There come points in every PhD when the intrepid researcher has to account for what they've been doing. Fair enough I say, we can't spend our time reading and pondering and reading some more in isolation – that would just reinforce the stereotype... wouldn't you say? So it is that my institution provided a couple of opportunities for me to do so last week: I'll post something about our faculty research conference soon, what follows is about my 'RD4', where we sit down and try to work out whether my research ideas have some merit. It's May 2012, so I've had eight months to reach this stage (though I can't help thinking I've only managed about ten weeks' productive PhD work in that time).
At the heart of the proposal is the main research aim, which at the moment looks like this:
'To use social network analysis to examine communities of interest around cultural festivals, evaluating online and offline connections and their influence on social capital and power in these community networks.'
What do you think? Too vague, broad, ambitious, outdated and missing the point? Will it be relevant in five years time? Where should it be positioned in the theoretical literature?
It needs focus, to be tightened up and made more manageable. The 'and offline' could be dropped, bringing the focus firmly onto the online. Perhaps 'social network analysis' and 'social capital and power' aren't necessary either, but they point to both methodology and theory: which methods am I interested in using and which areas of cultural festival communities do I think are impacted/augmented by these online connections (social media and so on)? The question then becomes are they the right approaches and concepts to be thinking about?
- Social network analysis: I think this is appropriate and should stay. I like what I've read about social networks and I think it fits as a proposed methodology with its own theoretical literature.
- Social capital: again this is something I'm interested in and there's a growing literature linking these ideas to festivals and events. I think it deserves to feature in the main aim in order to keep it front and centre throughout the research.
- Power: I'm less sure about this one, although perhaps it's impossible to consider social networks without some reference to (im)balances of power. I'm also proposing a critical realist research philosophy, which has an emancipatory motivation. Consideration of power could facilitate this, recognising that not everyone in a community network has equal influence.
The aim could therefore be seen to follow this construction:
- Methodology: social network analysis
- Focus: communities of interest
- Context: cultural festivals
- Data: online connections
- Theory: social capital, power
These themes have all featured in the work I've done to this point, from the original proposal to the scoping literature review and deliberations on how best to proceed with a systematic review of the literature. That all suggests consistency, but via an ongoing and iterative process involving a range of people.
To go with the aim are a series of objectives, which I've written to reflect the structure of the overall thesis. That has resulted in a different objective for each chapter, more or less, drawing attention to the idea of a 'systematic review' of the literature, and a possible three tiered approach to the primary research. The systematic review would take a relatively positivistic approach to the literature, demanding that the process follows specific methods and that it is carefully documented. A three tiered approach would facilitate research into the experiences of individuals; as well as the impacts on specified festivals; ultimately then the situation across a whole festival city economy. This is about three PhD's worth of work, so another round of focusing beckons sometime in the future!
Image: 'Focus' / flickr.com/photos/ihtatho/627226315/