Presentation on theme: "The Practice of Social Research Nicholas Gane. Earlier in the term we looked at the status of theory and method in social science research We used."— Presentation transcript:
The Practice of Social Research Nicholas Gane
Earlier in the term we looked at the status of theory and method in social science research We used a text by C. W. Mills as a way of thinking about which comes first: theory and method or research questions or ‘problems’ Mills argued that theory and method should always be forged in response to a particular problem rather than vice versa His advice was to be your own theoretician and methodologist: be inventive rather than accepting the ready-made
Howard Becker argues something similar. He reflects that while his work has tended to have a qualitative edge, ‘I’ve always been alive to the possibilities of other methods (so long as they weren’t pressed on me as matters of religious conviction)’ (p.6). In his writings on the ‘tricks’ of the trade of social science he encourages us to break with convention when necessary…
He writes of his ‘tricks’ that ‘they suggest ways of interfering with the comfortable thought routines academic life promotes and supports by making them the “right” way to do things…What the tricks do is suggest ways to turn things around, to see things differently, in order to create new problems for research, new possibilities for comparing cases and inventing new categories, and the like’ (p.7).
Mills and Becker make strong demands for originality in the social sciences Their work is useful as it challenges us to think about how we should position ourselves through the course of our research But in many ways their demands are excessive for a PhD: should we really strive to be as original in terms of theory and method as they ask? And what, exactly, does it mean to be ‘original’?
‘To satisfy the requirements of the degree of PhD, a thesis must constitute a substantial original contribution to knowledge and is, in principle, worthy of peer-reviewed publication. The thesis shall be clearly and concisely written and well argued and shall show a satisfactory knowledge of both primary and secondary sources. It shall contain a full bibliography and, where appropriate, a description of methods and techniques used in the research’.
There is no single model of a PhD What contributes an original contribution to knowledge varies from discipline to discipline It could involve a new theoretical understanding or interpretation, or the introduction of a new methodological technique that builds on existing knowledge in a significant and original way Your PhD doesn’t have to bring about a complete revolution of existing approaches: be practical and realistic about what you can achieve
The key question here is how to situate your contribution to knowledge in a way that is original but doable within the constraints (time and space) of a PhD? Some common concerns: Should your PhD start with narrow or broad research questions? To what extent should your PhD address and engage with the work of others? How much space should be devoted to a literature review?
Starts ‘with a very broad literature review that progressively gets winnowed down as it goes on. A set of big themes are raised initially, discussed superficially but then often set to the side one by one, or discarded as unmanageable. Gradually a focus on something resembling the much narrower final topic is reached…After the core chapters there is often little space or time for authors to do more than pull together a quick analysis chapter’ (pp.55-6).
‘Readers come into contact with your original work much sooner than in the focus down approach. They typically get far more analysis and an appreciation of how your results mesh with immediately relevant research. Readers also encounter your views on other people’s work after…you have established your credentials as a serious researcher’. ‘Yet the opening out model is very little used in the social sciences or humanities. Many doctoral students confronted by it for the first time find it too demanding…’ (p.60)
‘keep your literature review down to just one chapter, ideally one that is framed quite closely around your central research question from the start. Do not raise a lot of broader issues that you will never discuss again or where you have little or no value-added contribution to make…’ (p.61).
Do not hide away from forging your own position in relation to the existing field, or from leaving enough space to articulate the ‘core’ of your thesis In relation to last week: try not to be overpowered by other people’s ideas or theories, and think carefully about which methods will be best suited to address your research questions And at the other end of the scale try not to be dogmatic – this could be a problem in a viva
The reading for this week is one of the most downloaded articles from one of the leading social science journals in the UK: Sociology The idea here is that you can learn something by looking at classic writings in your respective disciplinary fields For is reason we are less interested in the argument of this particular paper per se, than in the way Dhiraj Murthy positions his own contribution to knowledge
A strong introduction which 1). Introduces the reader to a new field (digital ethnography) 2). Points to continuities with past research as well as points of discontinuity which the paper will seek to develop 3). Locates the argument historically (in relation to Benjamin and Whyte) 4). Identifies limitations to the existing literature
5). It identifies a gap or problem (social researchers cannot continue to ‘sidestep’ digital methods) 6). Raises potential problems to be encountered (in this case the question of research ethics) 7). Summarises in clear terms the main contribution the paper seeks to make 8). Has control over the extent and range of literature cited (identifies key texts in the field with which it seeks to engage)
9). The conclusion is not overloaded with references – this is where the author asserts the main points that the paper has sought to develop 10). The conclusion looks outwards as well as inwards: it issues some challenges and points of consideration to a wider field
Think about the type of PhD you want to produce. What is the main ambition of your doctoral research? What type of knowledge do you want to produce? How is your work is likely to contribute to your disciplinary field? How do you plan address your research questions? And how can you find your own ‘voice’?