Friday, 21 January 2011

18.1. Research questions

We discussed the assignment: to find a concept in use in Kathrin Wildner's article, reflect how it was used, what if it had not been there, and if the concept made any sense from the point of one's own experience. An interesting amount of concepts were mentioned - collective innovation, negotiation, togetherness, social space, public sphere... with a clear use identified for them. Thank you, really good work everybody!

The topic for the day was "research questions":
how to get from interest - to topic - to questions and problems. 

The short lecture was drawn basically from "The Craft of Research".

To find a topic for your research, first advice is to start with what interests you. For an interest to become a topic you have to specify the interest, "state it specifically enough for you to become a (local) expert on it". To narrow a topic into a research question you'll have to ask questions from it. A good research begins with what you don't know but what you would like to know:

Who, what, when, where, how and why?

The other tool to define your research topic is to name it in order to be able to explain to others what you are doing:

From topics to questions:

Practical problems -> motivate research questions
Research questions -> define research problems
Research problems -> lead to research answers
Research answers -> help solve practical problems

A problem describes a condition or state of affairs - which has some consequences or "costs"

Practical (research) problems are caused by some condition of the world.
Conceptual research problems mean trying to understand something better.

The "cost" of a practical problems is always some degree of unhappiness.
The "cost" of a conceptual problem is not understanding something important.

Discussing interests 

Which we did, to try and find some interest or glimpse of it for each. We also had a good discussion about finding forced interests and doing research for some external pressure. I agree: unless at least YOU are passionately interested by your own topic, why the hec will anybody else be? Therefore, once more: even if formal requirements demand you to make a final thesis that necessarily will involve some degree of research perspective - even if it is based on a production, artistic or otherwise - it is practically necessary that you do it within a topic you care about.

And we managed to name some interests, and find small teams within which everybody can discuss and work on their own interest/topic/research questions - or form a joint one, if they want.

Assignment for next time i.e. 1.2:

Narrow the topic by asking it questions. Name you topic, using the scheme above. Do some initial background research on the topic - history, what is being discussed, what/who is the classic in the field, what aspects have been well researched - is there something that you could be looking into etc. In case of an artistic interest: think of exemplary works and their history and context. Find at least one article dealing with the topic, and go through it. How does it affect how you see and define your topic?

For next time please bring the "name your topic" exercise in writing, for each topic you or your team will be working on.
Make also half page of notes from the article - not necessarily a summary of the contents, but a point that gets you and makes you think.

If in doubt or feeling lost, come and ask!

Saturday, 15 January 2011

CBM Research Methods course Spring 2011: 1. meeting 11.1. "What is research"


This course is about research and research methods. My main point is to convince you that research is a craft, with all this implies; and to look at research from a pretty practical and pragmatic point.

First task: take a piece of paper and a pen, and tell me what comes to your mind - word, image - when you hear the word "research"?
We got already: knowledge, complexity, time-consuming, a laptop, something within your mind, a pile of books... and more.

So, what is "research"? Most definitions tell us it is a systematic study - with an open mind - to find something new. Nothing wrong there, and we did look at the various angles this definition covers in more detail.
Interesting addition can be had from sociological classic Emile Durkheim, who in his "Elementary forms of Religious Life" claims as a conclusion that instead of being something opposite, religion and science are fundamentally related in that both
- refer to a shared and common understanding and making sense of the world
- see something that is not there - see causes and meanings which do not appear directly to observation
- give explanations that, for a given time at least and within the community that shares the meanings, work.

1. What is the course all about?
As said, to look at research as a craft, and get started on learning the tricks of trade.

You need this course to get your MA degree - and not only formally. An MA should have some basic skills, how to conduct a research being one of those. It might come in handy when you do your final MA thesis. In case you'd want to continue your studies and do a dissertation, it is good you have been exposed to what research is and how it is done before.

We are also surrounded by research in various ways - at quite everyday-level of our lives. Thus it is again good to have some understanding what research is and what can be done with it.

We also claim that our both MA programs and the department in general to be "research-oriented" or "research driven". We think that we include a research orientation in the artistic and other productions and projects - curating, media-projects, producing events etc. What do we mean by that?

- we mean that all work we do involves systematic reflection. We do not merely set to do productions, but we reflect what we are doing. The reflection is also systematic.
- doing systematic reflection means that we reflect our work within a wider community: we look at work done before; we look at the context were we do our productions, and reflect how our own current work is related to them.
- we also reflect on our work when it is done: we document the work, and we communicate our reflection within the community and within the context.

These are also characteristics we demand of an MA thesis.

2. Course Program

11.1 What is research?
18.1 Research questions
1.2 Ethnography and design research
8.2 Artistic research
15.2 Studying visual culture
22.2 Research Plan

There will be lecturing - but please ask all the questions you have in mind! There will be assignments; and hopefully a lot of discussion.

3. Research is both easy and tough!

a. Research is a craft

It is easy - because it can be learned!
It is easy - because there are various guides about the sets of rules you need to observe.

It is tough - because it has to be learned! there is no immediate mastery of a craft!
It is tough - because you only learn by doing it - even if you cannot be a master the first times.

Note: method does not do you research: you will have to do it!

b. Research implies conceptual thinking

It is tough: there is no research without conceptual thinking: systematic reflection

It is easy: it is so damned interesting!

4. What are concepts?

A concept is not a word
A concept is not a thing neatly corresponding to a word

A concept names a phenomenon - and by naming "creates" the phenomenon. Using a concepts means precisely "seeing something that isn't there".

Assignment for next time:

1.Read the following article: Kathrin Wildner: La Plaza - Public Space and Space of Negotiation    I have some extra copies of it too, and will put the prints in my blue mailbox.

2. Take one concept used in the article - preferably something relatively central to the article.

3. Reflect
- how is the concept used? what is explained with it?
- what if the concept was not there?
- does the concept communicate with your experience - could you see some event or situation or phenomenon from you experience through that concept?

4. Write max half page text with your reflections. Print it and bring to the next meeting.

Next time we will try to find research questions - so bring along any interests you have!