Research Design: methodology in question

One of the blogs I follow on a regular basis is Jeffrey Keefer’s Silence and Voice which is currently concerned with some issues related to research design and formulating of research questions in the wider context of auto-ethnography as methodology and identity construction as the subject of interest. Recent posts I found very interesting and commented on are the one on broader research design questions and the one on auto-ethnography and reflexivity which are worthwhile having a think over – they provide very good ground for some reflection on dilemmas and politics entailed in the underlying epistemological questions of research-related decision-making.

I am fascinated by the way crowd-sourcing can work in academic blogging, it’s a great way of engaging broader audiences and gaining some insights from outside immediate areas. I like and do value the fact that academic bloggers, busy with studies and work, research and other things, take the time and effort to reflect publicly online, open up to questions and critiques – and respond to comments and ideas. Personally, I enjoy the challenge to think about issues and see whether I can contribute some ideas and to what extent I need to improve on gaps and communication of insights.

Jeffrey’s research made me recall some podcasts featuring Stuart Hall et al. debating questions related to identity construction. They form part of the Open University’s post-graduate course D853 Identity in Question which I studied in 2008 – the interviews cover Lacanian Theory, Language Approach, subjectivity and legal definitions of personhood as well as some comments on Michel Foucault’s genealogical perspective. They last 2 to 9 minutes and deliver some great food for thought. I also came across James Schirmer’s paper on Scribd which I recommend as thought-provoking read in this context The Personal as Public: Identity Construction/Fragmentation Online

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About Britta Bohlinger, CFE

Founder and Director of RisikoKlár in Iceland. Native German, global perspective - previously in London and Berlin.

11 responses to “Research Design: methodology in question”

  1. Jeffrey Keefer says :

    Britta-

    You managed to (so easily) say some things I have been struggling with all week! I think with the questions you raised and the subtitled elements in your blog by-line, there is food for many a research project here.

    I want to study these experiences, as you described, but I want to focus on something more specific, namely how has that academic population struggled with changes in framework or troublesome knowledge and then blogged or otherwise publicly discussed that while it was happening. I wonder what sorts of similarities or differences they may have experienced in this (cf. phenomenography), as ultimately we instructors may be able to teach in ways to promote or otherwise encourage these challenging experiences.

    I will sidestep the issues of power and positionality in this area altogether for now!

    Jeffrey

  2. britbohlinger says :

    Many thanks Jeffrey. I believe the concept of troublesome knowledge is a rather new one, http://www.prodait.org/learning/threshold.php and may constitute what it actually aims to cover. The idea that knowledge is static in its troublesome nature strikes me as contradicting earlier works, most notably the writing by Michel Foucault.

    Power, bias and personal agendas are deeply ingrained in the construction and re-production of knowledge. Even more so when taking into account that what actually counts as knowledge is not linear but fragmented – of course without clear boundaries and along a chronology as the concept suggests. Why we respond to new knowledge in an alienated manner may have many reasons which are located in socialisation, social desirability and reward systems rather than genuine meaning-making and learning processes. However, acknowledging this would mean to further question the way we formally learn and teach in modern societies, also what counts as taboo and what counts as prestigious knowledge. The term ‘troublesome’ itself is loaded with meaning as what counts as ‘troublesome’ is always contingent on contemporary discourses.

    I also doubt that the idea that knowledge held at an earlier stage should be labelled ‘naive’ while later stages can be perceived from a point-of-no-return perspective. It is clearly possible to trace the accumulation of fragments of knowledge as long as we do not forget that knowledge is constructed and produced rather than acquired in top-down manners as we witness it in formal educational settings. These scenarios usually neglect a thorough discussion of the processes and actors who shape the agenda of what counts as authoritative knowledge. Again, there is hardly a way to avoid touching upon power and vested interests of key actors who do not only shape what counts as knowledge but also who is supposed to take up certain subject positions within those constructed discourse.

    I think the aim to promote and encourage certain social practices such as sharing, knowledge production, and blogging/publishing is a valuable one – but again, there is a downside to this and it would be good to see debate around concepts such as emotional labour, produsage/prosumers and exploitation of online users as well as ethical issues in digital media (think co-produced content by teacher/students that will be published by the teacher). It seems, whatever we touch – power is pervasive, for good or for bad.

  3. britbohlinger says :

    Just a brief note on the follow-up comments on the original post at
    http://silenceandvoice.com/archives/2009/12/12/whose-autoethnography-is-it-anyway/comment-page-1/#comment-5439 which provide an excellent illustration of the power issues I mentioned above – it is exciting to see how actors try to define what is subject to debate and what is excluded. The struggle for production of meaning – here by selecting metaphors and aiming for exclusion of critical debate – are exactly the points so often dismissed as inconvenient truths. However, they are important and long established practices which are still reproduced in many academic activities – although increasingly questioned in a culture of sharing and web 2.0 dominance.

    In contrast to the past sites of negotiation these debates and power struggles happen now in online spaces, they become traceable and can be easily retrieved – as well as evaluated by passive and active audiences. Readers can judge for themselves and look at debate not only from an angle outside academic ivory towers but also from within wider debate such as the recent discussion of leaked climate data that revealed malpractice as the New Scientist argued.

    A site where these power issues are subject to constructive scholarly debate is the AoIR’s annual meeting. I strongly recommend the Association of Internet Researcher as a community that embraces challenging ideas. You find the details on the forthcoming conference IR11 in Sweden and the call for papers on my blog in an earlier post https://britbohlinger.wordpress.com/2009/12/13/sustainability-and-ir11/

    • Jeffrey Keefer says :

      Britta-

      I like how you characterize the issue of power and who has the power to determine what or whether something should be discussed.

      Can you remind me (again!) of where an overview of Foucault (who you mentioned) should begin to get to his work around these issues of power and positionality?

      OK, I will look into an AoIR submission (though my travel schedule in 2010 is already overbooked!!). Do you know if the 2009 papers were ever made available online? I have not been able to locate them.

      Thank you.

      Jeffrey

  4. britbohlinger says :

    Thank you, Jeffrey.
    One of the best overviews that make Michel Foucault’s work very accessible is here:
    http://www.allenandunwin.com/default.aspx?page=94&book=9781848310605
    and
    http://www.flipkart.com/michel-foucault-sara-mills-series/0415245699-hww3fyvped#previewbook

    as well as this study guide which is related to the 3 volumes of the History of Sexuality – a highly recommended genealogy and an excellent starting point:
    http://bingweb.binghamton.edu/~clas382a/study_guides/02-05_foucault.htm

    IR10 papers are not yet available on the AoIR site which lists past conference papers: http://aoir.org/?page_id=34
    but you will find some papers (and most abstracts) linked within the programme which is a Google Doc: http://ir10.aoir.org/?page_id=4

    • Jeffrey Keefer says :

      Britta, thank you for the references. Just ordered them!

      The best for the remainder of the holiday (in a non-oppressive, anti-imperialist way, of course)!

      Jeffrey

  5. britbohlinger says :

    Thanks Jeffrey – I thought I share these links with you too. I’ve got a playlist ‘Michel Foucault’ on Youtube and find these videos/lectures excellent material:
    1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNcQA3MSdIE (pleasure vs desire)
    2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xk9ulS76PW8 (discipline and punish / birth of the prison – audio format)
    3) nice and entertaining a brief summary of Foucault’s work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bj8SImrtdZc

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