research practice – the meta view

(by Adrian Miles)

Research strategies is part of the Bachelor of Media and Communication Honours program. It provides an introduction to ways of doing research, however, we take an unusual approach. Our methodology within the subject, which is largely informed by what these days gets described as ‘design thinking’ (that came about because I shared an open plan office with interaction design academics for a few years and I’d like to think various things rubbed off in both directions).

Rather than a survey of research methods we do a lot of practical skill building around tools to use, how to manage work load, project management, and the pragmatics of actually being able to find decent stuff, cataloguing that, and using it effectively. In addition I do a series of exercises around writing practices to help students become better writers. Finally the key epistemological things we cover are closer to an almost ethnography of research. What I mean by that is that we do different exercises, projects, and readings to think about what a knowledge claim in their respective discipline is, what it looks like, what counts as evidence, and how you would find and use such evidence. Given that the students are a mix of thesis and project + exegesis students, and from disciplines as diverse as creative writing or game programming through to a Deleuzean analysis of the films of Terrence Malick, beginning to understand the variety of things that might be a knowledge claim, how to recognise them, and make their own, seems to me to be a pretty good outcome from a semester of honours teaching.

Finally, I’ve called this blog “research practice” rather than research methods or strategies because as far as I can tell from shepherding over a hundred honours students through this for eight or so years all research (whether thesis or project, philosophy or writing music) is a practice. Good research always has to come to some sort of arrangement with ambiguity, complexity, mess, noise, difference (différance), and the stuff always pushes back of its own accord. This is, whichever way you slice it, a practice. (What does vary is the way this mess gets reported, which is where a great deal of the confusion about research as ‘practice’ and ‘practice based research’ arises – some disciplines are happy with some degree of noise in the reporting or communicating of the research, others generally aren’t. And in all cases you will easily find exceptions to the rule.)