Research as Public Activity
In Chapter 1 "Introduction", you were introduced to the recent trend toward public sociology. As you might recall, public sociology refers to the application of sociological theories and research to matters of public interest. You might also recall that sociologists differ in their feelings about whether and the extent to which sociologists should aspire to conduct public sociology. Whether they support the movement toward public sociology or not, most sociologists who conduct research hope that their work will have relevance to others besides themselves. As such, research is in some ways a public activity. While the work may be conducted by an individual in a private setting, the knowledge gained from that work should be shared with one’s peers and other parties who may have an interest. Understanding how to share one’s work is an important aspect of the research process.
- Explain the following laws within the Ideal Gas Law
- Identify the six questions social researchers should be able to answer to ensure that their ethical obligations have been met.
- Describe how differences in one’s audience might shape how a person shares research findings.
When preparing to share our work with others we must decide what to share, with whom to share it, and in what format(s) to share it. In this section, we’ll consider the former two aspects of sharing our work. In the sections that follow, we’ll consider the various formats and mechanisms through which social scientists might share their work.
Sharing It All: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Because conducting sociological research is a scholarly pursuit and because sociological researchers generally aim to reach a true understanding of social processes, it is crucial that we share all aspects of our research—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Doing so helps ensure that others will understand, be able to build from, and effectively critique our work. We considered this aspect of the research process in Chapter 3 "Research Ethics", but it is worth reviewing here.
In Chapter 3 "Research Ethics", we learned about the importance of sharing all aspects of our work for ethical reasons and for the purpose of replication. In preparing to share your work with others, and in order to meet your ethical obligations as a sociological researcher, challenge yourself to answer the following questions:
- Why did I conduct this research?
- How did I conduct this research?
- For whom did I conduct this research?
- What conclusions can I reasonably draw from this research?
- Knowing what I know now, what would I do differently?
- How could this research be improved?
Understanding why you conducted your research will help you be honest—with yourself and your readers—about your own personal interest, investments, or biases with respect to the work. In Chapter 4 "Beginning a Research Project", I suggested that starting where you are is a good way to begin a research project. While this is true, using the idea of starting where you are effectivelyrequires that you be honest with yourself and your readers about where you are and why you have chosen to conduct research in a particular area. Being able to clearly communicate how you conducted your research is also important. This means being honest about your data collection methods, sample and sampling strategy, and analytic strategy.
The third question in the list is designed to help you articulate who the major stakeholders are in your research. Of course, the researcher is a stakeholder. Additional stakeholders might include funders, research participants, or others who share something in common with your research subjects (e.g., members of some community where you conducted research or members of the same social group, such as parents or athletes, upon whom you conducted your research). Professors for whom you conducted research as part of a class project might be stakeholders, as might employers for whom you conducted research. We’ll revisit the concept of stakeholders in Chapter 15 "Research Methods in the Real World".
The fourth question should help you think about the major strengths of your work. Finally, the last two questions are designed to make you think about potential weaknesses in your work and how future research might build from or improve upon your work.
Knowing Your Audience
Once you are able to articulate what to share, you must decide with whom to share it. Certainly the most obvious candidates with whom you’ll share your work are other social scientists. If you are conducting research for a class project, your main “audience” will probably be your professor. Perhaps you’ll also share your work with other students in the class. Other potential audiences include stakeholders, reporters and other media representatives, policymakers, and members of the public more generally.
While you would never alter your actual findings for different audiences, understanding who your audience is will help you frame your research in a way that is most meaningful to that audience. For example, I have shared findings from my study of older worker harassment with a variety of audiences, including students in my classes, colleagues in my own discipline (Blackstone, 2010)Blackstone, A. (2010, August). “The young girls thought I should be home waiting to die!” Harassment of older workers. Presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, Atlanta, GA. and outside of it (Blackstone, forthcoming),Blackstone, A. (forthcoming). Harassment of older adults in the workplace. In P. Brownell & J. Kelly (Eds.), Ageism in the workplace. London, UK: Springer-Verlag. news reporters (Leary, 2010),Leary, M. (2010, August). Interview by Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Maine State Capitol News Service. the organization that funded my research (Blackstone, 2008),Blackstone, A. (2008). Workplace harassment: Conceptualizations of older workers, National Science Foundation Grant SES-0817673.older workers themselves, and government (2010)Blackstone, A. (2010, June). Workplace harassment: Conceptualizations and experiences of older workers in Maine. Presentation to the Maine Jobs Council, Augusta, ME. and other agencies that deal with workplace policy and worker advocacy. I shared with all these audiences what I view as the study’s three major findings: that devaluing older workers’ contributions by ignoring them or excluding them from important decisions is the most common harassment experience for people in my sample, that there were few differences between women’s and men’s experiences and their perceptions of workplace harassment, and that the most common way older workers respond when harassed is to keep it to themselves and tell no one. But how I presented these findings and the level of detail I shared about how I reached these findings varied by audience.
I shared the most detail about my research methodology, including data collection method, sampling, and analytic strategy, with colleagues and with my funding agency. In addition, the funding agency requested and received information about the exact timeline during which I collected data and any minor bureaucratic hiccups I encountered during the course of collecting data. These hiccups had no bearing on the data actually collected or relevance to my findings, but they were nevertheless details to which I felt my funder should be privy. I shared similar information with my student audience though I attempted to use less technical jargon with students than I used with colleagues.
Now that you’ve considered what to share and with whom to share it, let’s consider how social scientists share their research.
- As they prepare to share their research, researchers must keep in mind their ethical obligations to their peers, their research participants, and the public.
- Audience peculiarities will shape how much and in what ways details about one’s research are reported.
- Read a scholarly article of your choice. What evidence can you find that might indicate that the author gave some thought to the six questions outlined in this section?