ME5121 Approaches to Academic Research

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  Approaches to
Academic Research
         Workshop 2
    Research Design and
  Searching for Information
   Workshop topics for this week:
       Academic disciplines and specialisms.

       Justifying relevant research questions.

       The nature of media and cultural studies.

       Isolating research questions from existing studies.

       Searching online databases for relevant information.
               Some broad terms
   Study: a detailed investigation.

   Scholar: a specialist in a branch of non-technical study.
    Scholars make detailed investigations and devote time to
    acquiring knowledge.

   Academic: pertaining to scholarship.

   An academic [an individual person]: a scholar in a
    particular discipline.

   So what is a discipline?
   Discipline: a community of people devoted to a
    particular branch or tradition of scholarship; they usually
    share the same outlook, philosophy or object.

   Disciplines are disciplines because “members share
    views on the nature of the world, how we can get to
    know about these, what limits there are to the knowledge
    produced.” (Shipman 1997, 4)

   Can you name, explain and categorize some
   Traditional academic disciplines tended to be either
    arts or sciences:

 Fine arts (study the arts): painting, dance, sculpture,
  theatre, architecture, photography.
 Liberal arts / humanities (study culture): english,
  history, philosophy.

 Natural sciences (study nature): physics, chemistry,
  geology, biology, physical geography.
 Social sciences (study society): sociology, human
  geography, anthropology, economics, political economy.
   In the last century a series of new disciplines
    have emerged:

   Technical: business studies, engineering,
    media production.

   Applied or interdisciplinary: psychology,
    communication, media studies, cultural studies.

   Media studies is characterized by…. ?
   Cultural studies is characterized by… ?
   Fields – or disciplines? Film studies, radio studies,
    television studies, journalism studies, popular music

   Each of these fields can take its one object in a number
    of ways. For example in popular music:
       Musicology.
       Ethno-musicology.
       Sociology.
       Cultural studies.
       History.
       Geography.

   One a smaller level there are also specific research
    specialisms – niches such as the sociology of the
    production of Brazilian hip-hop.
           Research questions
   Questions should be relevant to the
    academic field, not to technical concerns (eg.
    avoid “How can a successful label be started”).

   Questions should be justified by reference to
    the discipline, field or specialism, not by
    reference to the student‟s modules or personal

   Some certain questions are best avoided.
               Research questions
   Questions probably best avoided:
       Popular music and internet downloading.
       Celebrity magazines and body image.
       Radio and new technology.
       Radio and the local community.
       Journalism: the internet vs print.
       Journalism: the loss of community papers.
       Effects of “dangerous” media products, on children,
       „Uses and gratifications‟ of the media.
       Feelings or artistic evaluations of media products.
                   QAA         guidelines1

   Communications, media, film and cultural
    studies creates theories about…
       … the ways in which cultural and media organisations intersect
        with general political and economic processes. (Questions of
        „political economy‟)

       … the ways in which accounts of the world are created and how
        they mediate symbolically between the individual and society.
        (Questions of „representation‟)

       … the ways in which questions of creative and cultural value are
        experienced and understood. (Questions of „aesthetics‟)

       … the ways in which social interactions may operate through
        circulating meanings and systems of representations. (Questions
        of „discourse‟)
                    QAA guidelines
   Communications, media, film and cultural
    studies creates theories about…
   … the ways in which creative artefacts are originated, realised and
    distributed, and the extent to which these processes have changed
    and continue to change. (Questions of „production‟ and „distribution‟)

   … the ways in which people appropriate and use cultural texts and
    practices. (Questions of „consumption‟)

   … the ways in which understandings of self and the world are
    formed in relation to such texts and practices. (Questions of

   … the relations between systems of meanings and relations of
    social and political power and inequality. (Questions of „ideology‟)
                    QAA guidelines
   To summarize, for the QAA, media and cultural studies
    consist of questions of:

       Political economy
       Representation
       (The practice of) aesthetics
       Discourse (ways of talking or writing about something)
       Consumption
       Identity
       Ideology (power and inequality)

    … in relation to specific media (usually electronic) or
    media forms, like journalism, film and popular music.
               Secondary research
   Anyone who has done an academic essay
    has already done some secondary research.

   Doing secondary research entails:
                                                       Why do
       Finding information (locating, note taking).   secondary
       Evaluating information (critical thinking).

       Presenting what others have said to show
        understanding and judgement (writing, referencing).
    Isolating research questions
   Always look for academic quality.
                                          qualifies as
   Seek out relevant classic and        an academic
    contemporary material.                 source?

   Empirical studies (and position pieces) and
    most useful.

   With each study, isolate the key research
    question and argument.
        Isolating research questions
   Turn the following titles and statements back into
    research questions:

       Book title: The limits of social research.

       “My argument is that all media give shape to experience, and
        they do so in part through their selectivity.”

       Book title: Interpreting qualitative data.

       “I would argue that a democratic media system would need a
        large, well-funded, structurally pluralistic, and diverse nonprofit
        and noncommercial media sector, as well as a more competitive
        and decentralized commercial sector.”
             Critical thinking
   What does ‘critical thinking’ actually
              Critical thinking
   Critical thinking is more than selecting,
    summarizing and showing you are

   Before critical thinking can happen the
    thinker needs a range of relevant, specific
                  Critical thinking Skills can include…
                                              - Stating reasons and
   Critical thinking describes an            evidence to support a
    attitude towards explanation that         point.
    says that you are active in the
    process of making and remaking it.        - Showing various
                                              sides and judging
   Researchers think critically by
    deciding about what others say.           - Challenging an idea
                                              on the basis of its
   In other words it involves “judgement,”
    “reasoning,” “discussion” and             - Considering if a writer
                                              has succeeded in their
    “evaluation.”                             aim.

                                              - Applying a theory to a
                                              case study.
                       Critical thinking
                          To practice some critical thinking, discuss this
                           definition of the term “popular music” from jazz
                           vibraphonist Gary Burton:

                           [It is] music made by American artists in the
                           popular field. It doesn't matter whether it's hip-
What are the               hop or rap or whatever -- rap less so because it
biases, limitations,       depends so much on words. It's partly to do with
possible counter-          celebrity - the teenager in another country hears
arguments here?            the news, and reads about Michael Jackson or
How could we do            Madonna and the others who are on MTV
more secondary             regularly, and have a pretty substantial following
research to go             around the world. It's as much an American
                           cultural interest as it is a specific music style. I
                           think that's part of why jazz has been interesting
Shipman, M. (1997) The Limits to Social
Research. London: Longman.
The end

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