Breaking Silences: An Inquiry into Marginality and Resistance and the Creative-Research Process

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Breaking Silences: An Inquiry into Marginality and Resistance and the Creative-Research Process

Doctoral Proposal

by X
Supervisor: X

Committee Members: X & X

Student number: XXXXXXXX
February, 2004
Breaking Silences: An Inquiry into Marginality and Resistance and the Creative-Research Process

Proposal Contents

  1. Time line

  2. Introductory Paraphrase

  3. Fiction

  4. The transwriter-researcher and fiction writing

  5. The data of life - imagination!

  6. Some challenges

  7. Literary tradition and educational adventure

  8. Musings

  9. Preamble to sample Bildungsroman section

  10. Sample yarn

  11. References

Breaking Silences: An Inquiry into Marginality and Resistance and the Creative-Research Process
Time line
1) Proposal meeting and ethical review February 2003

2) Submit thesis to supervisor By late March, 2003

3) Submit thesis to committee By late April, 2004

4) Final committee meeting May, 2004

5) Internal and External examiners By July, 2004

6) Thesis examination By Fall 2004

Introductory 1Paraphrase

Using fiction writing as a vehicle, I inquire into themes relating to marginality and resistance, and the creative-research process. Fiction writing is proposed as a creative-research process through which I review ideas via the characters. The story is a medium in which interlocutors may interact with issues presented by the writer-researcher. As a Bildungsroman, it traces the main character's evolution in life, and examination of intersectional identity - ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, geographical location, language and culture, religion, and disability. Canada has a diverse population. Enhanced understanding of those at the outskirts of dominant pedagogies, and discourses, through intersectional identity themes, has important social and educational implications of an emancipatory nature (Irvine, 1994; Parsons & Brown, 2001; Wallace, 2000).

In the educational novel, the central character, Alex, an educator in Toronto, receives a call to return home to Newfoundland. His mother is dying. She whispers to him about a cassette she has hidden away, amidst her chaotic babbling. Alex must find this cassette and confront the haunting past – the ex-girlfriend with her son, who might have been his, the sometimes sensitive father, who shares his stories of woe, the brother who is a labourer, and married to a school teacher. There are flashbacks to Alex being 'othered' for disability and nonconformity to masculine stereotypes. Alex is pushed to re-evaluate, re-examine, and re-invent new meanings, knowledge, and ways of knowing, including musings on the creative-research process. The interactions and voices of the characters allow me to narratively analyse notions of marginality and resistance, and share these with interlocutors1. In this way, the characters imagine new identities and possibilities, and interlocutors may as well, so that new freedom is gained (Foucault, 1988).

I count as research, reflective efforts to study the world, and to create ways to share what I have learned about it (Eisner, 1997). My thesis will contain both an educational novel, and a shorter Prelude. Although both will critically inquire into the creative-research process, and marginality and resistance, the Prelude will respond more specifically to the challenge to articulate the creative-research process (Barone & Eisner, 1997; Eisner, 1997; Finely & Knowles, 1995; Fordon, 2000; Sheppard & Hartman, 1989). I foresee educators, researchers, administrators, and students (secondary and postsecondary), as the primary target audience for this thesis. Nevertheless, it is hoped that a broader public may read the educational novel. There are no final truths in this thesis - only a milieu in which critical issues in education may be explored and perspectives (re)considered. This project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) 2003-2004.

*A note before reading this proposal: The process and rationale for my research are intimately intertwined (Freitas, 2001). Separating them would prove cumbersome and defeat my proposal’s holistic nature. This proposal entails self-exploratory, imaginative reflectivity of myself as researcher-artist (Finley & Knowles, 1995), complicated because I consider myself more aptly a ‘transwriter-researcher’, transgressing status quo modes of research and form, and integrating taboo themes and theories linked to homosexuality, amongst other types of marginality or ‘otherness’. Furthermore, male subjectivity and gender expectations are energetically regulated in society (Fine, 1999; Pollack, 1998), and my thesis is a highly subjective, imaginative inquiry, with leitmotifs of sexuality, which are intended to ‘trouble’ interlocutors. Leitmotifs of homosexuality, homophobia, heterosexism, and gender policing, in particular, permeate my work and ideologies. In academia, and larger society, implicit and explicit power structures seek to silence, regulate, and oppress any research dealing with homosexuality, and non-standard theories (Bryson & Castell, 1993). The authority of this proposal, like my thesis, will depend on the power of the interlocutor to question canonical textual forms (Blumenfeld-Jones & Barone, 1997), be open to oppositional, poststructuralist writing, and rely on imagination, intuition, and creativity. I depend on the interlocutor to metacognitively read outside hegemonic structures, as I often focus 'inward', instead of looking 'outward' for data, towards imagination, tacit knowledge, and implicit understanding. I strongly believe that research should allow philosophers to challenge academic norms with radical, critical teaching and research that may help liberate the human spirit.

Fiction threatens the whole research enterprise, anchored as it is in notions of reliability, validity, and objectivity, in reporting (Banks & Banks, 1998). Objectivity in reporting specifically refers to a need for the researcher's imagination to be absent from the narrative. But over the past fifteen years, ethnography, autobiography, and storytelling have surged forth, embracing researchers' emotions and decisions during fieldwork and writing. However, fiction goes beyond this and calls into question the validity and reliability of the research. What fiction can do is evoke the emotions of felt experience and portray the values, pathos, grandeur and spirituality of the human condition and experience. Picasso is reputed to have said that we know all art is not truth - art as a lie makes us realize truth. This is a governing motivation – I wish to appeal to interlocutors in provocative ways that fiction writing is best suited to accomplish. In this way, ideas surrounding marginality and resistance may be explored, and many ‘truths’ challenged, discussed, and reconsidered.

Barone (1995), having used participant observation and interviews, crafted a fictionalised biographical portrait of an at-risk Appalachian teenager. He determined the relevancy of particular observations to the story's plot and excluded those deemed irrelevant. His purpose was to create a world the interlocutor could vicariously experience, not a representation of literal truth, but a plausible story that raised questions. Rishma Dunlop did a similar thing in her doctoral thesis (Dunlop, 2002). Boundary Bay began with tape recorded data collection in the form of semi-structured interviews with a group of 5 volunteer participants, newly graduated teachers specializing in secondary English and art. The interviews occurred over two and a half years. During this time, Rishma decided she would best convey the stories in a novel, inspired by the Bildungsroman, the novel of education or formation. Rishma expanded to the novelist's use of poetry, diverse stories, and links to other texts that moved beyond the original intent of working with transcribed narratives. Her own narratives of reading, writing, and teaching spilled over and connected to other stories. For her, the novel was a form that could represent teachers' stories in powerful, evocative ways. The stories she chose to represent were stories that moved her, enabling her to see things in different ways through characters (e.g., the first year teacher, the gay jock, the artsy teenager, the seasoned teacher-writer and mother). I will go beyond this, using imagination, tacit knowledge, and fiction as my research, presenting Alex’s story to my interlocutors.

There is no data in the traditional sense, of interviews or observations, for instance. Grounded in the creative reconstruction of analysis-of-narrative by social scientists such as Denzin and Lincoln (1999; 2000), and Stephen P. Banks and Anna Banks (1998), I employ fiction to evoke the emotions of felt experience and portray the values, pathos, grandeur and spirituality of the human condition and experience. Education and educational research is the construction and reconstruction of personal and social stories (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990), and writing fiction is a relentless reflexive process that demands an immediate saturated experience of language and context (de Freitas, 2001). I follow a poststructuralist paradigm, in which all constructions are fiction. Like Higgs (1996, p. 396), I attempt to use experience and tacit knowledge as ‘data’ for the construction of an educational novel which explores questions relevant to marginality and resistance, and the creative research process. Similar to Eisner (1997), I count as research reflective efforts to study the world, and to create new ways to share what I have learned about it. Research, then, can be an investigation of imaginary forms and intuitive works.

I attempt to respond to a need to give voice to intersectional identities rather than forcing people to choose one standpoint, such as ethnicity, sexual identity, social class, or gender (Irvine, 1994). New approaches should integrate analysis of intersectional identity, for society is increasingly diverse. Furthermore, many influential and often-cited authors are queer but not coming out - and almost no one is talking about the impact of sexual difference on pedagogical processes in relation to their own sexual identity (Bryson & Castell, 1993; Khayatt, 1992; Kissen, 1996; McCart, 1994; Parravano, 1995; Wren, 1999). My critical appendix will reflect this outing, as I problematise my queer identity, subjectivity, and positioning, as they relate to the creative-research process in the critical appendix. I intend to respond to a need for future professionals, versed in multiculturalism, to revise and refine multicultural and anti-oppressive training, in order to better address diversity (Parsons & Brown, 2001; Wallace, 2000). This thesis may also be used by a broad spectrum of educators, students, and educational administrators, and interested ‘non-educationalist’ laypersons.

Cole & Knowles (p. 211) define eight elements of arts-based research which infuse my fictional inquiry, and are discussed holistically throughout my proposal:

  1. Intentionality. The inquiry must have both an intellectual and a socially responsible purpose; arts-informed research representations are opportunities for transformation, revelation, or some other intellectual and moral shift. They must be more than good stories. Similarly, I hope to problematise issues surrounding marginality and resistance, related to intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, geographical location, language and culture, and disability. The characters in my educational novel will be the vehicles through which I do this. For instance, the main character, Alex is Métis, Francophone, gay, from a rural area, etc., and this serves to drive conflicts in the plot.

  1. Researcher Presence. Through the word and inference, the researcher's persona is unabashedly and uniquely felt. His/her life clearly and unambiguously touches those of the participants. There is reflective self-accounting. As I am using implicit or tacit knowledge from my entire life, including memories which I fictionalize, moments from literature and cinema, social observations, and educational literature, my persona is intricately woven into every word. In my life as a student, educator, and researcher, I dwell upon issues of culture, minoritization, and identity, which infuse this research.

  1. Methodological Commitment. The inquiry process and procedures are principled and ideologically grounded. There is a deep reflective quality to process. Fiction writing is relentlessly reflective process. This is a holistic endeavor where I stringently engage in analysis and debate over what to include and exclude, story, and structure.

  1. Holistic Quality. The story or stories possess an internal consistency, coherence, integrity and authenticity. Unlike more conventional research processes, which tend to be more linear, sequential, compartmentalized, and distanced from researcher and participants, there is nevertheless a high level of authenticity and sincerity of the research inquiry, interpretation, and representational form. Here, structure is at tension with relating philosophical ideas in a readable, accessible way. The story must show an internal consistence and coherence in keeping with the educational novel genre.

  1. Communicability. The story as offered is resonant, evocative, and sensitively accessible to audiences beyond the academy. The main purpose is one of connecting, holistically, to the hearts, souls, and minds of readers. Indeed, the catalyst of my doctoral work is to reach out to others, not only in the academy, but beyond. While my target audience is people in education, whether mature students, teachers, administrators, or researchers, I hope the scope of my educational novel will eclipse this. Bringing enhanced awareness of intersectional identity and forms of marginality in society in unconventional ways should affect interlocutors.

  1. Aesthetic Form. Here, we are concerned with aesthetic quality and appeal. In the former, it is important that the form of the novel follow conventions of that genre, albeit a highly subjective judgment. Although both are intertwined, what is more important is the latter, in that how well the novel works to communicate its purpose. My educational novel is more than ‘a good story’. I hope it will effectively communicate my understanding of marginality and resistance, and the creative-research process, while not being too overt or pedantic. I attribute a high level of sophistication on the part of interlocutors, and an openness and sensitivity to the conflicts and nuances I will artfully propose.

  1. Knowledge Claims. This is perhaps a major strength of arts-informed research. As researchers, we try to advance knowledge in various ways. As researchers, we make claims in overt and subtle ways. Our stance as arts-based or informed researchers, is that we reject any notions of absolute and objective Truth. No claims will be made that are universal, finite, or conclusive. In other words, the inquiry cannot claim to reveal anything beyond the complexity and experience of life. Any knowledge claims must have enough humility and ambiguity to allow for multiple interpretations and reader response. In the novel section, Jackytar, there will be no truths or conclusions, even though the main character may reach increased self-awareness and awareness of societal beliefs, norms and customs, as might interlocutors. Rather, I seek to invoke and provoke multiple interpretations and rigourous critique and questioning.

  1. Contributions. Our work has theoretical and transformative potential. The representation of a story or stories has potential to provide insight into the human condition, and for the development of new theoretical or practical approaches to qualitative inquiry. As researchers, we can imagine new possibilities for those our work is about and for. We are active agents of the state, university, and society. We embrace our responsibilities towards fellow human beings. As artists and scholars, we seek to bridge the gaps between community and the academy. This is very important to me. I intend to continue presenting on issues of marginality and resistance, and the creative-research process as an academic and a scholar, who is also a fiction writer (Gosse, 2003b, 2003c, 2004a, 2004b). While I provide insights into marginality and resistance and the creative-research process, and connected themes of intersectional identity and violence, I actively engage in scholarly sharing and analysis of my research to share with others, in academia, and in the school system, as well as the wider potential interlocutorship of my educational novel once published. This has transformational potential for those with whom I share my work, and with whom I exchange ideas.

Storytelling is a central part of Newfoundland culture, except we call it yarnin’ (Tucker, 1987). We tell yarns when we fish and labour in the woods, or work in public service, or as judges, doctors, and academics. Our teachers tell us yarns in school. Fadder told animated stories around the kitchen table when his siblings visited. He had eleven, so thankfully they didn’t come all at once! They played cards and yarned as I tried to finish my homework and sleep, but I didn’t mind. There was something cosy about it. Quieter evenings, Mudder lulled me to sleep with stories of fairies in the hills of New Devon. Her tales of our ancestors on the cold Atlantic, of the quirky men and women in our family history, somehow rendered strife funnier and more bearable.

In my happiest moments, much tea was consumed and black strap molasses buns consumed with Nan and Pop. We’d scarf down lassie buns with bits ‘a fat pork in ‘em like it was honey! Fish ‘n brews. Standard ship fare carried over from our adventurous ancestors who departed England and Ireland to escape oppression. Some even found it. Some are still trying. I carry their Wanderlust. I longed to experience adventure . . . yet, unbeknownst to my family, at least in certain ways, I had my own adventures going on . . . I was leading a life of quiet desperation.


(and they weren’t talking about kindling2)

“He has fits, ya know! Ha!”

(and they weren’t talking about a birch broom3)

Although I didn’t have the same vocabulary at the time, I longed to escape the ‘othering’ that characterized my life as someone branded ‘epileptic’, and the rampant homophobia and heterosexism. Novels helped me escape, to reconsider the frequent drudgery of daily life, and imagine alternate possibilities. Novels fed my imagination and gave me hope. They were my teachers and among my best friends. From a young age, my mother and I shared the same books. As she earned her English degree, then her B.Ed. and M.Ed, our taste in literature also grew to appreciate Thomas Hardy and Chaucer. My high school English teacher, my Uncle Johnny, also exchanged these books and shared his own. We regularly discussed them in class. Eventually, through studies and work, I studied and travelled in New Brunswick. St. Pierre et Miquelon. Quebec. Guadeloupe. USA. Mexico. Cuba. England. Europe. Africa. Even St. John’s was initially a big trip for me. I was bilingual by my late teens. Sometimes I lived as an Anglophone minority in Quebec or France. Sometimes I was the Francophone representative in Anglo-dominant culture, such as St. John’s or Toronto. Always I was gay, although often closeted, with memories of epilepsy, of New Cove, trying to understand the past, trying to carve out a path in the future. I wrote profuse journals and fiction to better understand life, society, and the status quo.

Always, yarning remained the focal essence of my teaching, my learning, my research, my being. From my teens onward, I wrote poetry and short stories, several of which were published in magazines, journals and newspapers. Two of my novels were also published. As a writer-researcher, I like to imagine, “What if?” After extensively researching Celtic mythology, contemporary Newfoundland novels, and gothic fiction (I read and studied about sixty gothic novels), I wrote a satiric Gothic novel with vampire metaphors. This was a daring, non-traditional literary style in Newfoundland literature, a first of its type. The Celtic Cross (Gosse, 1995) criticized the oppressive social class structure of Newfoundland, challenged pastoral Newfoundland literature, and inversed traditional power dynamics and gender roles, though an anti-hero main character, and a more powerful character who was an elderly woman. Everything - characters, setting, plot, conflict, was infused with Newfoundland culture. Fiction writing, exploration of narrative and theme, is an act of inquiry in itself. It was a provincial best seller, and critically received.

I continued teaching French, English, and German language and literature in secondary school and university. Once again, I delved into the recesses of my adolescent memories, and into my daily life as a junior high school teacher, to create an adolescent realistic novel, The Romeo & Juliet Murders (Gosse, 1996). It differed from much conflict driven North American adolescent literature, since the mid-1980s (Huck, Hepler, & Hickman, 1987). Unlike Shakespeare’s play, it was a novel with all Newfoundland setting and characters. I infused the central character with deep introspection, making him sensitive and romantic, especially unusual in male characters. I narratively inquired into construction of masculinities, making the novel less plot driven, and more psychologically pivoted. I also explored themes of body fascism, high school hegemonic social structures, and rigid gender socialization. I wrote these works in my mid-twenties.

My yarn continues. With a thirst for learning, I enrolled in a master’s degree program. I explored research as developing a curriculum resource, through inquiry into historical fiction, cooperative learning, drama, and journaling. Destined for the second language classroom, my master’s degree research promoted both second language acquisition, and anti-oppressive educational benefits (Gosse, 1997b, 1997c, 2003a). Today, as a more mature educator, writer, and doctoral researcher, there is much I would have changed, no doubt, in prior work, but I’ve always enjoyed the creative-research process, the meandering paths of melding research and fiction, and the sharing of my stories with thousands of people nationwide, particularly educators and students.

With my doctoral thesis, I am exploring intersectional identity, ethnicity, class, gender, disability, geographical location, language and culture. These aspects of identity have been the focus of my academic studies, along with having personal interests as a person who is of mixed heritage, male but gay, epileptic with bone disease, from rural Newfoundland, and frequently negotiating ‘outsider-insiderism’ due to my bilingualism (French-English). I have silences to break, bridges to make:

I have come to believe that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood . . . The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence, And there are many silences to be broken. (Lorde, 1984)
My thesis will attempt to not only jostle my perceptions, but interlocutor perceptions, too, so that we all might critically reflect and broaden our horizons on societal norms, beliefs, and customs (Ellis & Bochner, 1996). It is an effort to reach out, to critically analyze and share my yarns. Because it is arts-informed educational research, “ . . . in both production and perception of works of art, knowledge is transformed, it becomes something more than knowledge because it is merged with non-intellectual elements to form an experience worth while as an experience” (Dewey, 1934). Fiction writing is an active process of knowledge generation that allows me to critically examine culture.

This doctoral thesis will be an evolution of my writer-research art. I've come to acknowledge arts-informed research as most fitting for my strengths, interests, and policy of sharing. Stories not only entertain us but also push us to reflect. Stories are a way of building on knowledge, including professional knowledge, but also personal and emotive knowledge - the neglected stepchildren of educational research. I believe in the transformative power of fictionalized stories to draw us out of the lull of ordinary life, to lead us to re-examine the so-called ‘normalcy’ of everyday existence, to induce us to look at things with fresh perspectives (Diamond, Borho, & Petrasek, 1999). As an example of transformative pedagogy, this thesis allows me, the transwriter-researcher, and the interlocutors, to actively construct meanings, to connect in a holistic manner involving emotional, intellectual, physical, and even spiritual connections (Miller, 1985). The reader's inner life is nurtured through approaches such as storytelling and the arts (Miller, 1999). Through fiction-research, significant connections develop between the writer and text, and the interlocutor and the text, so that the writer and interlocutor interconnect.

Poststructuralism permeates my research, which I see as having uses in English classes, and more broadly in education, for mature interlocutors. The poststructural subject is viewed as incoherent, disunified, and decentered (Bush, 1995). An important and related notion to poststructuralist belief is 'reader response theory'. Readers interpret texts differently. Meaning differs according to individual readers. Any attempt to read a text 'objectively' is illusory. Content that does not invoke further conversation is of no interest in the teaching of literature, or educational curriculum. I see the critique of culture as the primary objective of English literature and education. There are no "universal truths" because meaning is transitory and provisionally coded in socio-culturally determined semantic fields (Trifonas, 1993). In my thesis, no claims will be made that are universal, finite, or conclusive (A. L. Cole & Knowles, 2001). My thesis, Breaking Silences: An Inquiry into Marginality and Resistance and the Creative-Research Process, an educational novel with Prelude, will reflect an oppositional stance, invoking critical reflections of both writer and interlocutor.

Queer theory, a branch of poststructuralism, brings to light what is dismissed, and what one cannot bear to know. Queer theory troubles and disrupts. I seek to understand ‘difference’ – marginality and resistance, in historical, social, political, and cultural terms, rather than essentialist ones (Fuller, 2000). A queered position involves resistance to heteronormativity. Queer theoretical examination allows me to respond to a need for a more fluid and comprehensive model of examining interconnectedness of various aspects of individual identity, and the role of socio-political context in which we construct identity (Eliason, 1996). By taking a ‘queered position’ in social research as an arts-informed transwriter-researcher, I challenge the dominant worldview in how knowledge has come to be generated and circulated (Honeychurch, 1996). Identity signifiers must be viewed as identities coherent enough to be recognized and immobilized, yet fluid enough to be interrogated. Conducting imaginative research, I am able to interrogate and deconstruct heterosexualized discourse surrounding intersectional identity, and what is accepted as ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’. Interrogation and deconstruction is an act of queer resistance.

A queer transwriter-researcher (Morris, 1998), I will (a) digress from mainstream official discourse, in my often ‘non-academic’ voice, language, and articulation of oppositional ideas and concepts; (b) challenge the status quo by queerly creating arts-informed texts with radical politics, pointing out silences and/or absences liked to marginality and resistance; (c) reflect and analyze how society is gendered, political, historical, subjective, performed, and aesthetic; (d) and cause disruptions in style, form, and content, also related to the creative-research process. By declaring the main character’s sexuality, using arts-informed inquiry, and studying his place within cultural discourses, I seek not to provide answers, but to gain insights into marginality and resistance. Through accessibility of my educational novel, I simultaneously invite interlocutors (whether in education, or a broader public) to reflectively engage in my thesis along these lines, too.

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