Crafting Research

This seminar that I attended last week on crafting research was very interesting. It was organised by the Department of Organisation, Work and Technology at Lancaster University, UK,  and delivered by Professor Hugh Willmott  from City University London. Hugh Willmott has been working with Professor Emma Bell from the Open University. His talk was based on a paper they are working on, in which they are exploring the significance of crafting research in business and management, although having heard this talk the ideas presented seem relevant to social sciences research in general.

The essence of the work lies in an interest in how to produce well-crafted research and avoid Baer and Shaw’s (see reference list) criticism:

As editors, we are often surprised by the lack of “pride and perfection” in submitted work, even when there is a kernel of a good idea somewhere in the manuscript. Submitted manuscripts that report results from research designs in which many shortcuts have been taken are rather commonplace. In addition, many papers seem to have been hastily prepared and submitted, with obvious rough edges in terms of grammar and writing style.

In their article Baer and Shaw quote C.W. Mills as follows:

Scholarship is a choice of how to live as well as a choice of career; whether he knows it or not, the intellectual workman forms his own self as he works toward perfection of his craft; to realize his potentialities, and any opportunities that come his way, he constructs a character which has at its core the qualities of the good workman. —C. W. Mills, 1959

The seminar started with a look at the online etymology dictionary where we can see that the meaning of the word craft has, over time, shifted in meaning from ‘power, physical strength, might’ to ‘skill, dexterity’.

The thrust of the argument made was that researchers should shift towards being craftsmen who are dedicated to the community, have a social conscience and are aware of and acknowledge the ethical and political dimensions of their research. Such an approach would also openly acknowledge uncertainty and bias in research and the role of embodiment and imagination.

The image that ran through this presentation was Simon Starling’s art work ‘Shedboatshed’.

Starling was the winner of the Turner Prize in 2005.  For this work he dismantled a shed and turned it into a boat; loaded with the remains of the shed, the boat was paddled down the Rhine to a museum in Basel, dismantled and re-made into a shed. See:  http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/turner-prize-2005/turner-prize-2005-artists-simon-starling for further information.

I’m not sure that I fully understand the significance of using Starling’s work in relation to crafting research unless it’s that his work has been described as research-based and clearly involves research and craft. Maybe it’s simply that Starling deconstructs familiar things to recreate them in different forms?

Interestingly, in the questions that followed the seminar, the thorny issue of having to write in a prescriptive way to be accepted in high ranking journals was discussed. Some members of the audience seemed to accept this as a given constraint which cannot be surmounted, i.e. we need to write and present research in a way which will not only be accepted by the given journal, but also will meet the requirements of the University’s REF. For some of the seminar participants there seemed to be no room for embodied, imaginative research which embraces uncertainty. My suggestion that we should perhaps look for alternative publishing outlets, blogs being one example, was met with an outcry of protest from one or two in the audience. ‘No one reads blogs’ they said, and besides ‘Blogging is cowardly’. I neither understood this nor agreed. The conversation seemed to endorse these sentences from Baer and Shaw’s paper:

Our goal was to reaffirm the notion that scholarly pursuit in the management sciences is a form of craftsmanship—we are craftsmen! Some may dismiss our arguments as idealistic or romantic. The realities of life as an academic, the pressures we are under—to publish in order not to perish—offer an all-to-convenient excuse to dismiss our ideas.

What a sorry state of affairs, but I do know from experience that many journals are not prepared to take a chance on non-conventional styles of presentation; Introduction, Literature Review, Method, Results, Conclusion remains the format most likely to get accepted and to suggest that the research endeavour might have failed or that there is a degree of uncertainty around the results is unlikely to lead to a favourable response. It seems there’s a long way to go before the idea of crafting research in the terms presented by Hugh Willmott is widely accepted.

A wide range of Literature was referred to in this seminar, which will be interesting to follow up on. See the references below.

References

Adamson, G. (2013). The Invention of Craft. Bloomsbury Academic.

Alley, M. (2018 4th edition). The Craft of Scientific Writing. Springer

Baer, M. & Shaw, J.D. (2017). Falling in love again with what we do: Academic Craftsmanship in the Management Sciences. Academy of Management Journal. 80(4), 1213-1217.

Bell, E., Kothiyal, N. & Willmott, H. (2017). Methodology-as-Technique and the Meaning of Rigour in Globalized Management Research. British Journal of Management, 28(3), 534–550.

Burrell, G. & Morgan, G. (1979). Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis: elements of the sociology of corporate life. Heinemann

Cunliffe, A. (2010). Crafting Qualitative Research: Morgan and S Smircich 30 Years On. Organizational Research Methods OnlineFirst.

Delamont, S. & Atkinson, P.A. (2001). Doctoring uncertainty: mastering craft knowledge. Social Studies of Science, 31(1), 87-107.

Frayling, C. (2017, reprint edition). On Craftsmanship: Towards a New Bauhaus. Oberon Books

Kvale, S. & Brinkmann, S. (2008 2nd edition). Interviews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research. SAGE Publication.

Wright Mills, C. (2000). Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press.

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