Thursday, February 10, 2005

Response to Prof. Leckie

As mentioned earlier, my first pre-proposal received some criticism. Before moving on to my new project, I want to make a few comments in order to synthesize the comments. My typical reaction to peer review is to stuff the responses in a drawer with a profoundly honest shrug. Here goes:

As I mentioned to you before, I have no expertise in the area of visual languages or visualization and would not be able to supervise a thesis on this topic. Having said that, however, I do have some general thoughts on the proposal.

First, I have difficulty seeing what is the researchable question in the proposal as currently articulated. This leaves me wondering what, exactly, the purpose of the project is, other than to "climb the mountain because it is there". You do refer to normal science at one point, but I'm not sure you'd want to hitch a thesis to any ideas concerning normal science in this day and age. You also say something about the fact that academics and practitioners don't see eye to eye regarding information behaviour, but I don't think that can be used as a justification for a thesis project.

Point taken. The project I embark on has to address a gap in the literature. That seems like an easy mission but once I torture my interests into a suitable framework, the gap seems to disappear. Perhaps the approach is to take a gap that people clearly recognize and move on from there. I suspect that a number of people recognize that a gap exists between practitioners and academics, yet there isn’t a specific expression to describe it or a specific corpus devoted to it; however, the issue is obliquely referenced to constantly in the HIB literature. We’re missing an expression: “The geldingafell between professionals and academics…” Lesson: work from a gap identified in the literature with a specific vocabulary to describe it.

Second, quite frankly, I would wonder how the development of a visual pattern (some might argue this is the same thing as a model - is it?) of information seeking could sustain a thesis of 250-300 pages in length. Perhaps I'm just not seeing the bigger picture, but it doesn't seem to me there's enough meat there. We already have a number of models of information seeking (Dervin's being the one that springs to mind) so to create more visual patterns from scratch does not seem to me to be the way to go. I might be persuaded if the pattern/model came out of a research question where you had investigated some phenomenon and developed the model out of that but my reading of your proposal suggests to me that you would be going about it the other way around.

<>I suspect I could quite easily fill several hundred pages on the development of a visual pattern; however, the need for a research question is hard to avoid! I haven’t given up completely on the project I positioned in the pre-proposal but I realize that I need to do some groundwork first on the function of visual representations in professional communities. When I think of Dervin’s model I’m struck by two things: what the model represents and how the markings or inscriptions of the model actually work with the individual. I suspect that this question requires greater analysis than what can be afforded by cognitive psychology; rhetorics, conventions, and languages are social things defined by the vicissitudes of an interpretive community. Thinking of the Wilson’s 1999 article that attempted to represent and synthesize the various visual depictions of information behaviour, I have to wonder how those individual diagrams are working—or not working—with the interpretive community of HIB. The whole article is just begging for some sort of critical analysis… Why? Because I think the models suck. Hmmm… there’s that research question again. Perhaps a better approach will be develop a deep understanding of visual representations (i.e., a dissertation) and then conduct the critical analysis.

It might just be that I am more empirically minded and can only envision projects where there is some sort of process of data collection and analysis. However, this doesn't seem to be what you are aiming for. I could imagine doing a more theoretically-based thesis but it still would have to be based on something - perhaps a discourse analysis of a series of canonic texts or some such thing. But, I know of no series of canonic texts which would lend themselves to the project you are describing.

There are some canonical texts but I don’t necessarily think discourse analysis is the right way to approach. Not to say that discourse analysis may not be an important component of the analysis. I have to reread that section is Rose’s Visual Methodologies. She devotes two chapters to discourse analysis so there must be something there.

So, this brings me to my final point - I'm not sure this is a good road to travel. Perhaps Bernie will have some comments that will be more helpful because this idea is closer to the kinds of documentalist research that he does. The reality is that you need to find a topic that a faculty member here feels comfortable supervising and quite frankly, other than Bernie, I'm not sure who could take something like this on.

Keep me posted as to what transpires.


Great advice. Hopefully I can spin something out of my most recent ideas, something more directly related to a particular field and rooted in a specific approach if not a methodology. I suspect that I am soon going to have to make some decisions about how to actually do this thing. By splitting my ideas across two specific eras I’ve left open two distinct avenues of approach: historiography and social. It would be easy for me to do historical research on theatrum machninarum and ethnography on users of Architectural Graphic Standards combined with archive research on Ramsey’s personal files. <>

Choice is good but I’m very conscious of Creswell’s (1994) advice: “Pragmatically, to use both [quantitative and qualitative] paradigms adequately and accurately consumes more pages than journal editors are willing to allow and extends dissertation studies beyond normal limits of size and scope.” (pg. 7) There must be a reason why Prof. Ross made us read that during the first few weeks of our research methods course! <>

Downhill parking:

  1. Can I combine methods?
  2. Will I have to use ethnography to establish materiality or situatedness? It’s certainly in the work of PARC or Leath and Huff. <>
  3. <>How the hell would one go about doing archive research anyways?


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