Once upon a time, some university social science faculty researchers gathered to play cards. They gathered on a regular basis (so, several upon a times), each bringing his/her/their own aim and perspective to the endeavor. The discussion frequently included topics such as the purpose of research and for whose benefit it is conducted, theories of what could be established as knowledge, truth, and reality, and how best to employ legitimate research approaches to create and share knowledge about the world in which they and their students found themselves living.
The positivist, although technically no longer invited, always brought the deck. Fifty-two cards, four suits (spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs, as had been observed for decades and so was true and would be the case forever), each suit having thirteen cards. The cards in each suit were numbered, as they should most definitely be, from two through ten. Each suit also included a Jack, a Queen, a King, and an Ace. The positivist sometimes found the dialogue at the academic faculty/researcher card games unsettling, but was comforted by the fact that, no matter what, ten is a bigger number than two and absent a trump card Ace is high and will always take the trick.
The positivist was accompanied into the room by the post-positivist, the positivist having jumped again into the post-positivist’s sensible and well-reviewed car despite repeatedly having been begged to please just stay home. The post-positivist carefully pondered where to sit, torn between desiring proximity to and distance from the positivist. Proximity would enable minimization of the damage resulting from the positivist’s unbending belief in understood reality and subsequent statements of certainty--with distance, however, everyone might once and for all realize the two of them were not the same. Yes, the post-positivist nodded quietly, there is a reality, whether we fully understand it or not the more we can establish as warranted about that reality the better.
With a quick shake of the head, the post-positivist looked around the room at the researchers chatting amongst themselves and realized, with ironically positivist certainty, that no one else was going to sit by the positivist. She took her seat. She cared that the positivist felt included (thus her choice of seat), but determined she would not let her bias influence her observations throughout the evening and subsequent analysis of what took place. She planned to attend several other academic card games, and was hoping to make some observations at this one which might help her identify cause-effect relationships and better predict and control elements of future gatherings. She knew she couldn’t completely comprehend the reality of academic card games, but she could come close with a large and representative sample, if in no other way than by failing to prove her hypotheses about the functioning of academic card games incorrect. She looked forward to publishing the results and having her peers vet her work.
The symbolic interactionist had been attending the academic card games for quite some time. He had happened across the group one evening as he meandered through the halls of the education college in an attempt to find a working copy machine. He heard voices and stopped to listen outside the door for a bit, as was his habit, curious about how such a motley crew might negotiate social interaction and make meaning of the objects with which they interacted. Hungry for further understanding, he tucked his papers into his satchel and slid into the empty chair nearest the door. It had taken a bit, but he had gained the trust of the others and was now considered part of the group. He was curious in particular about the meanings the cards held for each of the researchers. He willingly engaged in conversation, listened, and observed. As time went on, themes contributing to his understanding of the academic card game phenomenon began to emerge. It was interesting, these small-scale actions between individuals. And the meanings they imputed to the cards . . . his first-hand insider experience of the culture, he felt, provided him with a depth of understanding available in no other way. His agent had already procured for him an advance on the book he would write.
The phenomenologist was agog. It was as if she had gained a new understanding for the very first time again. She had participated in academic card games before, but, sensing perhaps she was failing to understand or grasp some crucial aspect of the event, had come to this one with new eyes. Intentionally devoid of prior convictions or ideas, it was as if she, for the first time, could see the essence of the academic card game. It was, truly, phenomenal. In the actual phenomenologist way, she quietly whispered to herself, not that new-fangled crazy American way. The real way. In an the essence of phenomenology way.
Why was the phenomenologist always whispering to herself, the hermeneuticist scowled. If she has something to say, she should say it out loud. How else are we to know and make meaning, if not by actually interacting with and being party to shared language? Say it out loud, for the love of Heidegger, or at least write it down. Gracious. And by gracious, he did not mean…No. He released his scowl and turned again to his colleagues, who appeared free of the circle through which he frequently found himself cycling. For once, he would avoid over-analyzing the words of everyone around him. Except, how then would he find meaning?
The critical theorist came to the academic card game every time. Every time. Every single time, even though the positivist always brought the cards, that ridiculous deck of cards that didn’t even have jokers, how could they play Pitch without jokers, but of course the positivist had been around the longest and was always buddied up with the post-positivist, whatever, and just because they could make pretty histographs and scatterplots out of their data they got all the grants and everyone loved them and tenure was a slam dunk. Did they even realize the faces on all the cards were white? Did they know not everyone can afford a standard deck of cards? And that some people’s communities played games that needed jokers? Did they have any idea how the feminist felt about the King being of higher value than the Queen and the traditional oppressive social structure reinforced therein? Of course, no one could possibly understand that, without being female. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t try. Seriously. Seriously. Something could be done. They (the critical theorist) were certain. The critical theorist turned to ascertain the feminist’s perspective….
The feminist was absent. Curious about the myriad aspects of feminism, the feminist had that evening chosen to go to an all-female card game, where even the kings were queens.
A post-modernist was present. No one knew what would happen with that one.
Those in attendance having taken their seats, the repeatedly uninvited yet freakishly influential positivist declared it time to begin the game. The post-positivist amended the statement, saying it was most likely time to begin, it couldn’t be proven that it was not time to begin. The symbolic interactionist nodded acritically, curious to observe what meaning would be made through what happened next. The eyes of the phenomenologist widened, bright with the seemingly new experience of time. The hermaneuticist muttered yes, time. The critical theorist grabbed the cards and began to shuffle, determined that this once, at least, the deck would not be stacked.
“What’s the game?” the hermaneuticist queried. The post-modernist breathed to speak. “No,” the post-positivist stated with conviction. “Please. He, for once, just actually wants to know what card game we are playing. You don’t always have to tear everything apart. Sometimes we can maybe just play cards.” The post-modernist complied, abstruse. Waiting.
The academic faculty/researchers settled into their chairs, put on their card reading glasses (different, of course, from their teaching glasses and journal article reading glasses), sipped their teas, and turned toward the dealer. The critical theorist were determined this night to level the playing field. Tonight they would ensure everyone an equal and just chance, one way or another.
The critical theorist declared the game would be Back-Alley Bridge.
The symbolic interactionist smiled. This was going to be fun.
The hermeneuticist requested clarification of the language. “Is Ace high or low?”
“Either,” proclaimed the critical theorist. “Whichever you need."
“Whichever you want,” whispered the post-modernist, satisfied at last.
The phenomenologist exclaimed, “It’s like I’m playing cards for the first time! This, this, is what playing cards is really about!”
Happily, the post-positivist had a survey rigorously tested and proven valid and reliable at hand with which to collect data for future analysis. She quickly circulated copies of the survey along with teeny tiny sharpened golf pencils, apologizing for the ambiguity of the Likert scale used for measurement.
The positivist hyperventilated and passed out.
So how does the card game end? Do the players attend to the instructions shared by the critical theorist about how to play Back Alley Bridge? Is the unconscious positivist of concern? How does everyone actually feel about the feminist’s not having attended? Does the symbolic interactionist sell out his first printing?
I suspect...the post-positivist ignores the unconscious positivist in an effort to continue gathering data. The phenomenologist is too distracted by the novelty of an unconscious positivist to grasp the complex rules of play for Back Alley Bridge. The hermeneuticist is frustrated with the many different meanings held by the word “trump” as used in Back Alley Bridge. The critical theorist is troubled by the feminist’s absence, but chooses at this point to right the wrongs beset upon the group by the privileged positivist and persists attempts to broaden their experiences through the play of Back Alley Bridge. Until…
The post-modernist, unwilling to tolerate any longer the lack of value and meaning associated with business as usual, quietly upends the table, scatters the cards, and ensures the complete break down of the card game by pocketing nonspecific cards from each suit. Goal achieved, the post-modernist slinks out into the night. The critical theorist breathes deliberately, looks around the room at colleagues for whom they feel deeply, gathers the cards, and suggests a game of Go Fish.