Research Desgin

And it’s a century!

I just imported a citation from Google Scholar into my End Note and it’s my one hundredth reference. I wish I could say I’d read all 100 references, but I have not. I have read a bit of all of them otherwise you don’t make it into End Note. All those articles I’ve opened on the off chance there’s something there, all the books I’ve skimmed thinking there might be something relevant, they don’t make the list. Only those items I’ve read that actually ‘make the cut’ are there.

Today I’ve had the privilege to read someone’s thesis. (well some of it….I didn’t get too carried away.) It’s someone I know and that always makes it better. A thesis is like a small¬†window on their soul. It’s a part of who you are and reveals just that something more. When you know the person it’s exciting. It’s like knowing them just a little better. So thank you Tracey. I also learnt a more about auto ethnography. As Tracey pointed out in my presentation on Tuesday, auto ethnography is not vanity ethnography, but for me at the moment ethnography is a bit like discourse. There’s a large bucket with a label and lot of sorting to be done.

I’ve also found some great references today on research theory and contextualising policy analysis in the discourse frame including the whole postmodern idea. The text didn’t go enough into post-structualism so I found an article for that instead.

The one thing I haven’t done is what my supervisor asked me to do which was go back to senseless kindness. In the research time I have left ¬†(I’ve taken to allocating research time on my weekends to manage housework, teaching preparation, free time and research) I think I’d better get to it. It’s been long time since I opened the article and given how much has changed I think I’m going to understand a whole lot more.

It is fascinating how my brain is changing. I’m not getting smarter, or really even learning anything terribly new conceptually wise, I just think differently now. It’s like I’ve got a diamond in my hand and have only just worked out if I turn the diamond a certain way, the light is different. Of course, I think the analogy works better if it’s just a diamond in the rough!

Drawing the strings

Previously I described my topic as similar to a baby rattle that keeps getting pulled away from me. Today I’ve had the interesting experience of bringing two texts together to bring together the information in my head to start coming up with my own ideas. For me this is a little bit like the draw strings on a bag (yes an old fashioned one, but I’m old!). The information in my head is so little that sits at the bottom of the bag, very lonely. Then I read one text and it fills the bag a bit, and then I read another one that also fits into the bag so the bag gets a bit bigger. My hope is that when the bag gets to a nice size, I will draw the strings on that piece of the research and say ‘done’.

Last night Joelle referred to boxes and how research fits into the boxes except when it doesn’t, but it’s still important to know what the boxes are. Maybe my boxes are drawstring bags instead, but for me it’s compartmentalising all sections, not just the research methods. Of course, the funny part of this is by thinking of my research in sections of any kind, I begin the process of creating a double void. (Guess what I was reading this morning.)

I think my research topic, combined with my haphazard brain mechanisms, is going to be susceptible to missing the point if I’m not careful. By defining higher education one way, I prevent it from being something else. This means I might miss meeting my research objectives because I will prevent some part of the discussion from occurring. Hmmm…..this is rambling a little, but scarilly it makes sense to me (today). Maybe the drawstring bag analogy is going to work. It does compartmentalise the thinking for ease of progress in the reserach itself, but you can never acutally close one of those bags. You have a five cent piece in the bottom, draw the strings, and tip it up, that coin will come out. The same way you can alwasy get a coin in. Maybe that means even though I will have to narrow my work, I will always have a way to get more debate involved. Hmmm…..

And the winner is narrative theory (today)

It’s been a big weekend of research!!!

I’ve found a book that is basically my thesis (thanks Hannah Forsyth!) but then again, it isn’t. The joy of research is that in everything there is something more that the researcher hasn’t focussed on or explored. That is where I can step in! (Hmmm lots of exclamation marks today – maybe it’s time to relax a little.)

The other exciting aspect of the weekend is the complete collapse of discourse analysis as a possible theoretical framework. Turns out it’s too linguistically focussed for where I’m going (at least today) and the critical discourse analysis which is where I thought I was going to was too socially active for the open mind I’m trying to keep.

While I personally think that universities have lost their way, I’m doing this research to see if that actually matters. Just because I don’t think that children should drink cola under a certain age, doesn’t mean it matters if they do. (best analogy I can come up with tonight) So that’s led me to narrative theory. I think this is going to fit well. I’m examining all the narratives that have been told about higher education, comparing them to see how we have structured meaning of higher education for today then examining narratives from great philosophers to see if there is one measure of value of higher education for ‘good’ and then seeing if that compares with today. The whole point of the exercise is to identify the exclusions, inclusions and gaps in all the narratives and then ask, “Does it matter?”. Yeah – I think this might just work……

What is my skin?

David Marsh and Paul Furlong wrote a paper discussing the skin, not the sweater in relation to ontology and epistemology in political science. The thrust of the concept is that you research and write in the ontological and epistemological space where you are as a person. If you’re a scientist, based on facts and realities chances are your a positivist. If you’re into the social construction of meaning then maybe you’re a critical theorist. I used to believe this but the more I play with the ideas of research approach, design, concept, the more I think, you know what, it really doesn’t matter.

Now for those of you in the know, you may say I’m a pragmatist in my paradigm. I don’t care what approach I take so long as I can find an answer to my question. The issue is, I don’t know that there is an answer. The research I’m doing, may end up of 80 000 words saying, “This is really hard and we all need to think more about it”. That’s not an answer. It’s, well, maybe, a cop out. And I do care about my approach. I am not a positivist. There is no objective reality. And I’m not a pragmatist because there are approaches that I think won’t work and as such I will need a research design that is aware of my ontology and epistemology. What I am though, is not comfortable in my skin, and I think that will actually work.

I don’t agree with Marsh and Furlong. I think we need the sweater, but we need to be aware that we are wearing one. We also need to think about changing it for the summer. After all, we don’t want to overheat.