Dialogical ethics and reflections on unfinalizability: An analysis of dissenting voices in a film contest study

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    In this chapter I explore questions of research ethics from the perspective of dialogue theory through an analysis of a study I carried out in 2009-2010. The analysis focuses on dissenting voices among research participants. Voices, in a Bakhtinian sense, include the situated interplay of differences in language as well as discourse, ideology, themes (see Phillips 2011: 160). The dissenting voices arose in relation to an event, which was organized as part of the wider, collective research project to which my study belonged. This event took the form of a film contest in which participants submitted machinima films – that is, animated films produced in virtual spaces such as Second Life or online games such as World of Warcraft – and distributed via the Internet.
    The aim of my study was to gain insight into three areas of digital audiovisual media production, namely, the sorts of authorship practices emerging online, the semiosis (meaning-making) of these new kinds of texts (such as machinima films), and the communication and collaboration in online spaces (such as online communities where filmmakers create and share these new kinds of digital audiovisual texts). The production of machinima film in virtual worlds may sound like a strange activity set in a foreign, exotic space to some readers. Yet within the frames of these sorts of online spaces, communication unfolds in many ways: people meet each other, create textual practices, and constitute social networks of, and for, meaning-making, or discourse.

    My exploration of dialogic research ethics explores online communication as one kind of situated, discursive practice where dissenting voices are articulated. My analysis takes the form of a reflexive examination of ethics in regards to the dissenting voices among a group of research participants, who all had submitted machinima films to a film contest. Based on empirical analysis, I discuss the different power positions and knowledge interests by participants and researcher – and the impact of power asymmetry – upon the relationships between the involved people. I find it especially relevant to apply Bakhtin’s principle of the unfinalizable (Bakhtin 1981, 1984) – that there is no fixed or final interpretation, and no one has – or ought to have – the final word (except for instance, when someone dies). Following this principle involves an approach that is sometimes termed open-ended, but which may more aptly be called “unfinalizable” as Frank suggests in his discussion of the ethical imperatives of dialogic research (2005: 966). Since there is no final statement, there is only continuing dialogue through which a participant in a dialogue – such as in a research project – continues, “to become who they may yet be” (2005: 967).
    The dissensus that occurred among participants in my study served to remind me, as researcher, to heighten my awareness of difference (among voices) and open up for multiple, heterogeneous voices. A dialogic approach seeks to avoid the finalization or closure of the “monologic” whereby an attempt is made to reduce “the unfinalizable, open and multivocal process of meaning-making” to a totalising, closed, and univocal system of meaning-making – a singular voice (Baxter 2006: 102). Dissensus, or multivocal opposition, opens up for multiple voices and can be conducive to a reflexive understanding of conversational choices and the workings of knowledge and power in dialogue which can further individual and community development and empowerment (Phillips 2011: 40-41). The unfinalizable is thereby a useful principle for reflexivity about taking a dialogic approach, such as, for probing how to seek the articulation of multiple voices, rather than closure. For instance, by asking “nice”, supportive, non-confrontational interview questions and being empathic, a researcher risks not opening up for critical voices, and thereby also restricts analytic themes (Kvale 2006).

    The empirical data in the research study are based on exploring authorship practices, the semiosis of machinima films, and the relationships in online spaces relating to the machinima film contest which was held as part of the wider research project to which my study belonged. The data include different perspectives on the voting process for winning an audience prize in the film contest.
    My aim in this chapter is to discuss and demonstrate how Bakhtin’s theory of dialogue can be applied in qualitative research in order to pursue a form of research ethics that is based on recognition of the unfinalizable nature of meaning-making and active cultivation of difference as a positive dynamic for change. Phillips suggests that the application of Bakhtin’s dialogic theories “forms a lens with two related trajectories” (2011: 40) – one trajectory has a focus on meaning-making, the other on relations between voices. I refer to both trajectories, but especially to the ethical implications of dissenting voices and tensions arising from the unfinalizability of relations with research participants
    In my analysis, I focus partly on how participants in my study themselves brought up questions of ethics, power and morals and partly on how my own role and relations with the participants developed since my role was associated with the role of my university with respect to questions of ethics, power and morals.
    The questions brought up by the research participants led me to realise that I had initially overlooked various ethical aspects and downplayed power asymmetries. In particular, I had not realised how my initial dialogical conceptions were supported by, in Kvale’s terms, an “empathetic dialogical conceptions of the research interview as a conflict- and power-free zone” (2006: 483) which impacted on how I had initially related to and with the research participants. For instance, when the participants told me about experiences in film contests in general (including the importance of winning, and concerns with fairness in voting). I was slow to realise that the specific film contest sponsored by my university had to do with winning – and with ethics, power and morals. This recognition gave me the impetus to work reflexively with dissenting voices among the participants and led me to pursue additional interviews on the theme of ethics in contests in order to gain a wider repertoire of voices. Thereby, my ongoing reflexive analysis of the dissenting voices changed during the course of the ongoing study. Furthermore, I gained interest for ethical issues relating to creative practices and social relations in online spaces (social media). Therefore, my interest, insights, and the kind of knowledge I gained also shifted.

    Applying Bakhtin’s analytical lens, I explore the implications of a dialogic understanding of I-other relations and the research participants’ competing, different or dissenting voices. Such dissensus or conflict is understood as an integral aspect of social life as people in conversation constantly choose among a wide repertoire of voices and privilege certain voices over others. More specifically, though, dissension in research involves particular positions and patterns where certain participants (including the researcher) talk on the basis of expertise, power or authority. In addition, I consider how relations in a research study develop with attention to the particularities of the social context and kinds of knowledge that frame the research. In this regard, I draw upon the film contest study in order to examine the challenges or problems associated with developing social relations in research practices. These challenges or problems involve the negotiation of tensions across voices that narrate events taking place in the online context. I focus especially on specific problems related to research online, because online spaces are relatively new social arenas and may present particular problems related to the study of individuals and practices (such as, machinima filmmakers and their creative practices).
    My main empirical research question is inspired by Phillips’ presentation and application of Bakhtin’s theory as an analytical lens for communication research (2011: 40): What voices are articulated in my study, and what tensions emerge from the occurrence of dissenting voices? And on the basis of my answer to this question, I then discuss the implications of a Bakhtinian dialogic approach for research ethics in general. Bakhtin’s theory of dialogue suggests that principles, norms and ideals for social change do exist, but it does not provide guidance as such on how to apply dialogic principles in order to understand, analyse and practically deal with negotiations in research practice. Therefore, I draw upon contemporary approaches to dialogic-oriented research in communication, psychology and organizational development (Phillips 2011, Baxter 2011).

    The chapter is divided into three parts. In the first part, I present dialogic theory and ethics with a focus on the principle of the unfinalizable. I discuss three neo-Bakhtinian concepts: otherness (or the dynamics of meeting I/I, and I/thou), heteroglossia (or multivoicedness), and space (or context, including online spaces) and construct a theoretical framework built around these three concepts. In the second part, I outline the study including details about the film contest, and apply the theoretical framework in analysis of the dissenting voices that emerged during the interview process. In this analysis, I focus on questions of research ethics based on application of Bakhtin’s theory of dialogue.. In the third part, I present and discuss the wider implications for research practice of a dialogic approach to research ethics. This discussion focuses on Bakhtin’s principle of the unfinalizable and his critique of monologism for its exclusion or marginalisation of other voices and interpretations. There, I also discuss the main empirical question in relation to three aspects: the interpretation of multiple voices, power in interview relations and ethical issues of online. I suggest here that it is crucial to develop methodologies that take account of the complexities of dialogic-oriented research. Finally, I consider the unfinalizable as a principle that may actually maintain, rather than dilute, the researcher’s authorial voice as a producer of research-based knowledge.
    TitelKnowledge and Power in Collaborative Research : A Reflexive Approach
    RedaktørerLouise Phillips, Marianne Kristiansen, Ewa Gunnarsson, Marja Vehvilainen
    Antal sider19
    Udgivelses stedNew York, London
    ISBN (Trykt)9780415540247
    StatusUdgivet - 2013
    BegivenhedSymposium on Reflexive Strategies for Collaborative Research - Roskilde Universitet, Roskilde, Danmark
    Varighed: 29 okt. 201230 okt. 2012


    SymposiumSymposium on Reflexive Strategies for Collaborative Research
    LokationRoskilde Universitet
    AndetForskringssymposium med offentligt foredrag af Kenneth Gergenog bogreception
    Navn Routledge Advances in Research Methods


    • Etik
    • konflikter
    • dialogisk forskningskommunikation
    • online fællesskab
    • mediedeltagelse
    • filmproduktion
    • konkurrence
    • poststrukturalisme

    Citer dette

    Frølunde, L. (2013). Dialogical ethics and reflections on unfinalizability: An analysis of dissenting voices in a film contest study. I L. Phillips, M. Kristiansen, E. Gunnarsson, & M. Vehvilainen (red.), Knowledge and Power in Collaborative Research: A Reflexive Approach (s. 171-190). Routledge. Routledge Advances in Research Methods http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415540247/