Monday, 5 July 2010

what does your research say about you?

Early days in planning PhD research are those that are not bogged down in the day to day practical difficulties of sifting, noting, cataloging, transcribing, writing and so on. I'm guessing it's during this time I can think slightly 'bigger picture'. So far, I've been thinking about the utility of ideas - what perspectives or ideas may be useful: but doing that has highlighted something quite important for me, which is can (and should) my research reflect my beliefs and values?

Before I delve any deeper, let's get real. We all select and interpret perspectives that tend to match our values and beliefs. Of course, critically speaking this can be both good and bad, but we have all read material which is 'OK' - perhaps technically correct, perhaps even makes a few relevant points - but is 'safe', never questioning in any way which makes us take notice, nod our head or even shout at the page in disagreement. It's boring and lifeless. Many of us also know that our best work flows from our passions, convictions and genuine questions. If we're not interested, readers certainly won't be. 

As I've begun to introduce myself to some potentially relevant perspectives (see my mind map in a previous post as an imperfect example) I've had the nagging feeling that they don't yet fully reflect what I feel passionate about. In fact, my own experience tells me that many (most?) of us are not simply rational decision making machines when it comes to how we do what we do at work. Whilst I like what symbolic interactionsm has got to bring (see previous posts for a very short intro), its value for me is in shedding light on how we construct our professional 'selves': but for me, I'm wondering whether this seemingly 'rational' worldview fails to capture the emotion, spirituality and genuine 'randomness' of life as it interacts with us? 

I'm beginning to think that my relationship with theory needs to be held lightly, especially as I've got so much 'mapping out' to do. I had a helpful conversation with one of my academic colleagues (who is sickeningly clever and creative) who suggested that I reflect on principles, not necessarily the detail of all of these theories. This is helpful to me. If, as I suspect, I am constructing a bit of a 'hybrid' theoretical framework, there will be tensions and limitations (such as those presented by the rationality of pragmatism, or the poor empirical basis for this fair?). Pulling out those principles is for another post, but for now I remain committed to a messy picture, not yet formed, which retains a sense of real enquiry, interest and ownership - not the 'safe' or 'correct' approach that pins all hopes on one single dogmatic theory.