Learning to research “out loud”

Ross Parry | January 12, 2012

All the team on ‘Representing Re-Formation’ are aware of the opportunity a rich website like this presents, particularly its potential to document our work in progress.

It is evident that networked media can allow all of us to share ideas as they appear (in the lab, in the field, in the gallery, in the archive …), to rehearse emerging thoughts and theses (perhaps irrespective of how speculative they may be), and even to test nascent theories and concepts by seeking early feedback and formative review.

Within the Social Web, and its world of never-ending tagging and tweeting, poking and posting, it may seem unremarkable to use an online resource in this way. The Web today is, after all, a place of conversation (where it once was a place dissemination), where users are active producers and creators (where once they were more passive browsers). It may not at first appear particularly novel, therefore, to suggest that a team (like ours) might use the Web to communicate, comment and contribute, to re-draft and re-iterate. Those are the defining characteristics of today’s Web.

And yet, this kind of openness, this transparency, is not a trait necessarily that has defined the academy for most of its history. It is not too controversial to suggest that scholarship, instead, is more discrete with its research, more controlled (protective even) of its unfinished work. The culture is of publishing when the thesis is ready, of disclosing when the theory is sound, of disseminating when the project is complete, or at least at a point when it can stand up to peer review and make that all important contribution to the knowledge – and ‘further the subject’.

It is undeniable that academia is discovering the benefits of blogging their research lives and harnessing the potential of online social networking as a professional tool. That said, a culture of ‘full disclosure’ or ‘open source research’ would appear – still – to be a step too far for much of the academy.

This dimension to our project then is, in a sense, partly an adventure in seeing where the boundaries are for scholars (from a number of different disciplines) when sharing their research. When given the opportunity to disclose how much are we as scholars willing to reveal? What are the accepted arenas (and moments) for peer review? Does making research visible and open expose too much of the serendipity, the errors, the risk, the frustration, the methodical and metronomic plain hard work that can actually occupy much of scholars’ research time – but which (significantly) rarely figure in their final public outputs. Do academics do themselves (and society) a disservice by concealing the process of research and only ever showing the polished conclusions? Is there, in contrast, more to be gained by changing the culture, by opening up, by welcoming others into all the activity and thinking that produces those final outcomes?

That’s why, for me, ‘Representing Re-Formation’ is – excitingly – also an investigation into ‘researching out loud’.

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  1. Thanks Ross. Interesting thoughts on ‘researching out loud’ – I don’t know what would be right for different researchers and different research projects, but the Representing Reformation project does seem excellently placed to experiment with a more transparent and open ‘revealing’ of the research process. Pulling together methodologies and research expertise from across the arts and humanities, sciences, and professional sector is really quite special and exciting, and perhaps this process is potentially as interesting to us outside the research project, and even outside the academy, as the story of the tombs that will unfold… not that that story won’t be fascinating as well!

    Comment by Katy Bunning — February 6, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

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