Epistemology s the study of how we know or of what the rules for knowing are. But, assuming for a moment the stance of a postmodern writer how I see (my epistemology) must precede what I see (my ontology).
How I see shapes, frames, determines and – even creates what I see (Scheurich,1997) p29 that’s why we can talk about ‘beer goggles’ or ‘rose tinted glasses’!
For the postmodern researcher – textuality, fictionality and narrativity or story-telling are all dimensions of research. This may be illustrated through the novels of Umberto Eco (Usher, 1997).
Eco’s novels provide a metaphor for the epistemological quest that drives the modernist project, a quest for knowledge of deep underlying causes, for unitary meaning and the total explanation of phenomenon.
In Foucault’s Pendulum three protagonists though their work as publishers of esoterica, become intrigued by conspiracy through writings that purport to explain history in terms of a grand plan, cleverly hidden by its authors – the epistemological quest taken to its ultimate (and irrational) end. On the assumption that the more unlikely the connection made the more convincing the plot which ensues, they set out to devise a plan of their own using random compeer-generated associations. When the group committed to a conspiracy theory of history hears of the plan it proceeds to hunt them down for their hidden knowledge. the more they protest that there is no plan in reality, the more the group believe there is. They end up meeting bizarre deaths at the hands of this group for a knowledge which does not exist.
The story may offer some insight into the dis/connections between knowledge and power. It certainly questions the modernist separation. While the actual ‘plan’ is a nonsensical fiction – it is nonetheless extremely powerful in its effects in ways unplanned, unpredicted and undesired by the protagonists. Might it be that ‘knowledge’ which claims to explain the world in terms of deep structures and underlying meaning is dangerous and must be treated with caution lest it overwhelms those who create it and those who become subject to it?
Insight is more meaningful than the mastery of understanding.
McKenzie, G. W., Powell, J., & Usher, R. (1997). Understanding social research: perspectives on methodology and practice (No. 16). Psychology Press.