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October 8, 2004

Grounded Interpretive Research for Measuring Efficacy

The word efficacy, which will be central to my dissertation, is part of the vocabulary for an economy of quantification. It implies a measure, a productivity, and a desired outcome. The Websters dictionary describes it as:
\Ef"fi*ca*cy\, n. [L. efficacia, fr. efficax. See Efficacious.] Power to produce effects; operation or energy of an agent or force; production of the effect intended; as, the efficacy of medicine in counteracting disease; the efficacy of prayer. ``Of noxious efficacy.'' --Milton
(Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, � 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.)
This definition is naturally problematic when seen in relation to scientific research. I will therefore use this paper as the opportunity to anticipate some of the problems I will be encountering while conducting my research.
The first inevitable question that the notion of efficacy brings up is the efficacy of what? It would be tempting to reply with the self-assured retort that the efficacy in a social science paper is in relation to the theory it propounds. But of course in the case of performance the answer is never that straightforward (if at all it ever is for other things). For the only obvious thing about a performance is that it does something. Now its doing may be very different from its perception by others, and further, its study by scholars. So here I think that Haig�s injunction in �Grounded Theory as Scientific Method� that �theories, then are generated abductively� is useful to remember. Which is to say that let your empirical observations of certain phenomena lead you to the theory rather than start your research from the standpoint of a theoretical commitment carved in stone.
The case for street theatre then can be disentangled in this way � measure the coincidence or divergence of audience response to artist intention. For in questions of efficacy, even in subject interpretations of art forms, the weight of intentionality cannot be ruled out. Does the performance of a play garner momentum for the trajectory its creators envisioned it to follow, or does the energy merely dissipate once the show is over? This is crucial to any assessment to a leftist cultural project, because ostensibly the artwork is subsumed under a certain ideology.
This is where the issue of method in my research project becomes interesting. Leftist �goals� like consciousness raising, awareness building and mass education are illusive enough to grasp on an abstract level, but even harder to put a finger on in the physical realities of a given field. The only way that I can see through, or around, this problem is by making a long-term commitment to my project. My empirical research must include interviews with audiences at the same places, over sustained periods of time. For this while it would be ideal that perhaps I get to talk to the same persons after recurring shows, a larger argument can perhaps be made that efficacy can be assessed from the markers of community awareness as a whole. It is entirely possible that the results of these interviews show quite a different a/effect of street theatre than what its practitioners imagine it to be. This then would be fertile ground for the appraisal of grand theory through empirical testing that Haig calls for. At the same time it will be the evolution of a theory of political street performance, from its demonstrable effects over a period of time.
But of course the artists and the audience are not the only players in this research field; I the researcher, am integral to it. This project, like the limits of all epistemology as Breuer and Roth reiterate, is subjective. It is filtered through my perceptions, predilections and limitations of my academic training. But equally so, it is accessed through my memories of being a performer in the very same field. Being aware of my centering then, I must now undertake the decentering that Breuer and Roth call for, to look at my project again. Taking the step in the direction of academic study is not enough, even though it is a perceptual break. A further interruption can be brought about by shuttling between the theoretical and empirical �tracks of analysis� that Alford recommends. That is to say that every once in a while take stock of my �action agenda� against the data I have accumulated in the field and the theoretical underpinnings that I continue to have. To return to the issue of efficacy, what were my stakes in this whole enterprise and were m expectations met?
The culmination of this profoundly subjective project will be therefore in some sort of binding together of these three variables � the artists�s intentions, the audience reception, and my expectations. To formulate it in other terms from my inference of the effects of street performance, I will make the argument that the difference in the level of conscientization of different communities effects their reception of a particular play, to explain how political fields interact, absorb or are acted upon by street performers. This project will predominantly employ the interpretive paradigm of inquiry for it has as its object of analysis what are ultimately symbolic cultural significations � performances. In this respect I find Alford�s consistent use of the word �actors� for the participants of a given field fortuitous, for it is precisely this dual consciousness that I will be trying to get at through my research. On the one level the participants are engaged at a simple actor-viewer dichotomy of popular entertainment, but they are also players in a particular political field, therefore their readings of the cultural symbol being exchanged � the play- may differ widely, and the slippage therein is of paramount scholarly interest. A skillful positive imagining of this slippage would yield an innovative measure of efficacy.

Posted by at October 8, 2004 5:32 PM