This fictional dialogue was meant to clarify why one should have submitted a paper proposal to “The Social and Political Life of Methods” Conference in 2018. At the same time, it highlights why you should join the annual conference as a participant.
The dialogue was written in humorous tones, but meant seriously, by Sarah Green, Director of the Doctoral Program in the Social Sciences.
Sarah: Submit a paper proposal to your doctoral program annual conference!
PhD researcher: I don’t study methods. Why should I submit a paper to this conference?
Sarah: Everybody carrying out research in the social sciences studies methods.
PhD researcher: Really? Not me; I just use them to do my research, I don’t study them.
Sarah: ‘Methods’ refers to the techniques you rely upon to do your research. So, you must study them at some level; you must have decided which ones to use and had a reason for doing that.
PhD researcher: Maybe.
Sarah: Even more, researchers in the social sciences also work with methodologies: the logic and thinking behind the techniques used to do research.
PhD researcher: Okay. So?
Sarah: In combination, these two, methods and methodologies, are behind everything we do as researchers: not only how we carry out our research, but also the kinds of knowledge we generate, as well as the way we try to make that knowledge rigorous, reliable – and ultimately, believable. This is an important matter in today’s world of Fake News.
PhD researcher: I suppose so. But I have nothing really to say about methods.
Sarah: Yes, you do. For example, you can explain how you came to choose the methods you did, and the methodology you applied in order to select those methods.
PhD researcher: Is that interesting at all?
Sarah: Hugely! Do a thought experiment for yourself: think about how you ended up using the methods you did to carry out your research. Then think about the logic behind it. What kind of knowledge are you trying to produce? Why? Might have there been some other way to do your research?
PhD researcher: Okay, that’s a bit interesting. But how could I turn that into a paper?
Sarah: Once you’ve figured out the implications of the methods and methodologies you’ve used, you could either think through the empirical, intellectual or conceptual implications of the kind of knowledge that generates; or you could think about the politics of doing it that way rather than another way.
PhD researcher: Okay, so that would be interesting to do, I guess. But is there any point to it for my own PhD?
Sarah: For a start, it will give you lots of material to work on for your methodologies section or chapter in your thesis.
PhD researcher: Oh, that’s true!
Sarah: Yes, and it might also inspire you to think more carefully about the relationship between how you did/are doing your research, and the results. How do you figure out some kind of valid findings?
PhD researcher: I admit, that is really important. But it bores me.
Sarah: It bores you?
PhD researcher: I’m afraid so. It’s boring to talk about methods. It’s like a scientist talking excitedly about their test tubes. It’s not cool.
Sarah: Hrmmmm, I guess I’m not very cool then, because I think it is one of the most interesting things you could do in academic life – work out how you create valid results, and the political, historical, economic and other conditions under which that becomes possible. That’s as fundamental as it gets.
PhD researcher: Maybe. But I’m not a philosopher. It is not my thing.
Sarah: Bah. Okay. If you really, really can’t think of anything interesting to say about methods or methodologies, then submit a paper on any other topic from your research that interests you.
PhD researcher: ??!! What? You can do that?
Sarah: Of course. It is your doctoral program’s annual conference, after all. The point of it is to get researchers from the whole program together to talk about their research, and also meet supervisors from other programs.
PhD researcher: Oh.
Sarah: And one more thing: there is free food. Both days. And drink. Really.
PhD researcher: You really, really want me to do this, don’t you?
PhD researcher: Why, exactly?
Sarah: Because I believe in the Humboldtian ideals of academic research: nobody can achieve major breakthroughs alone, sitting in their own little corner. What makes any university great for research is the other researchers. Once a year, we ask our PhD researchers – who are the future of academia, after all – to come together and share their ideas. Out of that combined, collective effort, amazing things can happen with research.
PhD researcher: Nice speech.