This is my first blog specifically on the study of Research Methods in Social Sciences a.k.a. PAIR2004 at Southampton University. It’s a course which will be the most important component of my whole degree given its influence on both my dissertation and my ability to create credible research: the skill any academic should seek to pursue. It’s also the course which has redirected and refocused my attentions at university and my ideas of studying in general. The reasons for this essentially boil down to a number of subtitles, and who doesn’t love a subtitle?
I’d argue that anyone doing politics has a fundamental interest in power and how it affects them as individuals, with much of my own work centred around the very topic. What’s been empowering about this course has been the transition from student to potentially relevant individual in the world of political thought. It’s as if the light at the end of a 17 year education tunnel can finally be seen and although I’m wearing proverbial sunglasses at the moment while I get used to that light, I’m looking forward to trying to make a difference. For now, I’m reading scholarly articles with a sense of intellectual arrogance that allows me to be a lot more critical and perceptive and although I’ve not yet got the grades to justify that approach, it is improving my work. That’s basically the right direction, right?
Using Scientific Method
Before PAIR2004 a dissertation to me was 10,000+ words on a purposefully vague essay title. Now, it seems more like drawing up the plans for a lego house, with the bricks being the potential research methods. I’ve got a toolbox of big red bricks and little yellow bricks and a Darth Vader figure and once I understand where my dissertation is going (more on this later) I’ll know which research methods I’ll pick to construct Vader’s bachelor pad. It makes the idea of research much more tangible and accessible and combined with the idea that my work could really matter, has me excited to work on my dissertation.
Relevance and the Internet
In the work I’ve done in PAIR2004 and, more so, UOSM2008 I’m beginning to really utilise my excessive internet use to further my future career. Knowing where to post political thought and knowing not to be a total idiot on twitter have come together to start making a good online profile which I can point people to in the (unlikely) event of potential employment. It’s also the best place to engage with individuals on contemporary issues because not only do you get real time feedback, but you can get relevant information from people on location. That’s such an invaluable asset when there are so many potential variables in play. Trying to break down the situation in Ukraine for example, is almost impossible to do without the filter of media opinion, but reading accounts from real Ukrainian citizens suffering from the horrendous conditions gives a much more realistic impression of what’s actually going on. Online communities I’ve grown into this year have shown me the politics of Thailand, Uganda and even parts of Indonesia. In short, involving information in my daily surfing has made me a better student. Now I have to build on that and do more of these blogs to document where this ultimately leads to.
Okay, so thats where I am conceptually with the course; now for the more practical progress. With our group project we are looking to provide a piece of research for the Cabinet Office on the topic of mutuals. To me mutuals are the real implications of Cameron’s ‘big society’ which in layman’s terms are private companies which are based in the concept of giving back to society. Defining the term in its entirety took a week and 10 university students, so I’m sure you can sympathise that trying to sum it up in a sentence is a bit of nightmare, however for all intents and purposes this will do for now.
The project took a while to get going in all honesty due to a lack of communication and, more significantly, being very early into the course we were all a bit clueless on what research in social sciences actually amounted to. But we’ve grown together, identified our talents and are now ready to really make some headway into a piece of research we can all be proud of.
As for my dissertation I’m not where I want to be just yet. I’m a giddy fat child in a sweet shop at the moment (a metaphor I’ve had a lot of personal experience with) with loads of ideas to potentially settle on. My heart is torn between working either on theory surrounding 9/11, as thats a topic which interests me to no end, and researching the potential effect of legalising cannabis in the UK. The latter provides a topic that is hugely relevant (although with a little less trepidation from parties a real debate could take place) and the idea that my research could add to this conversation is hugely important and persuasive to me. However at the same time I think that the results of my research will be that legalising marijuana would have generally positive effects on the UK. If that is the outcome will I be able to avoid the stigma of being a student who advocated the legalisation of weed in 10,000 words? However good that research is, and however well received it is, will an employee be able to overlook the fact the topic is weed? Essentially, can I do that research and not be stereotyped as a stoner by someone getting a first impression of what I can offer? It has my mum worried (partially because I think even raising the topic has her believing I’m essentially Seth Rogen) and I’ll be honest it has me worried too, especially as this piece of work will make up the main component of my portfolio of work.
However at the same time; would I be a coward for not tackling something I really want to influence? We’re taught the importance of academia and academic study as a part of PAIR2004 and to me, if I don’t try to make a change, I’m not being the academic I want to be.
I think some meetings with the likes of Mr Matt Ryan are in order as this is a dilemma which I’m struggling with. Is researching cannabis this early in my pursuit of academic and career success brave or stupid? Once I answer that, I think I’ll have an answer to what my dissertation topic will be.
Otherwise thankyou for your time and I’ll post a blog on the topic of PAIR2004 once some developments have been made.