Confusing the Map for the Terrain

It was something abut Luker’s discussion of generalization that clicked for me this week. All this time, while I have been struggling with a scope/frame/focus, I’ve been neurotic about leaving an important aspect out of my research, studying things out of their context. To cover my bases, consequently, my research daisy had every discipline attached to it, my clay model included pretty much everyone in the world, and my research question kept branching out into a horribly complex question tree.

But I’ve realized something during these past two weeks about small-scale research: it was never meant to be a forum to test my theory directly. Rather, I have to study a manifestation of it, something concrete. 

In my case, I’ve been trying to construct a test to research the generalization that ‘the visual design of information is a powerful venue.’ I needed to approach this from the other end, however, and study a particular ‘case study’ that illustrates this generalization. With this basis, I can ‘logically’ generalize (as Luker reminds us is equal to the canonical’s ‘statistically’ generalization).

This might sound simple and obvious, to be honest, I’m not sure why its taken me this long to figure it out. I think I just got so caught up with making something ‘relevant’ I immediately went to these grand sweeping theories. While Luker discusses the importance of abstracting the study to make it relatable, I had to concretize my abstraction to make it study-able. It's a weird thing to get so caught up building a map that you forget about the terrain. I’m glad I found land again though, just in time for assignment 2 :)

The Importance of Limits

I am not doing a thesis. It feels sometimes like I'm the only one in class who isn't, because it seems that most people have great, well thought out, clear research projects, unlike me. I never realized how difficult it would be to come up with a research project completely on my own, which is what I'm having to do for this SSHRC proposal. Without a pre-planned project, this mock proposal is essentially an exercise in imagination: what I would do research on, if I had the desire to do a thesis. Because I have no foundation of already-done research or a plan for a future SSHRC proposal, it's been difficult to rein in my interests into one potential research project, seeing as I am not constrained by research guidelines or course material. At the beginning I thought it would be awesome, to do whatever research project I wanted. But when you have unlimited space to work in, it gets difficult to find that one small thing you want to focus on.
This process gets even more difficult as the research process begins, because (as I mentioned previously) I have a tendency to get of track with my research - whatever catches my eye, I have a need to follow, sometimes until the original topic of my project is almost forgotten. Without a clear idea of what I'm researching, or at least with an idea that's very malleable and up to my own discretion, any source I find that is only halfway related to my topic but nonethless seems interesting, I will follow. I guess this project will be, for me, an exercise in self-discipline, as I force myself to finally focus on one thing and follow one track to the end.

The Visualization Workshop

On Friday, a few students met in the Inforum to take part in a hands-on visualization workshop, based on Gauntlett's visual sociology methods. As many of you know, we built clay models of our research ideas in order to externalize our proposal and share it with other students for feedback.

The following agenda was used: introductions, icebreaker, research visualization and debrief. The icebreaker consisted of asking each participant to build her favorite animal our of clay. This stage was very interesting as each person created a unique model with a very personal story attached to it. The trust and comfort this created set the stage for the more complex research visualization stage.

Although there were no rules given to how literal or abstract the model had to be, it was interesting to see different approaches. Some people kept to quite literal figures (virtual library = a person with a computer), others resorted to conventional signs (money = dollar sign) while others kept to incoherent figures that could not be read without explanations (balls of clay representing people). Each student explained her research idea in detail, and the conceptualization was critically examined by the other students. This led to attempts to clarify, reframe and explore the research.

Clay proved to be an effective medium. While it was perhaps more intimidating than lego at first, requiring students to be more artistic than some of them might be used to, after the icebreaker students seemed much more at ease. It was commented at the end of the workshop that clay is much more flexible and tactile than lego, which lends itself to linear structures. All in all, we concluded that this method could be useful both in the practical setting (community workshops) and the academic setting (research).
Thank you to all who participated!

Ones proposals inspiring others

Reading examples of SSHRC proposals interestingly gave me good exposure to sociological research methods. In the course we are still only starting to explore vast variety of them and trying to apply interviews to the needs of my enquiry made me think that I can successfully use them but that they are not the main and far not the only tool I need. Also Luke almost convinced me to look for a “juicy case” where my semi-ethnographical research will bring to light exactly those elements and processes in the world I am curious about. Along with all that I felt that I need either experiments or prototyping, but without doubt something that can test a practical side of my research and developments that result out of a part of it. Several SSHRC proposals gave me an answer (I think so at this stage) in such a terms or phrases like “test-case” and “research will take place in the context of the development of a tool”. Their meaning for me resides in possibility to in a way create a case myself and study it, turning one of the research components into preparatory phase where I try to more deeply understand what needs are there and how my system will address them. And yes, system. I am very glad to finally see a way how I can pursue my chosen path of Information systems in this course without being too theoretical and exploring ways of designing them better.

One more thing to say about read SSHRC proposals: they turned to be very diverse, which freed me from worrying about number of citations, complexity of language, and size of the allotted place to different sections. The other thing is now outlined for me as more important and even advisably necessary, and simultaneously so simple and obvious: making an accessible and interesting story/statement about my research interest and demonstrating a question with a potential answer bringing a useful outcome.

Music SSHRC Proposal

Since I'm tearing my hair out trying to get this research proposal to make any sense, I figure for this weeks blog I will deconstruct the hardcopy SSHRC proposal example that I have and am currently using as the template for mine. Maybe it will help me to break it down further. And other people wrote about their proposal examples :)

I like this proposal because it is broken down into very clearly labelled subheadings: Program of Study Statement, Context, Objectives, Methodology and Contribution to the advancement of knowledge. A nice clear template that I can use for mine.

Program of Study Statement: This person is a fellow master's student with a passion for music. She/he wishes to use their own experience with music to inform their proposed research of how musical knowledge is being transmitted through the use of information communication technologies.
-it sounds like this person has a keen interest and know-how on the subject matter

Context: They then go on to write about where they came up with the idea, what relevant courses they've taken and a current collaboration with a specific professor in the field. Other research that discusses issues in the same realm but are different than the proposed research are also mentioned.
-I'm having a problem with this section as I have no names to drop, I feel like naming a professor you have already set up a working relationship with would give you more authenticity (brownie points). Since I'm not actually applying for a SSHRC, maybe I can make it up to sound more convincing?

Objectives: This is where the applicant discusses the focus of the research: where, what, who. What they want to understand from the research and the concepts that they are going to apply to their research. Also, they discuss what they are going to do with their findings.
-I have no concrete concepts of which to apply, in fact I'm a little foggy on what exactly that means. The concepts that this applicant mentions are not discusessed in any detail nor linked to any actual part of the research. This bodes well for me as I excel at being vague.

Methodology: Here is where the applicant informs us about the methods they will be using to conduct the research. This person prefers an ethnographic approach. They state how they are going to document the research both in real life and online. They state again who their testing group will be.
-this part was actually okay for me...I think. However I got confused in the proposal example when they cited a name after every method, do we actually know who made up the unstructured intereview?

Contribution to the advancement of knowledge: This section is exactly what it says it is.
-I'm having trouble with this section...

All in all I thought this proposal was interesting, but not super ground-breaking, which actually gave me hope for mine. I like that they mentioned Paco de Lucia in it.