Visual research methods

I was fascinated by the Lego Serious Play Research Project, by ArtLab, which was one of our recommended 'readings' this week. The idea is to use lego to have research participants share individual and group identities, as well as thoughts about specific subjects. This led me to the International Visual Sociology Association website, which I recommend if you are interested in visual research. It also made me think of a tool that I have used for work called "community mapping".The objective of community mapping is to get participants to both reflect on and share elements of their community that particularly impact them. In the context of my work, which aims to support youth engagement, once the participants have gone through community mapping and a few other similar exercises, they start to identify themes that they would like to address in their communities, as well as possible resources and limitations. Typically, the community maps have been made out of play-doh. While these workshops are not academic, they do seem to have elements of action research and I wonder if the lego method could be applied in this way - to support community workshops, as a tool for action research, or both. The photo above, reproduced with permission, is from a community map made by a participant at a youth conference in Yellowknife, in March. In a post-conference questionnaire, many participants discussed their Aboriginal identity and how it had been reinforced during the conference. I would venture that this is also somewhat reflected in the community map shown here.

Interesting Fact about the Iterative Process: It Never Ends

This week’s quest to narrow an interest to a research question has been tricky; in an addition to the other complications others have mentioned, I’ve personally been struggling with the politics of omission: how can you be sure that, in circumscribing a frame, your exclusions will not plague your findings with a slew of shaky biases, rendering the entire project valueless to the academic community? 

But longitudinal exploration prohibits latitudinal progress (or a shallow one at best), so a backbone must be grown and a decision must be made. I think this is where Luker’s iterative process becomes a useful way to approach this stage of research. I found if I progressed with the understanding that what I’ve done is not ‘set in stone’ I was much more willing to let myself explore a path. In other words, completing a step was not the end of the phase but just another lap in a cycle. I would write my interests, ‘review the literature’ and adjust. I would ask a question, consider methodologies to answer it, and ask another question. While this process can hypothetically go on forever, I found it a good way to explore my interests and discover what area exactly I was intrigued by.  

I also thought this would be a good forum to share a little bit of this process (although it is rather lengthy just for a blogpost, so I included an edited version after the  break). 

The Importance of Having a Plan

For me, this week was about focus and concision. Doing research in the age of the 'info-glut' can be really difficult and time-consuming, but I found that Luker's tips were really useful in learning to navigate that.
Research is a process, and it tends to be a long one for me just because I get caught up in certain tracks and then I change my mind or I realize I've been reading about the wrong thing (true story). I have always had a problem with being organized before going into the research process, but Luker's tips were really helpful for that. Her idea of not reading a whole book, just the introduction and conclusion and the table of contents is something I did during my undergrad, but not nearly enough. I would often find myself reading a book that my professor had told me would be useful for my topic, but finding it wasn't really that relevant, but I would continue to read thinking that maybe it would eventually say something useful for me.
I also appreciated Luker's point about not always listening to your professors. While they are extremely knowledgeable and helpful, they don't always know exactly what your research interests are, and may try to give you advice that doesn't quite fit your ideas. Research is a personal thing, in that it's your own personal interests, and I appreciated Luker reminding me of that.
It's really easy to get off track when doing research, especially if you're like me and have a curious mind and can't help but follow every lead to its end no matter how pointless. This chapter really helped remind me that to do research properly and not waste time, you need to go into the process with a plan and a clear research question. I'm really going to have to work on that.

The Logic of Verification

“The logic of verification” which Luker explains takes for granted the possibility of “qualification” — that a social phenomenon is (a) divisible into its smallest part, which can then be (b) assigned a numerical value and thus (c) contrasted and compared – is at times an unsatisfying method of verification, yet there is not a clear alternative available for social scientists who are looking to discuss subjective experiences in an objective way. The social world, as Luker acknowledges, is substantially different from the natural world, and thus trying to evaluate the two using similar methods will almost inevitably lead (at some point) to misunderstandings or misinterpretations of particular phenomena. The trend can perhaps best be seen in the university, where such sub-disciplines as political theory, traditionally housed in the department for political science, have been moved to less “scientific” departments (in this case, the department of philosophy – which is itself becoming increasingly quantitative in nature). The problem is that data can be persuasive, and hence we are easily convinced that the results tell an accurate and complete story when they often in fact do not.

Salsa in Social perspective

I began this blog with the overview of Research. Research is the systematic process of collecting and analyzing information to increase our understanding. As Luker said that Social Science Research is a set of guidelines about to conceptualize and execute a systematic and that lets us rigorous intellectual enquiry into something which research can get as close to the truth as possible by adopting the research methodology tools and techniques irrespective of the research context be it social, business, political or scientific.

As per Luker's Research Methodology is challenging task as with the passage of time and change in the social orders the relevance of the research and as we pass through the era of the information scarcity to the era of information abundance and world wide web, where today the information available is beyond the human capacity to process and analyze , so Luker emphasis on the filtering of the information and having the validated and verified data for the qualitative and quantitative research.

The paradigms of research have been expanded to present a way of thinking that helps us to gain a clear idea of the different examples used in research, material on focus research group.

Salsa dancing into the social sciences research will be an interesting case study to evaluate our research methodology understanding about the subject and its application.Keep sharing your ideas.

Specialized Generalists

I'm not going to lie, I was a little terrified when I realized that taking this class was manditory. To me, "Research Methods" meant rigidity, dryness and worst of all statistics. Some how I managed to make it through my undergrad without taking any kind of statistical analysis, I figured now, in graduate school, was my come-upance.
Is it ever refreshing to read Luker and her casual eloquence regarding the study of social science. She eases you into slowly thinking about and building your own research project, without striking fear into your heart. But as Martinus discussed in his post, the parameters (or lack there of) that Luker suggests are seemingly endless, and its a little difficult to see how there is any "science" involved at all when everything seems so subjective.
However, I'm finding lots of overlap in the literture that I'm reading for other classes. There seems to be an explosion of blurred distinction or outright cross-over between disciplines. The openness and lack of singular catagorization that Luker speaks of, seems to be everywhere and is something that academia has been and currently is grappling with.
I think this makes learning all the more exciting and well-rounded. To be able to share thoughts and ideas with those that previously would not have been connected to your research at all, is pretty incredible. So many different perspectives! In her article "On Translation and Transformation: Media, Education and the Continuity of Culture" (2009) Twlya Gibson, paraphrases another thinker and claims that we are entering the age of scholars as "specialized generalists".
I'm okay with that and working on becoming one myself.

New but very hopeful to find social truth

Coming from engineering and chemistry, I’m very new to social research. Not only had I put extra efforts to bear with Luker and professor Grimes while exploring paradigms and deeds of human leaders in sociology, but also tried to enter a new state of mind, where promises like “you will not be trying to assess the distribution of individuals … across a known number of categories whose boundaries are clear” will not throw me into confusion. A chemical experiment without boundaries is more of a hobby than science (I was taught). Not that I’m saying this kind of hobby or passion didn’t bring humanity discoveries like penicillin, but still constant curiosity and attentiveness are not the same as conscious inquiry. Fortunately, the happy thing is that I’m becoming interested in researching our “fishiness” and at the same time more and more impatient about how to find categories that you didn’t set to look for; collect not too many and not too little data without aiming for exact data; acquire wisdom to be human (“fish”), but analyze findings without “public” constrains (being “fish”), and be sure that you add to universal knowledge, not only to personal hours worked.

What I want to find after learning this Salsa Dancing methodology is truth. And I believe it won’t deprive people of possibilities to find another truth, and yet another one, because, for me, truth is not complete and absolute in itself but what can help, guide or add to knowledge at the moment it was brought into light.

Every result or claim can be useful even if proved wrong, for then you can study why at the time of its research it was impossible to conclude otherwise. Of course, the researchers have to be good and open-minded students of methods (good: you can’t acquire basic knowledge from mere air; open-minded: roughly speaking, any grand theory can be disproved any time and better to be prepared to do it than not), and have to be the best in every contemporary to them aspect. Then there won’t be any doubt that research, including thinking, could have been done better — not in scale, but in attitude. So, any discovery made by such researchers will become a new brick for what we call research — a building knowledge process spread across years and centuries. All bricks, errors or not, compose research, and our view, and our understanding of the world; all bricks are valuable and truthful when brought to the construction site of knowledge with all possible precautions taken not to consciously or unconsciously deceive.

Dependable Ol' Monochrome

I get the feeling that I will inevitably end up adopting the ‘pragmatic/critical-realist’ approach in my research proposal, with quantitative data intended to supplement the qualitative. Hopefully, in this way I can address questions of What, Where, When, How and also the all-important Why. As this approach will likely require relatively more source material I am at least somewhat comforted by Luker’s seek-by-relevancy method.

Something that resonated with me in the Knight readings was that (to paraphrase): ‘Readers will make their own subjective generalizations and interpretations of the data, so the researcher should invite alternative viewpoints from other cases and theories.’ In other words, a reflexive method is crucial in theory development.

But just how possible is it to conduct neutral, objective research, when the parameters of the study alone suggest subjectivity? I’m not sure whether to be irked by the foggy nature of critical-realist social-inquiry or to extol it as a broad summation of perspectives, converging on some informed opinion.