Just read Martha Kenney’s “Counting, accounting, and accountability: Helen Verran’s relational empiricism”.
Kenney’s article is very much a homage to Helen Verran and her wonderful book Science and an African Logic. She pays special attention to Verran’s efforts at decomposition and frames these through a lens of accountability. Care is given by Kenny to differentiate this kind of accounting from that of “contemporary neo-liberal bureaucracies” that run the risk of strengthening “the academic culture that privileges critique and revelation over other, more subtle and creative, approaches.” (p. 8)
What I particularly like about Kenney’s reading of Science and an African Logic is the emphasis she places on Verran’s ‘generative critique’ and, in these same terms, the way we might come to understand the empirical/ethnographic account.
“Verran […] helps us see ethnographic writing conventions as generative, not of true representations (tracings of real relations) but of promising fictions, echoing Strathern’s definition of ethnography as an ‘effort to create a world parallel to the perceived world’” (p. 10).
For me, this is such a helpful way to think about the accounts we produce as field researchers. It gets us past questions about factual or realist representation. It reminds me of something I heard the singer PJ Harvey say on Radio 4 a while back. Talking about Harold Pinter’s poetry and ‘the poetry’ of Kubrick’s films, she evocatively describes what she sees in them:
As with Pinter and Kubrick, then, I appreciate Kenney reminding us that ethnographic accounts such as Verran’s must be written/read as “an alternative way of figuring and paying attention to differences that may enable different forms of response and participation.” (p. 11)