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Archive for September 2012

On a Doctoral SSHRC Proposal


Sunday, September 30, 2012 by

My group discussed a doctoral SSHRC proposal that sought to analyze Hannah Arendt’s conception of judgment and imagination, and its implications for the professional lives of educators. While the proposed research is more humanities-oriented – and thus less relevant to our class assignment – the writer is quite successful at demonstrating its importance to the field. She/he uses some interesting rhetorical and formatting techniques that convince the reader of her/his suitability to conduct the research, and that might be useful to some of us when writing our proposals.

The writer begins with a quotation: “A teacher in search of his/her own freedom may be the only kind of teacher who can arouse young persons to go in search of their own.” – Maxine Greene (1988). At first I was put off by this, and felt that it failed as a kind of overused gimmick to provide any real relevance to the proposal. After reading it through, however, I came to see the quote as an effective – albeit lofty – articulation of the research’s social implications. It also serves to affirm the research’s place in an academic tradition of educational philosophy and social theory, of which Maxine Greene is an authority.

Secondly, I had been under the impression that it was a good idea to start with your educational background, or to explain right from the start why you are “the right person in the right place and doing the right thing”. This proposal’s writer begins with the aims, questions (which seem to merely formalize the aims), and rationale of her/his research. My guess as to why the writer does this is that she/he had already received SHRRC funding for a Master’s thesis, and had therefore already demonstrated her/his capabilities and academic support network.

One thing to note is that the researcher aims to combine the practical and the theoretical into her/his findings. This becomes clearest in the Methodology section of the proposal, which does not occur until the second page, and yet contains what I found to be the hook: “As I work through the analytic space between subjective understanding and the horizons of theoretical possibility I expect to better understand the ways in which judgment and imagination can, do and may better play a role in the professional life of educators, particularly as regards their understandings of social responsibility and citizenship.” To achieve this combination, she/he will use both historiography and interview methods.

The writer specifies that she/he will use “in-depth phenomenological” interview methods that focus on the subjective experiences of eighteen beginning and seasoned teachers. From this, I gather that she/he will use the open-ended questions and free-flowing inquiries that Knight discusses in Chapter 3. As Knight suggests, the researcher is likely to get incomplete responses, especially to questions regarding abstract terms like “judgment” and “imagination” (and with such a small sample size). On the other hand, this interview method is most appropriate to the research, which is based solely in theory. It would be interesting to know more about who (or what kind) these teachers are, and what knowledge they have of Hannah Arendt’s philosophy (if any). Despite its practical or subjective aim, I would still consider it to be humanities research. Does anyone have any thoughts?

Anyway, the proposal is well done, though perhaps it doesn't quite fit the class’s model (not that there necessarily is one).




In chapter 3, Knight discusses empathy and possibly sympathy as tools that are important for a researcher.  Empathy is understanding another’s perspective, position or view.  Knight states that to undergo and obtain quality research, all researchers must be empathetic because if researchers do not fully grasp their informant’s position and responses then their findings are limited.  Knight does continue to elaborate that insider research, for instance that midwives understand midwifery and only they would know what questions to ask, is not necessarily superior to outsider research.  He goes onto say, and I agree, that a way that outside researchers can compensate is by thoroughly reading up on their topic and doing plenty of pilot fieldwork.

Knight also discusses sympathy, which involves sharing and identifying as opposed to having a detached and neutral understanding found in empathy.  I can understand that being sympathetic in research on social inequalities is beneficial but in other circumstances I think being sympathetic can interfere with one’s findings and line of inquiry.  It is important to gain the trust of the participating subjects, but in most instances I think sympathy is not the best route to building comfort and cooperation between interviewer and interviewee. 

Writing a SSHRC proposal



For the group activity last Monday, my group read and discussed a winning SSHRC application that proposed to research "how cyborg theory can be used to inform and advance the lives of people with disabilities, as an avenue for self-sufficiency and self-actualization." The applications were anonymized before being distributed to the class. It was interesting to read and discuss this proposal in light of the last weeks readings on formulating a research question and our discussion in class on what to include in and how to structure a successful SSHRC application.

First, the research question emerges out of the "gap in research" approach to formulating the question that Luker discussed in last week's readings. The author asserts that, although there is a large body of research on cyborg theory, most of it does not address the "ethical and sociological modification in individuals with physical disabilities." From this gap, the author proposes to investigate questions regarding the formulation of appropriate ethical and legal guidelines for decisions around technological enhancement of disabilities and who or what organization should establish and enforce these guidelines.  Finally, the author asks whether or not all forms of technological enhancement should be encouraged or not and which ones.

The author organizes the proposal into three sections: 1) an introductory section where the topic is introduced, along with the a brief mention of the relevance of the topic and the significance of the author's background to the research and interest (the author has a disability). 2) The author gives a theoretical framework for cyborg theory and disability studies--- pointing out in more details the problems with each and positioning her/himself in a position to address the gap, ending the section with the research questions and methodology. 3) The final section is dedicated to the personal background of the author which details their qualifications for undertaking the research and receiving the grant, concluding with the more detailed description of the larger impact and aim of the author's research for both the field, society, and the academic goals of the author.

The application covers all the main areas that we discussed in class regarding a successful application. There is the hook and impact, a theoretical framework, evidence of extensive research and literature review, personal background, and relevant coursework. As Luker discussed, the author describes the field of study that they are positioning themselves in-- Disability Studies, Sociology, and Cyborg theory. The research questions bridge all of these areas. I can see why this application was successful in securing a SSHRC grant.

The only question I have with the application concerns the research methods for carrying it out. The author writes, "I will examine such questions by bridging relevant cyborg theories, and biotechnological breakthrough, to disability culture discourse." Obviously, this was not seen as a weakness by the SSHRC committee; however, as a research methods student, I would have appreciated more elaboration on the proposed methodology for this research project. It sounds to me like this is a more of scholarly text based research project more in the realm of critical studies, then using any of the social science research methodologies that we have been learning about in class. The author may intend to go beyond scholarly research and use other qualitative and quantitative research methods, but no mention is made of that.

I would like to read or hear about other SSHRC proposals that use some of the research methods that we have been studying in our class. Particularly, proposals that exemplify Luker's "salsa dancing" approach and utilize a variety of methods and approaches.

Structural Hybridity


Saturday, September 29, 2012 by

It's clear from this week's reading that there are pros and cons for both highly structured and lightly structured inquiry methods.  Highly structured methods often result in unambiguous data collection, making processing and analyzing more straightforward and less time-consuming, a definite benefit for the researcher. However, as Knight expresses in chapter three, highly structured methods also risk a limited scope that can lock respondents into the researcher's theory. Conversely, lightly structured methods can solve some of these problems; the informant is able to speak freely without as many methodological constraints, and this could potentially produce responses rich in context. Of course, the data is difficult to analyze and responses are still potentially incomplete.

A particular research question is likely better suited to one method over the other, and so in certain circumstances, researchers would not have to grapple with selection. Still, I would argue that most research that requires hard statistics could do with a little context, something that lightly structured methods seem to enable. An example: the recent census over-reported the number of married gay couples because a high number of same-sex, platonic roommates mistakenly indicated they were married (CBC article here). This is probably due to faulty design of the questionnaire, but a simple open-ended question regarding the nature of the relationship would have helped to provide some context. Not the best example, I know, but it illustrates the point.

Not being too familiar with social science research, I'm unsure whether structural hybridity is practiced. Do researchers often combine highly and lightly structured elements (for instance, a questionnaire that requires the participant to check appropriate boxes and then answer open-ended follow-up questions)? This seems like it would bridge both approaches and result in hard data with some additional context.

Rick's Rant - Polls


Wednesday, September 26, 2012 by

I came across this today; thought it might get a chuckle.

And he doesn't mention that Stats Canada's data is now totally irrelevant too...

Things to Consider with a Small-Scale Research Project (Knight Chapter 2)


Monday, September 24, 2012 by

In chapter 2, Knight guides students on aspects to consider when choosing a topic and embarking on research…..good research that is.  According to Knight, many students are victims to spending large amounts of time and hard work on small-scale research projects as they end up focusing on the wrong things.  To prevent such an outcome, considerations and correlations should be made to assure that one’s time and energy is used effectively resulting in good quality research.  Firstly, Knight asks us to consider claimsmaking and states that a researcher should not embark on a research project with the intention ‘to find out about…’ (p.21).  Research projects should be planned around some general significance, something of a general concern.  Studies should contain clear claims that affect the public and by extension audiences should also be considered so that relevant claims are made (p.22).  There should also be a correlation between the research methods chosen and the claims that are offered as responses to the research questions.  As Knight states “claimsmaking and research methods are intertwined and making sense of their association means having an overview of the sorts of claims that social research can make and of their relation to methods of inquiry” (p.23).  Other considerations include ontological and epistemological positioning and moreover a realist position (answering questions such as who, what, when, where and/or how much) or an anti-realist position (answering questions such as why, which focuses on explanations, understanding meanings or exploring feelings) (p.27).  Knight stresses the importance of taking all these aspects into consideration because they are all interrelated since certain ontologies and epistemologies prefer different methods, realist or anti-realist concerns prefer different methods, and different methods can produce different sorts of claims.  These factors and more need to be considered to produce good research and to ultimately prevent oneself from wasting time and energy on redundant research projects.

research question


Sunday, September 23, 2012 by

After I read the chapter 4 of Luker’s Salsa Dancing into the social science, I think I have better understanding about what research question is. Research question was introduced in first class and was mentioned many time, but I was not quite sure what research question is. According to Luker, research questions have four features:  first, a research question proposes a set of relationship; second, understanding those relationships help us explain social life; third, a research question can be empirically and logically examined by a range of answers; last, the answer may advance the state of topic in the scholarly world.
To examine the research question, we need to include “something being explained and something explaining it” and a question mark at the end. Besides, you need to propose a set of relationships and a set of possible answers that can be used to judge one answer better than another.
Hopefully I can come up with my research question soon.

The Lit Review Mountain



So much good stuff to mull over in these readings for class tomorrow. I am feeling less lost, more excited, but also feeling overwhelmed by all the work that lies ahead from formulating a research question, to carrying it out, and reporting and analyzing the findings. In particular, I want to mention Luker's emphasis on the review of literature as critical part of the research journey. She advises us to read and read often, and read whatever catches our attention. She also suggests investigating the journals where we could publish our article-- more reading. Once we have done that, then she encourages us to find a "synthetic" article that covers at least two of the areas that our research questions overlaps. Then, we should also read 5 or 6 different encyclopedia or dictionary articles on the same entry. Then we should use our discoveries to track down "the key suspect."  This could mean a book or article or the scholar herself who is also researching in exactly the area you are interested in. And, then "Harvard" everything-- read efficiently and intelligently. To top it all off, we will need to do this over and over again. According to Luker, a lit review must be done many times, as research is an iterative process, where we repeat the steps over and over again.

This week I made a research daisy to begin the tentative process of generating a research question and beginning to think about the possible research areas that my topic might overlap. I have no idea how much research has been done on vegans, ethics, information behaviour, and social media-- if it is as interesting as I think it might be, or whether or not it could shed any light on my bigger question of whether or not being more informed or having access to information leads to more ethical behaviour and awareness. I have a lot of reading and researching to do now. Better go make some cookies for the Inforum librarians and get ready to do some reading.

Research Daisy 1.0



On the Importance of Being Earnest



Luker’s book is thankfully easy to digest, and many of the points she makes are quite useful. “Here’s a quick tip to see if you have a real research question or are still in the realm of the research interest. When you tell someone else about your work, does the conversation include something being explained and perhaps something explaining it? (The first part is critical; the second part is gravy at this point.) Even more fundamentally, when you say out loud what you are interest in, is there a question mark audible at the end?” (Luker, p.53) This tip immediately stood out to me as true and useful to keep in mind. In my previous MA degree I was required to come up with an original research topic and complete a major research paper as the thesis component of my degree. Coming up with an original (and DOABLE!) topic was quite the journey, but I found the most useful thing to do was TALK about my research interests with people. Looking back, I now realize I probably bored a lot of acquaintances as that annoyingly earnest young grad student I once was… but it really was the best tool for organizing my thoughts. There I would be, yammering on about some obscure Sanskrit text and I would actually often find myself stopping mid-conversation and writing down what I had just said. Finally my thoughts were making so much more sense and coming together in a (semi) coherent manner after being said aloud and explained to my unsuspecting “conversation” partner. In this same way I can see this blog being helpful for all of us. We may not be earnest and enthusiastically willing to bore everyone we meet with our dreams of becoming the next Marshall McLuhan. Yet we can use this blog as a platform to “discuss” our research interests “out loud.” The medium of the internet message is also beneficial to our audience since we can ignore each other if deemed too boring ;) So here’s to a semester of mutual musings. Jackie Barber

“Truth” & the Objectivity Question in Social Science Research


Thursday, September 20, 2012 by

Is not the process of truth seeking in Social Science problematic given the perspective of the researcher and the line of inquiry he or she may pursue for their research? This question arose from my reading of chapter four in Luker which questions the objectivity of the observer given his location and hence non-detachment from society.  (Luker, 59.)

To further examine this issue, lets take a rather primitive research question: Does Smoking Cause Cancer? What social forces compelled the researcher to create this question? Maybe he/she knew of family members who smoked and who later got cancer.  This view could have been reinforced by advertisements, news reports and popular health shows that report the link between smoking and cancer.  However, this begs the question: Is the researcher correct in making the assumption that smoking causes cancer?  Maybe, maybe not, but already at the beginning stages of forging a research question, one can see how bias or assumptions shape a line of inquiry.  Hence when one talks about “Truth” or “Objectivity” in Social Science, what does one mean by “Truth” or “Objectivity”?

Suppose a research study did find a link between smoking and cancer, what does this mean? Someone learning about this study could create the meaning that smoking is harmful to your health.  Also, various news agencies and popular health shows could posit the claim that smoking causes cancer.  In turn, Cigarette companies like Marlborough could cry foul against the study calling it biased and geared towards taking cigarette companies out of business.  From such a plethora of societal views, how is one to connect a particular finding to the broader question of “Truth”? It would seem that the road to the “Truth” is not as simple as a straightforward proposition. 

History Student


Tuesday, September 18, 2012 by

I have come into this course from a humanities background, both my undergrad and Master’s were done in history therefore I have no real experience studying the social sciences.  I have, however, in the past taken a course on Research Methods called Theory and Method.  I have to say that the readings on Luker and the first two lectures in this course have taken me back to a few years ago when I was enrolled in Theory and Method and felt completely out of my element studying research methods.  This was mostly because I was a student of history, particularly medieval history, and there are not many options at your disposal when studying the distant past except for maybe document research/analysis.  But nevertheless, I am positive and determined to tackle this course differently this time around and I am already putting a lot of thought into a potential research topic for this course (a question Sara Grimes asked us to ponder at the end of the first lecture).
Moving on to Luker, I appreciate how she encourages us to write things down (p. 20-21) so that we can ultimately work out our thoughts and ideas.  I have done this once before and definitely reaped the benefits and I suppose this is the value we will all attain from our weekly blogs.

On Assumptions in Social Science Research and the Objectivity Question



One thing that stood out from the readings in Luker (Chapters 1 – 3) is that social science research does not take place in a vacuum.  Social science research is shaped by the assumptions and beliefs of the researcher.  As Luker states in Chapter 2, “Not only are our assumptions about the social world themselves socially influenced, but so are our assumptions about the best way to go about investigating the social world.” (Salsa Dancing Into The Social Sciences, Kristin Luker, 31.)

This statement brings to light a recent article in the Toronto Metro News paper, entitled “Toronto study links parental divorce to stroke in males”.  According to the article, “Men with divorced parents are three times more likely to suffer a stroke than men with married parents, according to new research from the University of Toronto.” ( The article further posited that though researchers don’t know with conviction why this is the case, they nonetheless believe that somehow the stress hormone cortisol is involved. ( Pertaining to the line of thought which guided the researchers in the study, the article stated, “Our hypothesis is that it may be the way sons react to the loss of their fathers...Men often had very minimal contact with their children after that.” (  As this study suggests, before any researcher(s) undertakes a study, they need a lens or point of view from which to conduct their research.  This implies that the researcher has to make an assumption about causes in things and their effects, otherwise research would be impossible. 

What does this mean about objectivity and the quest for knowledge and truth in social science research? I take this to mean that it is nearly impossible to prove cause and effect with any certainty.  Though researchers may control for variables to ensure that they are setting out to measure what they want to examine, the issue still remains that the cause of something could be related to a variable that the researcher didn’t measure, or other variables which are correlated to the variable they are studying.  (Natural Experiments Of History, Jared Diamond and James A. Robinson, Prologue 2.)  It all depends upon whether or not the theory within which the researcher(s) is operating accounts for all possible variables.  However, since there is a certain amount of subjectivity in any type of research, the findings of any particular study may not actually reflect what is really cause and effect. 

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