Subjectivity and desire in research

In “Which subject, whose desire? The constitution of subjectivity and the articulation of desire in the practice of research” Claudia Lapping explores several methodological questions: What role does countertransference play in producing knowledge in the research process? Can we use Lacan’s distinction between “interpretation” (i.e. imposing/naming) and the “action of interpretation” (i.e. evoking/speaking) to trace the emergence of desire in the research encounter? And, how do we recognize an evoked desire? Whose discourse produces truth?

This discussion leads the reader to reflect on how affective (countertransferential) experiences are conceptualized – do they reflect the other’s emotions, are they a signal of unconscious communication, and if so, how closely are we skirting the danger of imposing ourselves (our desires) onto our research participants? In other words, how can we account for what is (un)known to us? For example, consider this quote from the paper: “Lacan’s perspective is not that countertransferential feelings do not exist, but that they are always and inescapably situated at the imaginary level and thus must be set aside by the analyst” (Fink, 1995, p. 86 quoted in Lapping, 2013, p. 374).

Following Lacan, Lapping moves interpretation into the “symbolic register” by bringing a discursive lens to bear on the analytic process, focusing in particular on the the discursive construction of identity. She says, “This approach constitutes my sense of ‘dislocation’ as a signifier, rather than taking it as a direct experience of affect, and thus understands it not as
representative of itself, but in symbolic relation to other elements in the discursive terrain. … It is a misrecognition articulated as a demand” (p. 375).

In conceptualizing the relation between self and other, researcher and participant, Lapping presents two views that shed some light on “desire as reiterated demand” (Lapping, 2013, p. 384). First, following Judith Butler, Lapping describes the self as constituted by the other, and in some respects this part of the self (and the other) is unknowable. Here interpretation may be an act of covering up the lack we are confronted with in the research encounter. Lapping says: “This experience of otherness confronted me with my incompleteness, the gap in my ability to perform as researcher … Because I don’t understand F, because I am in a sense overwhelmed by her otherness, I attribute my lack to her”(p. 377).

Second, following Slavoj Žižek, Lapping describes otherness as confronting us with something about ourselves that is incomprehensible, impossible to hold onto, impossible to let go of, and filled with shame: “This moment in the interview confronts me with both my inadequate, castrated knowledge, and my inability to conform to the codes (self-) imposed by the castrating regulative context of my research. F’s fluency in articulating her speculative interpretations evokes and reveals my own ongoing fascination with the shameful excluded other that I have not been able to completely cast out from my practice: the failure of castration, as Žižek describes it. The castrating boundary between empirical social science and Literary Studies is ruptured in our exchange” (Lapping, 2013, p. 383). Here interpretation reveals the unfillable gap.

In sum, Lapping (2013) suggests that desire (the power to express it, the authority to name or evoke it, and its significance as the object of research) moves between researcher and participant in the research process. Lapping concludes that “the participant/project as the subject of a Lacanian action of interpretation that can bring the researcher to the point of a new articulation…can begin to shift our understanding of the position of desire within research. However, it is also important to recognize – as Žižek suggests – the shame that is associated with a new articulation that confronts us with the unconscious limits to our subject-hood. This explains the rapidity and relief with which we retreat to more comfortable, discursively established identities” (p. 384).

Read the article here.

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