Subjects of Inquiry: Statistics, Stories, and the Production of Knowledge
Statistics and stories are often equated with different types of knowledge in contemporary western societies: statistics are associated more with the authority of objective, disinterested experts while stories are able to encapsulate subjective, personal experience. In this paper, we explore how both genres were used to produce knowledge in the context of a public inquiry on the problems facing older workers in securing and maintaining employment. Drawing on the concept of power/knowledge relations we examine how statistics and stories were used in different inquiry texts and trace their use across texts over time. Our findings show that to establish their authority as a valid form of knowledge representing the subject of inquiry, statistics and stories both had to be embedded in the appropriate discursive conventions. In the case of statistics, knowledge had to be expressed through discursive conventions that conveyed distance from the subject of inquiry, i.e. independent, objective research. In contrast, stories produced knowledge through discursive conventions that established proximity to the older worker – by being or knowing an older worker. The study shows the effects of these discursive conventions on how knowledge is institutionalized through processes of textual re-inscription, as well as the way in which they constructed a marginalized older worker subject.