Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Refining a research question: next steps

I've realised that because I have not yet booked out regular time for work on my PhD (it's very early days, so no stress there) I make progress 'in my head' but perhaps don't capture that except in this blog. I do have a series of scrappy bits of paper, but until I get an organised system (see previous post) there perhaps will be a bit of frustration at not 'moving forward' as quickly as a would ideally like to. I sometimes catch myself thinking 'how would I explain that?' but find I don't yet have the words to explain ideas that are still forming. If I noted down the questions, they might crystallise:

  • Is Gidden's theory of structuration too abstract for practical use? 
  • Do the pragmatist ideas of symbolic interactionism fail to address structural issues such as organisational context?
  • How can I use activity theory (Cultural Historical Activity Theory) to work on issues of changes in professional identity and practice?
  • How much 'mixing and matching' of philosophies and theories is useful? - can I use all the 'useful' perspectives I have previously mentioned (or drawn) be used together?
Alongside (and perhaps because of) this, I've realised how much my central question might have to change over the months and years of research. I thought I'd done well to put my first draft research proposal together, but now that initial proposal looks very simplistic, and does not reflect all that thinking and reading I've been doing. That's positive, and perhaps is all part of the 'disequilibrium' (to use a Piagietian concept) needed to push research forward. 

So - how to move forward? Well, the first step is the skill of writing down questions - a version of the example given above, worked in a little more detail - and I think the second, for now is about noting assumptions. What I mean here is that I have gone to my question, and rather than re write it with a blank piece of paper, I have taken it apart a little, being a little more explicit about the assumptions I have made in writing it. Once I did that, it really helped and it made me think about whether the question still did the job it needed to do. So, little steps one at a time - but in the right direction. 

Finally, I'm pleased to be making contact with interesting people on twitter: but I've a question here too - which is how to transform that list of 91 followers into people who I can interact with. Luckily, I've got some time to work that one out.