Explorative research requires spaces of movementMay 9, 2008
A recent speech I held about my PhD research reminded me of how fortunate I’ve been. Being able to turn to Actor-Network-Theory and engage in reconfigurations of the research field of e-learning is not just something you do. It requires space for such research movements.
This research space for movements is something that we cannot take for granted, and it involves many more actors than just our own will to move research. This is a small entry on some of my thoughts about research as living, research as movements, engagements, relationships and shifting partial commitments with variations of contexts of knowledge. All of which take part in the makeup of our agencies as researchers.
We must acknowledge that there are always strings attached to our research. Thus knowledge is not just the result of research but knowledges take very much part in the makeup of research. The same point can be made about learning. Learning is not just something out there we study. We also study with our knowledge of learning while learning.
ANT argues for a focus on relationships, associations, engagements, translations and movements. The focus is not so much what we know as what makes what we know – how do things become things? ANT oriented research thus require a foundation that invites explorative moves into its projects. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have such supportive foundations for my research – both at the Danish University School of Education and in Microsoft Denmark. I’ve been able to spend 4 years studying whatever I wanted in the ways I wanted. This does not mean that my research is any more or less free of strings attached than any other research. As all research, my PhD research has required a lot of workings, relationships, (dis-)engagements, translations and movements. But I’ve been able to let go of some of the taken-for-granted theories and knowledges that the research field of e-learning seems deeply entangled with. For this I’m grateful, and I wish for other PhD students that they’ll be granted as much space for creativity and explorativity as I have.
In my experience, today’s PhD students seem much more caught up in pre-described programs of research, project plans to be held and ways of ordering, organizing and working with fields of knowledge, than I’ve been. Being an Industrial PhD student, I was already to begin with baptized the odd angle (in a positive sense). Being the odd angle in both university and industrial life has provided me with action possibilities that many of today’s PhD students in universities don’t have. They are being evaluated, measured and weighed, and I’m meeting stressed out co-students in the hallways at university that express their deepest concern that they are behind or not far enough because they are not following the plan.
Not following the plan, of course, has always been a part of research. But in my PhD time, I’ve been granted space to experience similar situations in quite other terms. To me not following the plan meant that I was getting wiser, learning more, moving and getting closer to – not further away from – the empirical matters. Moving away from the plan may in fact be moving closer. I believe that it is a dangerous path that university follows when PhD-students get caught up in these destructive ways of fixing research. In order to create new knowledge, researchers need to be able to move the contexts of knowledge. In this sense PhD research should not be an apprenticeship – if that means learning a trade. PhD research needs to be explorative research, live research, involving research and researchers that move. Thus, rather than being concerned with whether plans and programs are followed, universities should engage, encourage and be supportive of the fruitful and odd relationships and movements that clever PhD students enact. Supervisors should guide students to ways of argumentation for the necessities of the mobility of research, so that they prepare for future research relations involving audits, ministries, plans, schedules etc.
If research doesn’t move, it is dead. This cannot be anyone’s dream about the kind of workings and relationships that universities should take part in.
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