Our recent paper “(Inter)subjectivity in the research pair: Countertransference and radical reflexivity in organizational research” began with a modest goal: To “explore how we could better understand the role of unconscious emotion and intersubjectivity in reflexive research practices. Specifically, we wanted to explore how our fieldnotes could promote intersubjectivity and radical reflexivity” (p. 8-9).
Ultimately, we developed “a new four-dimension method of writing and analyzing fieldnotes—observing, capturing the story, articulating countertransference, and developing interpretations—that foregrounds unconscious dimensions of experience” (p. 1). While fieldnote-writing is often associated with a lone researcher in a distant land, we have found it useful as a collective process in both organizational and field research. The process we developed may prove especially useful to researchers and practitioners who already use a psychosocial approach to organizations. For example, our fieldnote-writing method, when used in concert with organizational assessment, aids in making both the analysis and intervention phases of the work more meaningful. Central to our method is a process of articulating countertransference, which “informs our efforts to raise awareness of the unconscious dimensions of field experiences and thus foster radical reflexivity.” (p.1).
Radical reflexivity is a mode of thinking that prompts researchers to “destabiliz[e] the assumption that they can generate the ‘right’ answer” (p. 4). We contribute to conversations about radical reflexivity by focusing, in our fieldnote-writing method, on the “unconscious dimensions of experience, such as anxieties, emotions, associations, and defenses” (p. 4). Beyond that, we “question the assumption that the emotions we experience [in the research process] actually originate within ourselves” (p. 4).
Throughout the paper, we share our ‘behind-the-scenes’ experiences, demonstrating “how a research pair working together in real time can become aware of their intersubjective processes, fold together multiple dimensions of experience (conscious and unconscious), and co-construct a shared understanding of organizational dynamics” (p. 1).
While developing this paper, we made many discoveries about ourselves and the research process. For example, we each became aware of how much our personal histories actually shaped our professional and academic paths. We also learned a lot about what potentially remains hidden in each research partnership, and how risky it can be to reveal those things. And, we learned that the research process yields more than we initially thought possible. Discovering those hidden possibilities is what reflexivity is all about – and it is at the heart of the psychoanalytic endeavor.
As we state in our paper: “In a research pair, bridging subjectivities by generating thirdness is a critical step in developing interpretations that incorporate multiple experiential standpoints, folding them together into a new, shared understanding. In our experience, fieldnotes enabled each of us to process and reflexively think about our emotions and associations in the research situation. Our dialogue within the space provided by the fieldnotes let us view, to an extent, the field through each other’s eyes, push each other to explore more deeply what we could learn from our subjective experiences, and develop an intersubjective understanding that transcended either one of us. It also allowed us to see what we had missed while trying to understand why we had missed it, and to challenge each other’s perspectives” (p. 17).
The research process leaves an indelible mark on all of us – researchers, participants, and (we hope) those who read our work. For us, the voice of the other researcher remains ever present, continuing to guide, question, and encourage each of us in the course of fieldwork. For example, this research project has changed how we engage in reflexivity while making sense of field action and in writing fieldnotes for other projects. Specifically, while in the field alone, we often engage with the imaginary research pair, asking questions such as “What would Mindy/Sara have to say about this?” and “How (differently) would she interpret this?”. These invisible, inner dialogues with the other’s imagined voice (Burkitt, 2010) have proved particularly useful when surfacing and processing subtle reactions to field action, deepening understanding of interactions, and attempting to understand what might be missing from analysis. Moreover, our experiencing of the research pair has also provided an opportunity for learning to co-write, to literally finish each others’ sentences in processes of data generation and analysis, as well as in writing our manuscript. This has allowed us to merge our (at times differing) perspectives in real-time, often through conversations over Skype. Lastly, this project has shaped how we view writing: As a critical way to make sense of what we know but perhaps do not fully understand, as well as to spark theoretically generative conversations, sometimes long after exiting the field.
Reflecting on this paper as we write this, we remain curious about how concepts such as reverie (Ogden, 1997) inform the research process, what the role of the body in the research process and in the practice of psychoanalysis is, and how activist research may be enhanced by reflexive research approaches like ours. Looking forward, we hope to explore these ideas and continue to expand our research approach. We hope that others will join us in this endeavor, and that our work helps them to also become “inspired by the beauty of psychoanalytic concepts” (p. 20).
Burkitt, I. (2010). Dialogues with self and others: Communication, miscommunication, and the dialogical unconscious. Theory & Psychology, 20(3), 305–321. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354310362826
Duncan, C. M., & Elias, S. R. S. T. A. (2020). (Inter)subjectivity in the research pair: Countertransference and radical reflexivity in organizational research. Organization, online first. https://doi.org/10.1177/1350508420928524
Ogden, T. H. (1997) ‘Reverie and Interpretation’, The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 66(4): 567–95. https://doi.org/10.1080/21674086.1997.11927546