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!

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