Tuesday, 29 January 2013

    As Michael has pointed out in his last post, there is an increasing pressure for social science researchers to “cover the bases” when it comes to being able to understand and use the methods of other academic disciplines. In last week’s readings, Luker explained the importance of needing to “frame” ones’ research in terms of existing intellectual frames (2008, p.64). Choosing a frame is a difficult task when your research topic potentially fits in many. Knight calls attention to the fact that, although the distinctions are not absolute, disciplines tend to favour certain epistemologies and ontologies which affect the research methods they commonly use (2002, 27-28). In highly interdisciplinary institutions, such as the iSchool, students are faced with the added challenge of working between even more disparate scholarly traditions. I share Michael’s concern regarding how researchers are expected to generate such a comprehensive understanding of all the related fields. I am even more concerned about how to account for differences in epistemologies and ontologies as I try to synthesize multiple approaches to a field.

    This week’s readings gave me some comfort as they featured possible solutions to working in highly interdisciplinary fields.  We see an example of Luker’s “methodological agnosticism” as Ratto adopts constructionist approaches more commonly used in scientific and technology-based disciplines (2011, p.254). Also, the collaborative process and shared experience of building a prototype in Ratto’s explanation of  “critical making” involves the creation of a “collective frame” where participants can identify and address epistemic and ontological differences (2011, p.253). Similarly, the collaborative nature of the UTOPIA project, as described by Winner, featured the incorporation and synthesis of the perspectives of stakeholders from many academic and professional backgrounds (1992, p.357). Collaboration seems to be an easy way to help develop a frame which accounts for epistemological and ontological differences between fields. I am not certain how to achieve the same results through small scale research where opportunities for collaboration may be limited.         


  1. It is striking how collaboration figures into both Matt and Winner's examples of innovative methodologies. Almost as if interpersonal methodological work enhances interdisciplinary research? Interesting stuff, Nicholas! Got to ponder this further....

  2. As Nicholas points out, Ratto emphasizes the shared nature of the critical making process. As Ratto points out, “The final prototypes…are considered a means to an end, and achieve value through the act of shared construction, joint conversation, and reflection.” (Ratto, 2011, p. 253). In addition to creating a “collective frame,” the critical making process allows for disciplinary and epistemic differences to be both highlighted and hopefully overcome” (Ratto, 2011, p. 253). Nicholas also mentions the UTOPIA project. UTOPIA was a collaborative design project between labor and management at a Swedish newspaper in the early 1980s. With additional input from university computer scientists, the collaborators produced a graphics program that allowed the employees to retain their positions and continue using their skills in newspaper and typesetting, except now on computer. This is an example of the ‘Scandinavian approach’ to participation in design, which eliminates “ritual of expertise,” (Winner, 1992, p. 357), meaning that not all stakeholders who participate in a project need to have the same level of expertise in all the disciplines that are connected to the project. In the UTOPIA example, the presence of the university computer scientists as collaborators meant that the other stakeholders’ could begin working on the project, initially relying on these scientists’ expertise in computers. The other stakeholders learned the relevant information and ideas (about computer science and presumably any other project-related disciplines) while participating in the design process (Winner, 1993, p. 357).
    From these two examples, it appears that Chaya’s summation of Nicholas’ post was correct i.e., that interpersonal methodological work enhances interdisciplinary research. This idea is reassuring, since it provides a potential path to overcoming one’s lack of knowledge in a new discipline. However, Nicholas stated that he was unsure how to overcome gaps in disciplinary knowledge when conducting small-scale research, given that opportunities for collaboration might be more limited. I must admit, until today’s class (February 13), I shared Nicholas’ concern.
    Knight defines small-scale research as “systemic inquiries that involve one person” (Knight, 2002, p. xi). However, as Prof. Galey pointed out in today’s lecture, a researcher can use social media platforms to exchange views and information with experts from other disciplines who are interested in your topic. Twitter is a particularly powerful tool, as it’s openness allows for serendipitous occurrences in the research process, such as a referral to previously unknown information from a third party who stumbles upon your conversation with an expert in another discipline. Prof. Galey referred to the “Sources of Information (Web 2.0)” posting by Alyssa on the “Salsa Dancing Into The iSchool” blog (http://salsadancingintotheischool.blogspot.ca/2013/02/sources-of-information-web-20.html). Alyssa mentions the concept of the “networked researcher,” and provides a link to the University of York’s Support for Researchers website, which has a comprehensive guide to using Twitter for research purposes (http://www.scribd.com/doc/124317896/Twitter-for-research). While this approach to collaboration seems less systematic than the process outlined in the UTOPIA example, I think it is a good place to start in terms of acquiring and using the knowledge of others to ease your small-scale research path.

  3. References (for the Comment Above)

    Alyssa, "Sources of information (web 2.0)" Salsa Dancing Into the iSchool: http://salsadancingintotheischool.blogspot.ca/2013/02/sources-of-information-web-20.html

    Becoming a networked researcher (University of York Support for Researchers website): http://subjectguides.york.ac.uk/content.php?pid=355240&sid=2905371

    Ratto, M. (2011). Critical making: conceptual and material studies in technology and social life. The Information Society, 27(4).

    Twitter for researchers (University of York Support for Researchers website): http://www.scribd.com/doc/124317896/Twitter-for-research

    Winner, L. (1992). Citizen virtues in a technological order. Inquiry, 35, 341-61.