chapter  6
18 Pages

Broken voices, dirty words: on the productive insufficiency of voice


I am interested in the disappointments of voice in qualitative research – in the many ways in which voice falters or fails. Despite (and because of) a long history of struggles to represent more adequately the authentic voice of research subjects, voice fails somehow to suffice. As I elaborate below, ‘voice research’ seems always to fall short, or to go too far.1 Counter-voices from various quarters periodically speak up to repudiate voice and voice research – for failing to be authentic enough; for resisting theory, truth and generalisation; for being naïve or cynical about power and discourse; for dealing in self-indulgence or self-denial; for confounding self-revelation with self-justification. In return, voice is periodically reclaimed as a legitimate and necessary concern of qualitative research.2 The field of voice research seems to oscillate, then, between surrender and mastery, loyalty and treachery. It is torn between the desire to yield to the ‘crystalline address’ of the intact, unmediated voice (Derrida, 1976: 115), and the urge to break that voice down: to analyse it until it submits its truths, abstractions or generalisations to the calculations of social science.