The Affective Researcher

Cover of The Affective Researcher


Table of contents

(8 chapters)

A piece of frequently given informal advice to those starting in the world of research is to ‘pick a topic you'll be able to stick with for three or four years’ – and often that's the end of it. This chapter suggests that we should understand the importance of confronting the ‘affective gap’ in how research is currently conceived. It does so by considering how usually we do not engage with the issues underlying this ‘sticking with’ and what allows us to sustain our attention and effort across the years of a research project. Through a case study of my own confrontation with the question of how I chose and changed my own PhD research topic, this chapter introduces the idea of affective research through an exploration of the concept of affect and its relevance to research. The first part of this chapter explores affect through a brief overview of four different scholarly literatures, to provide an initial framework and some clarity for what is often an opaque subject. This is then grounded through an affective engagement with the issue of choosing a research topic and how this affects our research. It concludes with a brief overview of the other chapters in the volume.


Language is a fundamental element of any community, and academia is no exception. The styles of language that are used and valued reflect the principles and purposes of research and higher education. There is an established traditional ‘voice’ in academic writing, which aims to emphasise objectivity and accuracy, but at the expense of expressiveness and personal style. (I am writing this precis in this ‘voice’!) This chapter discusses how alternative and unusual styles of writing about research can be used to express different aspects of the research process, contextualise results and engage non-traditional demographics with research. The current formal academic writing style, typically utilising third-person and passive voice constructions, is intended to express accurate information objectively. Alternatives to the highly formal and technical style can be very effective and broaden the impact of the work. Literary techniques (narrative, fictionalisation, rhyme and meter) can be used to engage diverse audiences with research or express dimensions of research that may otherwise be lost, such as emotionality. This chapter discusses the why and how of creativity in academic writing.


The chapter discusses the question of social justice in social science research by problematizing the researcher-research content relationship and its guiding principle framework Science-Society-Me. With a focus on early career researchers, the author draws on her own PhD research experience to highlight the social justice tension inherent in the normative approaches and methods for selecting research topic, collecting data and relating with research participants, and analyzing and interpreting data especially in empirical research with fellow human beings. Drawing on the theory of affect, the chapter centralizes the position, biography and experience of the researcher, and the relationship between the researcher and the research participants to balance out the privileged (power) position of ‘science’ and ‘society’ in the current framework. To this end, I make two ontological and methodological adjustment recommendations: (1) Relocating the space of research from a fixed and exclusive ‘location’ of science theories, methods, concepts etc., to the space of daily life experience and interaction, requiring a compassionate approach to research, and thus the second recommendation; (2) Developing long-term, inclusive and equal relationships with research participants augmented by constant reflexivity – as including the biographies and experiences of the researcher and the research participant – as well as political reflexivity.


In this chapter I present a pedagogic encounter with an intense affective scene that occurred at a critical time in my PhD research. The encounter, which I call ‘what happened to data and me’, acts as an illustrative example of what may come from seeking out ways to account for contingency, complexity and contiguity by focussing on affect as a researchable phenomenon and affect as a productive force in a (post)qualitative inquiry. At the heart of ‘what happened to data and me’ is an unravelling of self, prompted by the realization of an onto-epistemological conflict between what my research was trying to do and how I, the researcher, was trying to go about the research. I invite the reader to return with me to ‘the snap’ and together witness how a snap experienced as a pedagogic encounter can create the conditions for transformative learning to occur – a learning that transforms an individual's relations with the world rendering them more capable. In conveying how ‘what happened to data and me’ rendered us (data, me, my supervisors, and more) more capable, I discuss how entering into artful relations with data can reconfigure the researcher–researched–research in affirming ways. I propose artful inquiry to do data in a way that accentuates the art of data, creating the conditions for data to transgress into da(r)ta. I conclude with six insights that researchers interested in ‘the post’ may like to consider. The intention is that hindsight will become foresight, not only highlighting what transgressive data can do but also drawing attention to the potential of critically and creatively engaging with the (post)qualitative inquiry.


As an international PhD student studying the internationalization of higher education, my personal experience was inherently related to the circumstances that I was researching. The personal and the cognitive encouraged each other. This chapter discusses the interrelated nature of the affective and productive aspects of my PhD experience by focusing on three major influences on that experience. It further explains how those affective drivers defined not only the subjective experience of my PhD but also the direction and structure of the PhD itself. As such, I intend to make explicit what it means to complete a PhD as an international student in Australia – at least, what it meant for me.


This final chapter pulls together some of the observations and findings from the others in the book, and presents a final argument for undoing the ‘affectless consensus’ of research. It synthesizes a number of ‘affective scenes’ that are present across the various chapters, and uses these to build an argument for why affect should not be understand as simply synonymous with emotion. It concludes with a proposal for an ‘affective project’ to build off the findings that are found in the book.

Cover of The Affective Researcher
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Book series
Great Debates in Higher Education
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