Methodologies and Theories – Amazing Stuff

Methodologies and theories – amazingly enough, these are actually very interesting to me.

The methodologies and theories I will likely use in my research encompass ideas on space and cross-cultural connections.

While just learning about spatial methodologies in my Topics class, I was instantly interested in the concept because of a number of references in secondary source literature on American women missionaries in Korea at the turn of the century that point to the use of/building of/importance of the missionary house in missionary work. The house is a space and as such, ideas on space are an interesting methodology to apply to my research. I am currently reading works that use this methodology and works that explain this methodology – most of which are already described in earlier blogs.

I am also very interested in cross-cultural connections. A couple of theories especially interest me in this area. One theory of interest is Sanjay Subrhamanyam’s ideas of commensurability. Historian Sanjay Subrhamanyam purports that successful encounters between cultures are made; they don’t “just happen.”[1] People are the makers. People build the bridges.[2] According to Subrhamanyam, intermediaries who bridge gaps between cultures, employ improvisation in cross cultural facilitation and participate in mediation between disparate groups, something he terms as “cultural commensurability.”[3] Subrhamanyam questions the idea that cultures are largely impermeable spheres that are “inaccessible to those who look in from the outside.”[4] Richard White, author of the well known monograph entitled “The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 also talks about “creative misunderstandings” which lead to cross-cultural understanding which is a fascinating idea to me.[5]

Another theory of interest is Georg Simmel’s ideas on the stranger. Besides actions of commensurability, successful intermediaries also show action commensurate with what sociologist Georg Simmel termed “the stranger.” Simmel states that “in spite of being inorganically appended to it, the stranger is yet an organic member of the group…Only we do not know how to designate the peculiar unity of this position other than by saying that it is composed of certain measures of nearness and distance.”[6] This idea of being appended to a group which produces a “nearness and a distance” is an important characteristic for successful intermediation. This “nearness and distance” works as a bridge as an intermediary is neither fully identified with one group or another, but can produce “nearness” whether through language, gender or efforts of commensurability that produces a space for mediation. I will be looking to see if Korean Bible women, or perhaps even American women missionaries, contain these types of characteristics of a “stranger”.

[1] Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Courtly Encounters: Translating Courtliness and Violence inEarly Modern Eurasia (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2012), 212.

[2] Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Interview by Carol Nappi, “Interview with Sanjay Subrahmanyam,” accessed December 3, 2014,

[3] Subrahmanyam, Interview by Carol Nappi, “Sanjay Subrahmanyam Interview.”

[4] Subrahmanyam, Courtly Encounters, 155.

[5] Richard White, “Creative Misunderstandings and New Understandings,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 63, no. 1 (January 1, 2006): 9–14, doi:10.2307/3491722.

[6] Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Three Ways to Be Alien: Travails and Encounters in the Early Modern World (Waltham, Mass: Brandeis, 2011), 176. Ibid., 176. This quote is from Simmel’s work “Exhurs uber den Fremden” translated by Kurt Wolff. See note 10. pp. 212.


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2 Responses to Methodologies and Theories – Amazing Stuff

  1. KJ

    This is a really clear articulation of a methodology and a theory. I wonder if you can put into words, or define some characteristics, that distinguish one from the other — something we will want to discuss in class because there is always a lot of (shared) confusion about what we are talking about with these words.

  2. faithskiles

    Dr. Jones,

    That is a good question! And I don’t think I have as good a handle on it as I should. I think of methodology as the way in which I would approach my primary sources. For instance, in using the spatial methodology, I am looking at primary sources that talk about missionary homes as well as Korean homes. Theories I have blogged about including Bachelar’s poetics of space help me understand how the women look at that space; therefore I think of that as theory. I also see commensurability as a method as I look at sources looking for ways in which people are making conscious efforts to cross a cultural barrier. I think of Georg Simmel’s ideas as a theory that can help explain the ways in which people interact. I see creative misunderstandings also as a way to understand what happens when people seek commensurability.

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