At first, the method and device of anecdote may not seem at first glance ‘to belong to an academic repertoire of methods at all.’1
In the book Inventive Methods: The Happening of the Social (2012) Mike Michaels describes the method and device of the anecdote as ‘the way in which the telling of an anecdote sets up a relation to a specific context that enables anecdotilization to make a difference, and making this difference is what gives the anecdote both relevance and efficacy; it is what enables the anecdote to circulate. In the telling of an anecdote as a device or method, it is not that the researcher is made to accommodate the anecdote to the problem researched, or that the problem to be researched is cut down in size or complexity by the anecdote, but that they are defined anew in relation to each other, and in the process the relation of researcher to researched is transformed.’
‘The anecdote not only reports events,
but acts on them’
If the (new) line it draws between itself and its context is successful, Michael suggests, the anecdote will add ‘something new (or at least new-ish) to the conduct of research’; it will produce ‘uninvited topics, unexpected insights, and untoward issues should emerge’.2
Michael claims, ‘the anecdote is . . . useful for explicitly incorporating the performativity of the research – i.e. the way that research is not a mere reflection of something (e.g. one’s experiences in relation to social or cultural process) out there, but is instrumental in, and a feature of, ‘making out theres’.3
He explains the functions of the anecdote as both topological and nomadic: topological in that they bring together what might have seemed distant, and disconnected and nomadic in that they are processual, iterative, emergent and changeable.
Michaels’ observation of the anecdote is that it is ‘for the telling’; they ‘seem to demand to be told, to be put into circulation’.
- “While… features of the anecdote concern ‘incidents in private life’, they are incidents in a peculiarly un-private private life. They narrate happenings of the social that are, for all their apparent ‘intimacy’, more or less readily convertible into public (social scientific) goods that can be put into circulation.To be sure, there is something ‘private’ about feeling road rage, having extremely painful feet, routinely losing the TV remote control, catching a daughter’s hair with the Velcro straps of a cycle helmet. But this is private in the sense of a ‘happening of the microsocial’, as it were: these are everyday, personal, affectively charged incidents that are nonetheless highly recognizable.”4
In Relation to ‘Inventive Methods’
‘Our proposal, then, is that the inventiveness of methods is to be found in the relation between two moments: the addressing of a method – an anecdote, a probe, a category – to a specific problem, and the capacity of what emerges in the use of that method to change the problem. It is this combination, we suggest, that makes a method answerable to its problem, and provides the basis of its self-displacing movement, its inventiveness, although the likelihood of that inventiveness can never be known in advance of a specific use.’5
1 Lury, Celia, and Nina Wakeford. Inventive Methods: The Happening of the Social. London: Routledge, 2012.