed by consumers to describe their desire to enter into a particular consumer culture will have significant associations to social approval.

But fade shades possible
and newness sharing doubts

I want your desire
uncovered,
a pure something/
else

this moment
passes
my disappointed heart
along,
ever
unfaithful.

This is, as those who interpreted the poem all noted, the most complex and polysemous series of stanza in the poem. The first stanza talks about the shade of doubt hanging over the adoption of any product, trend or style, and the word “fade” here puns with the word “fad.” Thus, sharing the newness of any product, trend or trend carries doubts and cautions. And yet these is still want, a pure Lacanian-Freudian desire-eros. We want to desire-we are desiring being, and our being inheres in the directionality of desire. We are communal, too, and mystery seeking. Thus we want what other’s want, and we want to uncover their desire. We want authenticity, perfection, quintessence, and we want what which is exotic and unfamiliar, too: a “pure something/else.” The slash is the desperation, insistency, and even threat: give me “a pure something…or else.”

And yet satisfaction is impossible in consumer culture. All moments of fashion, all designs of technology, all branded primaturs of quality and stylishness, all media-boosted, ego-boosting ‘moments’ must pass. And dissapointment, the lack of lasting fulfillment, drives the consumer culture cycle.

Proposition 5: Consumers culture is subjectively experienced as a series of disappointments and sadnesses, of longing unfulfilled and the self-image of endless choices that must be made and which drive the consumer away from constancy, stability, and tradition. This endless change driving endless trial is, in the end, accepted. I recognize myself as both disappointed and “ever unfaithful.”

Hypothesis 5a: The narratives expressed by consumers to describe their experience of consumer culture will contain significant negative associations of goal frustration.

Hypothesis 5b: The narratives expressed by consumers to describe their experience of consumer culture will contain significant and negative repeated mentions of forced consumption choices.

Hypothesis 5c: The narratives expressed by consumers to describe their experience of consumer culture will contain significant and repeated negative mentions of the loss of stability.

So, let’s look at these propositions without the poem at all.

Proposition 1: Consumer culture is subjectively experiences as an unending series of choices between desires that offer the consumer a sense of refuge, comfort, exciting alternate other selves, social contact with other people.

Hypothesis 1a: Consumer mentions of consumer culture will be correlated with positive associations of a choice of other self-identities.

Hypothesis 1b: Consumer mentions of consumer culture will be correlated with positive associations of belonging to social groups.

Proposition 2: Consumer culture is subjectively experienced as a series of socially driven commands insisting or demanding that particular cultures, subcultures, communities or lifestyles are desirable and should be entered, and then subsequently (at time t+1) that these cultures, subcultures, communities and lifestyle are undesirable and should be exited.

Hypotheses 2a: Mentions of consumer culture related topics by consumers will be correlated with negative associations of social pressure to enter into particular lifestyle-related behaviors.

Hypothesis 2b: Mentions of consumer culture related topics by consumers will be correlated with negative associations of social pressure to leave particular lifestyle-related behaviors.

Proposition 3: The desire to partake in current consumer culture is experienced intensely through the consumption of the mass media and, in particular, through identification with desirable mass media personalities and characters (“channeling”).

Hypothesis 3a: Consumers exposed to desirable  media personalities engaged in a particular consumer (sub)culture will be more likely to engage in that (sub)culture’s related consumption patterns and acts that those who are not exposed to that media personality.

Hypothesis 3b: Consumer who find a particular media consumer (sub)culture-associated media personality to be positive and desirable as a role model or image will be more likely to engage in that (sub)culture’s related consumption patterns and acts that those who find the media personality to be negative and undesirable.

Hypothesis 3c: Cultivation effects will be intensified by the attractiveness of media personalities and characters and their appeal to individuals.

Proposition 4: The desire for consumer culture has strong characteristics of sexual fulfillment and the approval culture surrounding sexuality, attractiveness, and power.

Hypothesis 4a: The language expressed by consumers to describe their desire to enter into a particular consumer culture will have significant associations to sexual fulfillment.

Hypothesis 4b: The language expressed by consumers to describe their desire to enter into a particular consumer culture will have significant associations to social approval.

Proposition 5: Consumers culture is subjectively experienced as a series of disappointments and sadnesses, of longing unfulfilled and the self-image of endless choices that must be made and which drive the consumer away from constancy, stability, and tradition.

Hypothesis 5a: The narratives expressed by consumers to describe their experience of consumer culture will contain significant negative associations of goal frustration.

Hypothesis 5b: The narratives expressed by consumers to describe their experience of consumer culture will contain significant and negative repeated mentions of forced consumption choices.

Hypothesis 5c: The narratives expressed by consumers to describe their experience of consumer culture will contain significant and repeated negative mentions of the loss of stability.

As a group of propositions and hypotheses, they are a bit gnarled and grizzled. Certainly not the most attractive and cohesive set of propositions and hypotheses. They often deal on the cultural level of constructs that could be a bit hard to measure. They don’t really cohere nicely into some over-arching theoretical framework. They aren’t really elegant and pretty. I probably could have spent a lot more time thinking about them and slicing them with Occam’s razor.

But maybe there is something there, too. I’ve certainly seen worse hypotheses. Some of them, maybe even more than some, are not particularly obvious. They don’t have that all-too-familiar air of tautological reasoning about them.

Maybe the poetry freed me up to realize some new things and then the act of hypothesis generating imposed some discipline and structure onto that expressiveness that led to something maybe a little bit new being said, an articulation of an idea that is just a tiny bit fresh and different. Maybe. Possibly.

It was certainly an interesting experiment for me. A little gedanken, a thought experiment. The transmutation process was uncomfortable, awkward, imperfect, and challenging.

I’d really like to hear from others about what they thought of this. How would you go about transmuting other people’s or your own research into these terms? Would you be willing to try this exercise, to do this experiment?

Maybe, just maybe, this is something to talk about…I’m going to post a second, significantly longer poem that I also wrote for the CCT Conference this year in another post, coming soon.

One Response

  1. Kiwi Anchy November 18, 2008

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