Accepted Paper:

The "Breaching Question" as a Performative Research Method  


Meritxell Ramírez-i-Ollé (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

The "Breaching Question" is an ethnographic method that I initially used to generate sociological knowledge about science; however, it inadvertently affected the very same epistemological practices I sought to study and the relations with my research subjects.

Paper long abstract:

To generate ethnographic data about the roles of trust and scepticism in the making of scientific knowledge about climate, I adopted the strategy of asking "Breaching Questions". This approach was inspired by the "breaching experiments" conducted by the sociologist Harold Garfinkel with his students (Garfinkel, 1967: 35). Garfinkel designed these experiments to show students the risks associated with the practice of distrust in everyday affairs and the trust-dependency of our relations with others. For instance, one student asked the bus driver, "Does this bus go down to Morgan Street?", and after the bus driver answered, "Yes", the student would then ask, "How do you know?". Similarly, in my research I asked breaching questions to a group of climate scientists in order to unveil the taken-for-granted aspects of their epistemological practices. For instance, whilst observing one scientist carrying out a task, I asked why he trusted that method and whether he ever considered doing the task in a different way. As our trust relations grew stronger, the climate scientists understood that my breaching questions were part of my methodology and the effect of such questions on my research subjects and our relations changed, and hence so did the sociological knowledge I generated. In this talk, I will illustrate with empirical examples the performative effects of the method of the Breaching Question on ontology, epistemology and research ethics. References: Garfinkel, Harold (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Panel T014
Considering the performativity of our own research practices