Week 2: Research Interest

Luker’s instruction to use writing to clarify or even reveal one’s thoughts really resonates with my own experience. I have often found that forcing myself to sit down and articulate my tangled thoughts as if explaining them to someone with no prior knowledge has the practically alchemical effect of distilling an amorphous mess down to the nugget of argument that I can actually work with.

Nonetheless, the language of magic and alchemy, while evocative, glosses over the difficult process of collapsing a bunch of feelings and hunches and bits of data into that particularly linear form of expression. More often, the experience is less like magic to me, and more like putting together some ikea-style furniture with incomplete or very poorly translated instructions to go on:

With all the pieces scattered across the floor and incomprehensible instructions in one hand, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and paralysed with anxiety. But if you go in and pick up the pieces and play with them, physically try to figure out where bits and bobs fit together, slowly but surely the whole thing starts making sense, and in the best case scenario, it all comes together exactly as you hoped it would. It takes several tries, and you find out a lot along the way: maybe you don’t end up with exactly the object you were expecting (maybe you had the wrong instruction booklet); maybe you find out that you had an extra piece and trying to shoe-horn it into the design was throwing everything off; and maybe you really were missing a crucial part from the start. I had a hard time with this exercise, maybe because I can’t decide what bit of furniture I want to buy in the first place. (Okay, that’s it with the extended metaphor, I promise.)

As in many other week 2 blog posts I’ve read so far, I just can’t decide which question to focus on! My interests are a big smorgasbord, and I’m a subject omnivore — which has a lot to do with my decision not to pursue the thesis path of our MI program. Also (again, like some fellow classmates here) I have an insubstantial background in the social sciences, and I don’t feel like I have a good handle yet on what constitutes a promising research question (but that’s something I’m hoping to learn, and soon). When I sat down to do this exercise, I ended up with just a long list of questions and interests. As soon as I wrote one down, I’d think of another one. On reflection, I made myself a list of what Walter L. Wallace* calls explanandums** [Luker, p. 52].

What I did find out is that I’m more interested in some general themes than others: when I looked back on my list, I noticed that gender, technology, and narrative media (of the entertainment variety) came up again and again. (But I should get around talking about a question here!)

One of the topics I am interested in is the influence of gender on the perception of a person’s technical and/or mechanical expertise (both that person’s perception of their own skills, and external perceptions of them). I’m aware that this has been an area of some study in recent decades; and with technology playing a progressively important role in everyday life, the applications are considerable. In my “bedraggled daisy” [from Luker, p.82] of this question, one or more petals would also be devoted to librarianship. This question is relevant to a field that is both (persistently) heavily gendered, and increasingly calling for technical skill.

I am also fascinated by a relatively recent episode in science fiction media in which multiple fan communities (“fandoms”) collided and kicked up a lot of very interesting dirt in the ensuing scuffle. I’m referring (of course) to the casting of another straight white man (in a long, unbroken line of straight white men) as the next lead actor for Doctor Who. To sum it up (assuming no prior knowledge): Doctor Who is one of if not the longest (continuously) running science fiction TV show in history, which it accomplished by a narrative device (“regeneration”) that allows for the main character (“The Doctor”) to be recast without disturbing the continuity of the character. In one of the recent seasons, it was established that the Doctor’s species could switch genders during regeneration (and, it was implied, race). Thus, when the latest and very conservative casing choice was announced, there was a furious explosion of a response in certain regions of the fandom — and an emotionally extreme explosion in response to that response. That this was such an emotionally charged passage for so many people in such different ways indicates to me that there is something more interesting than a contentious casting choice going on here. I am interested in how this event brings together (in a very bedraggled daisy) participatory behaviour in fan culture, and the ownership that fans feel over their favourite media, with online behaviour patterns, genre expectations, and gender.

In short, thanks for reading! This has been a much more intensive and distracted exercise than I expected it to be.


*Luker attributes her use of the terms to Wallace, though the terms explanandum and explanans trace back to Carl Gustave Hempel and Paul Oppenheim.

**Walter Wallace might call them explananda, or explanandi; but my Latin is Pig-Latin, so I am following the precedent set by syllabus/syllabuses vis a vis kludged Latin neologisms.



Hempel C.G., Oppenheim P. (1948). “Studies in the Logic of Explanation”. Philosophy of Science, XV, 152.

Luker, K. (2008) Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences: Research in an Age of Info-glut. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.


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One response to “Week 2: Research Interest

  1. Pingback: ‘Irrelevance’ Objections to Hempel | The Leather Library

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