• On 13/06/2019
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Affective Investment

In the contingent faculty project, my collaborators, Laura Wilson and Mahli Mechenbier, and I were trying to theorize the disconnect between contingent faculty’s love of their job and there unhappiness with the unfairness they often experience. We felt that aspects of emotional labor were not comprehensive enough to account for all the aspects of this disconnect. Thus, we landed on affective investment. In the piece that is forthcoming, we give an extended definition of the term. Here I provide the shorter definition, the one where we tried to succinctly define what it meant.

Affective investment is highly contextualized (depending on time and place) personal commitment to and participation in the relational configuration and interaction between material bodies, imbued with various emotions and physical and physiological characteristics; institutional and organizational infrastructures, embedded with their own cultural orientations; and the political and social aspects of decision making (Meloncon, Wilson, and Mechenbier).

The minute we landed on this term and worked our way through defining it, I finally understood something about research practice. When I refer to research practice I do so in the way that I have previously defined it as the “actual work and implementation of methods and methodology in the process of performing research.” Looking at research practice through the lens of affective investment helped me give words and form to the heaviness of researching difficult topics.

The irony of flipping affective investment into the research domain is that it was during the course of the contingent project–doing interviews with participants–that I had a massive emotional upheaval and could not do another thing on this project. The interview process was excruciating for me. I cried on the phone with participants on more than one occasion, and after a particularly long and intense interview, I cried for hours after. I felt the pain and angst and unfairness through every part of my body. It me days to release the tension and anger and sadness that was stored up in my body from that last interview. It was then that I asked Laura to join the research team. She did all the remaining interviews.

This story is important because it illustrates the usefulness of terminology. Sometimes terms can port across domains in surprising, yet important ways. In this case, affective investment became a way for me to understand not only what happened during the contingent project, but also it became a way to start to theorize research practice.

I’ve long been interested in the idea of research practice. Since I really learned research on the job as a consultant before I ever took a formal research course in grad school, I have always been intrigued about how research is taught. The more scholars and academic views I read, the more I wanted to understand better the nuances and ethics of research practice. Faber (2002) describes ethics as “a self-conscious discourse about values, conduct, and what is perceived to be proper actions” (287). This intersects for me with Grabill’s (2006) call to come to grips with “agency at the research scene” (p.166). Agency at the research scene is (should be) driven by an ethical consideration. It gets complicated with decisions are clouded because of the angst of the research itself.

As I started to consider affective investment specifically from research practice, I began to see how it intersects with and extends in necessary ways other movements and attempts at expanding research methodologies, methods, and practices in ways that are consistently kind, ethical, and considerate of research participants (even if they are texts.). Adding affective investment to feminist orientations (as one example) can ensure that researchers can move beyond simple “procedural utility” and instead realize that the research practice is knowledge producing (Grabill, 2006, p. 166).

Broad (2012) argues for making sure we include the “researcher’s intellectual background, wishes, desires, and goals” (p. 205-206). Affective investment is crucial aspect of the researcher’s positionally and becomes a characteristic of what Grabill refers to as “research stance.” For Grabill (2012), a research stance “should be understood as apposition or a set of beliefs and obligations that shape how one acts as a researcher” (p. 211). Affective investment gives language to this “stance” and helps to understands “how one acts as a researcher.” From the story above, part of my research stance was to know I needed help and that I could complete the research interviews. This decision (part of affective investment) definitely shaped the rest of the project and my relationship to it.

Researchers who have to deal with difficult topics of all sorts experience a form of affective investment. If I were to alter this definition for research practice I would do it in this way. I would add that affective investment presses on both researcher and at times the research participants and a reflexive component must included in research practice to continually process the role of affective investment on the research project itself. In other words, the definition itself holds but the explanation of what it may mean and how to address it, deal with it, understand it shifts when you view it through the lens of research practice. To theorize research practice would mean to give terminology to existing practices and dilemmas faced by researchers while conducting research.

The #SummerOfFinish does not include finishing the half finished thing that discusses these ides in more detail, but it’s a solid concept for folks to consider.



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