diabolical contingency

I am sure I had not read or was not told by anyone of the contingent nature of research at any point of my PhD. I won’t discuss it here in detail, as it would probably be detrimental to my PhD, so I shall return to it at a later date with some specifics. Even though I have carried out a stupendous amount of research, the magic ‘red thread’ of argument seems to have only fallen into place by accident. At no point did I think, “Oh, I need to talk about this, so I’d better go research it.” It has always been a case of finding what emerged from my reading of the archive or being in the field. What have a missed because of this? Probably lots! I certainly know that now who I would interview and what the nature of the questions would be…

I am probably a little manic being up this late and working at full throttle, but it is a little awe-inspiring to think that none of the main arguments of my dissertation were locked-in until at most several months ago. There is no necessary case for the arguments that could have been established beforehand. Everything has developed as if by accident. Such contingency is the opposite of how we are trained and inducted into our research practices. Everything has to be established before we begin. Even now as I am massaging the chapters into their final structure I am reading over paragraphs that are simply deleted, or examples that are mobilised within arguments that are completely transformed. Such contingency!!

How to prepare new researchers for this? Is it a good thing? How does this work with current funding structures? Where is the location of contingency then?

4 replies on “diabolical contingency”

  1. Hey Glen, Its good to hear that even as close as you are and all the research you’ve done that you still feel like the whole process is so contingent and not really as ‘driven’ by the researcher as its supposed to appear.That sometimes it all feels like a bit of a fluke.Do you think that everybody really feels like this when they do research but no body usually has the guts to say anything because we’re all supposed to look like we know what we are doing and be the expert and get the grants? Is there ever a time, I wonder, that we stop feeling like academic frauds?

  2. At Canberra, and also here at QUT, new researchers are encouraged, nay, compelled to plan their research well in advance with every step detailed, explained and thought out.

    I was fortunate that I just missed the introduction of that madness in Canberra and was mostly left to discover for myself where I was going and how I was getting there.

    The trick now is of course to bend with the current while simultaneously pushing back against it. Make a plan that is broad enough to be flexible and hope that your supervisor is cool with it. Planning, is after all, a Situated Action.

  3. Everything has developed as if by accident. Such contingency is the opposite of how we are trained and inducted into our research practices

    Yeah – and it’s a great thing! It gives your diss its value as an event in itself, right? It’s life, a lived thing. Not some machine that spits out a predefined calculation. That it’s the opposite of how we are trained points to a ruddy great hole in our institutional thinking.

    As Ben makes clear above, even the planning is contingent on a particular set of practices.

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