Notes as constructions of knowledge
As a form of writing, note-taking is an inherently creative act, always involving thought rather than simply representing it ( Gibbs, 2007). This suggests that representational accuracy should not be the sole goal for good note-taking as it ignores the role of the researcher in their observations and the knowledges they produce ( Gibbs, 2007).
This assertion follows the central claims of feminist thought which challenges the notion of objective knowledge. Feminist theorists have long been concerned with the relationship between ontology and epistemology; that is, how people producing knowledge come to inform these knowledges ( Gunaratnam & Hamilton, 2017; Hemmings, 2015; TallBear, 2014). For example, social theorist Patricia Hill Collins (1989) argues that the exclusion of Black women from education, literacy, and jobs has led to tendency of white men to control the process of knowledge validation. This contributes to a teleological argument where the dominant group is convinced of both Black and female intellectual inferiority, suppressing the legitimacy of Black feminist in institutional spaces. In response, feminists have pushed to legitimate experiential and embodied knowledges in institutional spaces, developing theoretical frameworks like standpoint theory ( Hartsock, 1985), sitpoint theory ( Garland-Thomson, 2002), situated knowledges ( Haraway, 1988), each of which varyingly stresses the importance of intersectional, embodied positionality in the production of knowledge.
These theories rest on the notion that research and researchers, like all aspects of knowledge production, are always already entangled( Gunaratnam & Hamilton, 2017). Method is thus inseparable from both the research problem and the researcher, shaping questions, problems, and solutions in its enactment. Good research involves acknowledging these messy entanglements and multiplicities, reckoning with our own positions and knowledges as well as the knowledges of those around us. Reflecting on the always situated nature of writing, Communication Studies scholar Anna Gibbs (2007) thus argues that writing is “a mode of inquiry in its own right” (p. 222) which does not just support various research methods but should actually be framed as a method in itself. This makes writing notes a methodological process:
Writing, then, cannot be a methodological ‘tool’ in any simple sense. It is, rather, a process, implicitly dialogical, in conversation with the world, with other writing, and, reflexively, with itself. It is this very means of procedure—a turning and returning—that characterizes it as an affective methodology. ( Gibbs, 2007, p. 224)
By focusing on writing notes as not just a tool but a method which always involves the writer as a part of what is written, Gibbs emphasizes research as a creative rather than descriptive process. This shifts the emphasis of notes as a support for research into a direct form of research, a shift which is reflected in work attuned to feminist values. Is not uncommon to now find research which includes vignettes of personal field notes, journals, and even poetry stemming from a variety of fields and research topics (e.g., Stewart, 2007, Stryker, 1994, and Van Wyck, 2010). These works bring the situated knowledge of the researcher into their research, legitimizing lived experience as a valuable form of academic inquiry and thus contributing to the growing diversity in institutional knowledge production.