A plea for boring research (and how to make it interesting)

Thijs WillemsBy Thijs Willems / Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

A widely cited article from 1971 by Murray Davis starts as follows:

“It has long been thought that a theorist is considered great, not because his theories are true, but because they are interesting[1] (p. 309).

Although Davis’ claim might be provocative to some, I will not throw down this gauntlet here in this blog. Instead, I want to show how I discovered in my research that the interesting stuff is sometimes found in what at first sight may seem utterly boring or mundane. By means of pursue and persistence, the interesting can be found in the boring.

My research is about collaboration between the different railway organizations in the Netherlands. These organizations have had a rather turbulent history (see, for just one example out of many: http://bit.ly/1HVeJ2X) and with all the current media-attention and public opinions about the performance of NS and ProRail, it is hard to see what exactly is boring about my research. Nonetheless, not long after I started my fieldwork I took interest in the work of train dispatchers, who are responsible for the safe and efficient coordination of trains through stations. In practice, however, most of their work is automatized and dispatchers are mostly busy with the task of monitoring. Monitoring means: lean back in your chair and watch the computer systems do your work.

this3At first sight, I hardly considered to study these monitoring practices into more detail. It was difficult for me to believe that it would be of any significance for my research. However, after observing the dispatchers for quite some time and hearing them talk about their own work, I soon realized that perhaps it is exactly these apparently boring practices that may reveal  a very interesting world of railway employees. In the end, monitoring actually became one of the topics of my research*.
Instead of ‘doing nothing’, monitoring revealed how dispatchers, by means of their computer screens, ‘see and sense’ the railways. Whereas I saw dots, numbers and lines that apparently supposed to represent the actual train service, dispatchers saw an actual, concrete railway world.

This seeing and sensing is based on the fact that many dispatchers have been working for the railways for decades and gained a massive amount of practical knowledge. This may be knowledge ranging from how railway switches work to contextual details of the landscape adjacent to the tracks. John, one of the dispatchers I studied, told me how he once guided  the police (by phone) to a location very close to the tracks where one train driver saw a group of children playing with a ball. At first instance, the police could not find the exact location, but John was able to tell them that “they had to approach the area from the other side, just in front of the sawmill, as there’s a big viaduct blocking easy access”.

Claire, another dispatcher, told me stories about her previous work as a train driver,and how this helped her in being a good dispatcher. Every other day, someone in the Netherlands commits suicide by jumping in front of a train. This can have a tremendous impact on train drivers. The dispatchers are a drivers’ first point of communication after witnessing such a horrible situation. According to Claire, she is capable of having this conversation with the driver in an efficient way (to reduce the impact of this incident for other trains) because she does so emphatically. In other words, her experience as a train driver and witnessing what it means to see someone ‘jump’, is of great influence how she does her job. These stories that lay beneath the ‘boring’ practice of monitoring, taught me how collaboration between the different organizations during disruptions is much more than what I would ever read in handbooks or manuals.

Boring stuff may make you yawn in the first instance.But, there are several strategies through which you can possibly make the boring more interesting:

  • Persist! Whenever you notice something boring, don’t walk away. It may take some time before you can appreciate your observations as more than dull. Always remember the saying: ‘Ambition is the path to success, persistence is the vehicle you arrive in’.
  • Zoom in! From a distance, boring stuff is boring. Make it more interesting by getting up and close. I can guarantee you that even the 50 most boring things in the world will eventually reveal some very unexpected insights.
  • Breach! There have been numerous scholars studying the boring and mundane after Garfinkel’s Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967), ranging from how people queue in supermarkets to how people greet each other on the streets. One of the ways these scholars reveal the interesting in the mundane, is by breaching the social norms and implicit rules to which these actions are organized. So, the next time someone asks you ‘How are you doing?’, do not reply with the standard ‘Great’ but try the following: ‘What do you mean, how am I doing? Do you mean mentally? Physically?’. I can assure you an interesting conversation will emerge.

Here you have it, my plea for boring research. I highly recommend Davis’ somewhat provocative article and hope that you will value the generation of ‘interesting’ new theory as much as the testing or verification of ‘uninteresting’ existing ones.

References

Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall.

Davis, M. S. (1971). That’s interesting. Philosophy of the social sciences, 1(2), 309.

[1] Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall.

* The paper I wrote about monitoring was presented at the Process Symposium on Kos, Greece. I would like to thank the Graduate Fund for the financial support to go there.

 _____________

Thijs Willems is a Phd candidate in the Organizational Science department. His research projects focuses on ‘The role of collaborative routines during disruptions in the Dutch railway system’.

 

 

 

How not to drown at conferences: go out and run!

Marieke van WieringenBy Marieke van Wieringen /Reading Time: 8 Minutes

Conferences may be a one-day event, or last two or three days. When you include pre-conference workshops, which are common in some fields, conferences may even cover 5 full days. Sounds tiring? It is, in a way. Still, conferences are actually quite useful (as described by Anouk van Leeuwen in ” Is participating in academic conferences worth the time and money?“). That is, if you do not drown in the overwhelming amount of sessions, lunches, dinners, drinks and/or other social events. The question is: how? How not to drown at conferences? The simple answer: chose your sessions wisely ahead of the conference’ start.

Obviously, I have learned this the hard way myself. As a fourth year PhD student, I have attended quite some conferences. Fanatically attending every single round of sessions, I oftentimes found my attention slowly but steadily decreasing, sometimes already on the first day. Yet, this would generally not hamper me to continue in the same vein the next conference day(s). The consequence: when someone would ask me which sessions I had attended, I generally had difficulty remembering their content. Of course, I nonetheless also did learn from those sessions. However, I always needed the notes that I had made during the sessions to remember what I learned and liked exactly.

During my most recent conference visit, I decided to go about it differently. After two days of pre-conference workshops, I attended only one (to be honest, actually only half a) paper session on the third day. After that, I went for a run. Why? First of all, because I felt like it. Second, because the weather was way too good to stay inside. Third, because I was in the beautiful city of Vancouver, which is surrounded by water, ‘beaches’ and mountains, and because I was staying close to the marvelous Stanley park. From all of this, I basically had seen nothing yet. My run came with some spectacular views indeed (see below)! Fourth, and most importantly, I went for a run because there were no sessions in the program that afternoon that were of much interest to me. So why stay?

marieke

I know why you might stay, and will tell you why do not have to. To start, you may be afraid to miss out on a session that potentially could turn out to be of interest to your research after all. I know I was. However, I learned that sessions that did not grapple my intention in the program in the first place, never turned out to be interesting; on the contrary. You may also feel you have to stay because your university, graduate school, or may be even your own supervisor is paying for your visit to the conference. No worries, they will not be angry or, worse, disappointed if you wisely decide to take some time off to relax and re-energize so you can gain more from the sessions to come. If you are afraid to be caught skipping sessions by your supervisor, remember that when your supervisor finds you not attending a session, s/he is not attending either. More importantly, your supervisor has better things to do than checking on you, like enjoying the city themselves. (Make sure, though, that they come and attend the session in which you present your work!)

marieke2After my run and the afternoon off, I felt re-energized, and ready for two more days of ‘conferencing’. During these two days, I met a range of interesting people and got inspired by the sessions that I attended. Why? Because I attended the sessions that were of interest to me.

Yes, I had come prepared this time: before flying to the other side of the world, I had ploughed the program and made a selection of sessions that appealed to me. You can do the latter, for example, based on the (famous) people who will be presenting. If available, you could also have a quick reading of the papers that are presented. This will help you make informed choices, and also increase your involvement in the discussions during the sessions. Given that conference presentations generally only last 10-15 minutes there is only so much presenters can tell, and you oftentimes end up with only a hint of what a paper is actually about.

When you read the paper in advance, or have a look at previous work of the presenter, you are able to (publicly!) give intelligent comments or ask questions, which is always good at conferences, or so they say. Moreover, it will help you to get in touch with the presenters afterwards.

marieke3

So, instead of attending each and every session, my humble advice is to skip some, to choose your sessions wisely, prepare for those sessions, and join the discussions. To be honest, I have not actually joined in many plenary discussions at previous conferences. However, I will definitely (try again) next time… I will keep you posted!

_____________

Marieke van Wieringen is a PhD candidate at the department of Organization Science. Her research focuses on how actors within home care organizations perceive and act upon different institutional demands in their day-to-day work.

Coping with your PhD

Marloes Spekman By Marloes Spekman / Reading Time: 5 Minutes

Most PhD students will agree with me that doing a PhD project often feels like an emotional rollercoaster. For instance, you step into your office in a good mood and happy to finally start working on your data analysis or any other part of your study that you really enjoy doing. However, at the end of the day you are totally worn out by the fact that your journal/conference submission was rejected and you did not get any real work done after you received that e-mail. To make matters worse, guilt keeps you up at night, as a little voice in your head reminds you that “You should have been working on your project tonight! Your roommate is making much more progress on his/her project than you!”

marloes 1
source: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive/phd022107s.gif

As I have experienced quite a few emotional highs and lows since the start of my project, I have been looking everywhere for advice on how to cope with these PhD-related emotions. Over the years, I have talked to many people about it, participated in a variety of workshops and courses (such as the course “PhD Success and Personal Efficacy”, and workshops like “increase your confidence as a researcher[1]” and “happiness booster[2]”), and read quite a lot about it on the Internet and social media[3].

To keep you sane, here are a few points of advice that I got from these talks, courses and workshops which have helped me cope with my project thus far:

  • Ask yourself: Does obtaining a PhD degree make you a (morally) better person? Does a degree define you as a person?
    If you said yes to these questions, you either put too much pressure on yourself, or you don’t really struggle with these emotions as you are very motivated to devote your time to your PhD (which is awesome of course, as long as it makes you happy!).
    If you said no to these questions, you should probably not be working on your PhD 24/7, and you certainly should not feel guilty about mindlessly watching television at night after a day at the office, or devoting time to other activities that are important to you.
  • Stop comparing yourself to other PhD students.
    No PhD project is the same, and every PhD student is different in terms of ambitions, norms, skills, and productivity. If your office roommate often works at night and appears to eat, sleep, and breathe his/her research, that does not mean you have to do the same. Every PhD student has his/her own ways to be most productive. For example, I write best when I’m in the office with a little noise around me, while one of my roommates needs absolute silence and writes best in isolation. You can try out different things (including the things that work for PhD students around you), but try to find the way that works best for you.
  • Set small and feasible goals
    I personally find it difficult to read without getting distracted. My roommate suggested that I set a timer for 20 minutes, and stick with my reading for that 20 minutes (regardless of how much I actually read in that period). After 20 minutes, I give myself a 5-minute break and start a next cycle of 20 minutes. I have found that it’s now easier for me to accept distracting (and often unimportant) thoughts and basically say to them: “That’s okay, but I’ll get back to you in max. 20 minutes”. It has become easier to let it go, and the really important thoughts will pop back up after the 20 minutes. Since I use this method, reading has become much less of a hurdle. This also works for writing: instead of putting “finish dissertation” on your to-do list, try to break it up into little chunks (e.g., “Today, I will write the outline for my first chapter”). Achieving these smaller goals will make you feel good about yourself, and makes writing your dissertation a much more manageable task.
  • Reward yourself and celebrate your successes!
    Positive emotions are important to build resilience for coping with future periods of negative emotion and consequently for emotional well-being (according to the Broaden-and-build theory; Fredrickson, 1998; 2001). Thus, it is important to allow yourself some time to experience these positive emotions instead of rushing through them. Take some time to enjoy your achievements!
    Celebrate the big things, but do not forget to celebrate the little things as well! Did you write an awesome paragraph, or a great blog post? Reward yourself! If you do not know how to celebrate, then think about what makes you happy, and do that whenever you have something to celebrate! (It does not have to be big – 5 minutes of social media time can also be rewarding ;-)) Did you achieve something big? Then celebrate this big times!!
  • YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
    Even though a PhD project may, at times, make you feel very lonely, know that you are not the only one who experiences these emotions. Many PhD students are surprised to learn that the Imposter syndrome – the feeling that you don’t belong here because everyone else is doing better than you – is very common among PhD students. Other PhD students at times also have trouble finding their motivation or to keep themselves from procrastinating. If you talk to people about it, or search for it online, you will find a wealth of information and tools to help you through the project.

Keep-Calm-and-Write-On-true-writers-32054687-792-792

 

 

Experiencing these kinds of emotions as a PhD student is not strange. Even the most motivated PhD students (and professors as well!) have to deal with setbacks. It is part of the process. Remember, that you can do this! Just keep calm and write on (but take it one paragraph at a time ;-)).

 

 

 

Want to read more? Check out these pages:

marloes2
Source: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive/phd092809s.gif

References

Fredrickson, B.L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of general Psychology, 2(3), 300-319.

Fredrickson, B.L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The Broaden-and-Build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218-226.

[1] Workshop by Robert Haringsma of the IVPP (Instituut voor Positieve Psychologie; Institute for Positive Psychology), organized by the Graduate Platform of Social Sciences in January 2013.

[2] Workshop by Matthijs Steeneveld during the 2012 PhD Day organized by ProVU.

[3] Twitter follow tips: @PhD2Published, @thesiswhisperer, and @ltrprmvrn (and, if you are out for a laugh, try @YourPaperSucks, @AcademicBatgirl, @ResearchMark, or @angry_prof)

______________

Marloes Spekman works as a PhD candidate within the SELEMCA project. The SELEMCA project focuses on the use of technology, such as robots and virtual agents, in the health care domain. Within the project, Marloes specifically focuses on how people’s prior emotions affect their perceptions of healthcare robots.

Fieldwork: These tips are no tricks – Part 2

Efe Kerem SozeriBy Efe Kerem Sözeri / Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Fieldwork is sort of a dating site between the data and you. Tricking your dance partner will certainly make you fall, but knowing a few moves in advance can work well.

Previously, I wrote something about how to lose your way in the fieldwork and keep it cool; and on how your research can actually gain from such uncertainty. Despite how counter-intuitive it sounds, It takes experience to be lost, and a novice spirit to keep it cool.

Since the scientific progress is cumulative, I  offer below some fieldwork tips based on my humble experience (nanos gigantum humeris insidentes); and since it is collective, please share yours in the comments section.

  • Plan in advance, but keep your options open.

The previous post, “Field is the answer, what is the question?” is the first tip. As I said, Sometimes you find data, and sometimes data finds you. Fieldwork is sort of a dating site between the two of you. (See, you were planning to read one post, but there happens to be one more. Keep this tab open, and please come back after a brief detour.)

  • Do not work on the field, live in the field.

Before the fieldwork, we often have to choose types of informants who are expected to give the most detailed information –the key informants. We often plan the hours we work with them, schedule interviews. We organize our time and space in the field according to the expectations we had on the desk.

You shall realize, however, that unplanned encounters can be equally valuable. The doorman can know more about the networks of people in a town than the mayor. The waiter in the local restaurant can tell you more about the habits of people than the officers of the cultural planning branch. And an unemployed young man can define neoliberalism better than the books on your desk.

Having your recorder always on and your field notebook always open will not work; it can distance the daily encounters you may have. But if you keep communicating with random people in your off-work time, you may obtain new insights that you could never have planned.

  • Have your permits, but do not rely solely on them.

For a country where the state authorization is the sole source of legitimacy, be sure to have your permits with you at all times in the field. A piece of paper with a local governor’s stamp may mean nothing to you, but in a remote village when a suspicious person asks about it, that paper can win you the village.

Having said that, an official permit to research is not the best way to earn trust; the surest way to access people is to have someone from the community to introduce you.

In the Tugelaweg project, where I studied the low income families’ struggle in the housing market, knocking doors with the renovation company’s contact person turned out to be very wrong: neighbors who saw me with the company employee thought that I worked for the company, and this initially prevented my access to the people who were opposing to the project. Only after I managed to gain trust of an opposing group leader, I had an access to the rest of my sample.

In the Turkish fieldwork, where I took part in an origin-of-migration study, I noticed that the local community leaders are much more trusted than the province governors. Sweet talking with village heads opened more doors than official authorisation stamps would have. And, if I manage to convince the local Imam to announce the study in the village (from the loudspeakers of the mosque where the call for prayer -the azan- is made) then the open doors would certainly be  welcoming.

  • Mark their words: Your informants know about your results even before you think

While the results of complex logistic regression models are what counts in our papers, I actually developed the core ideas of my dissertation during my stay in a central Anatolia town for a month. It may sound surprising that the SPSS and Stata on my desk often came to the same conclusions with locals who told me about their town and its people. My analysis with thousands of respondents involved computer power, while their power in knowledge was accumulated by thousands of daily encounters.

Certainly, there are questions that a local key informant cannot answer, such as independent events that confound complex outcomes; but there are also questions that a quad-core computer cannot answer either, such as the sense-making processes of human beings with altering perceptions.

So, listen with both ears, and mark their words.

  • Enjoy the moment.

This will sound silly when you are rushing through deadlines, learning state-of-the-art statistical methods, pushing top journals and building the best CV, but…

Work to live.

Your CV may have your name on it, together with some of the good things you did, but your CV is not your whole story.

If you are best at being completely focused on collecting data in the field, and doing the best analysis possible back at your desk, you could soon be replaced with an artificial intelligence doing the best data mining possible from a remote server in China. And it will probably do it  better and cheaper than you.

But if you are not afraid to err, then do something irresistibly random, and end up reaching an unexpected conclusion; congratulations, you are human.
Carpe diem
.

________
Efe Kerem Sözeri is a Phd Candidate in the Sociology Department. His research project “Political baggage and Ideological Remittance” explores how the migration experience influences (or fails to influence) the political preferences and attitudes of Turkish labour migrants and their descendants, both in Western Europe and in Turkey. More info on his personal page

Using a cliché title or not using a cliché title: Or how to repel potential readers

camiel photoBy Camiel Beukeboom / Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Using a good title for your academic paper is very important to attract interested readers. Yet, quite often titles are uninformative and/or anything but attractive. Authors often manage to formulate a “completely ineffective title (…) that repels and puts off potential readers” apparently “to ensure that as few as possible are motivated to look beyond the title to the abstract, or the full text.” (Writing for Research, 2014). I like to focus on one excellent way to formulate a repulsive title: Namely to use the most annoying cliché title imaginable – that is, anything derived from the Shakespearean phrase “to be or not to be – that is the question”.

In order to test my disquieting suspicion how badly milked this title really is, I ran some searches in Google Scholar and Web of science. This revealed an impressive prevalence of Shakespearean titles. keep-calm-and-to-be-or-not-to-be-3 Searching Google scholar for “Or not to” in titles resulted in 12,900 hits. The same query in Web of science revealed 11,487 titles. Moreover, many titles include the “that is the question” part in the title. Google scholar gave 1,830 hits including it, and web of science gave 1,662 “that is the question” titles. I even found 1160 hits in Google scholar for titles including the whole shebang (i.e., the combination of “or not to” and “that is the question”).

Based on my rough search I will now provide you with some easy ways to also include the marvelous Shakespearean to-be-or-not-to-be phrase in your title:

1. Simply replace “be” with whatever is the topic of your paper. To give you some (recent) examples:

To date or not to date, that is the question: older single gay men’s concerns about dating. Suen, Yiu Tung (2015). Sexual And Relationship Therapy.

To reheat, or to not reheat: that is the question: The efficacy of a local reheating protocol on mechanisms of cutaneous vasodilatation. Del Pozzi, Andrew T.; Hodges, Gary J. (2015). Microvascular Research.

To pill or not to pill in GnRH antagonist cycles: that is the question! Garcia-Velasco, Juan A.; Fatemi, Human M. (2015). Reproductive Biomedicine Online.

To Drink or Not to Drink: That Is the Question. Rubin, Emanuel (2014). Alcoholism-Clinical And Experimental Research

To fractionate or not to fractionate? That is the question for the radiosurgery of hypoxic tumors. Toma-Dasu, Iuliana; Sandstrom, Helena; Barsoum, Pierre; et al. (2014) Journal Of Neurosurgery.

2. If possible you could also add your topic of investigation behind “be”:

To be or not to be… stationary? That is the question. DE Myers (1989). Mathematical Geology.

To be or not to be (challenged), that is the question: Task and ego orientations among high-ability, high-achieving adolescents. DY Dai (2000). The Journal of Experimental Education.

Optimized microphone deployment for near-field acoustic holography: To be, or not to be random, that is the question MR Bai, JH Lin, KL Liu (2010). Journal of Sound and Vibration.

To be or not to be humorous in class—That is the question. V Kothari, DS Rana, AS Khade (1993). Journal of Marketing Education.

Phytosterols: to be or not to be toxic; that is the question. G Lizard (2008). British Journal of Nutrition.

3. If the above does not fit to your topic, don’t worry. The easiest thing to do, is to just attach the to-be-or-not-to phrase to whatever is the topic of investigation. This works always, even if there is no apparent particular relevance:

The role of bone marrow biopsy in Hodgkin lymphoma staging: “To be, or not to be, that is the question”? M Hutchings (2012). Leukemia & Lymphoma.

To be, or not to be: Paradoxes in strategic public relations in Italy. C Valentini, K Sriramesh (2014). Public Relations Review.

The metabolic syndrome: To be or not to be, that is the question. PJ Grant, DK McGuire (2006). Diabetic Medicine.

To Be or Not to Be, That is the Question: Contemporary Military Operations and the Status of Captured Personnel. GS Corn, ML Smidt – Army Law (1999). HeinOnline.

To be, or not to be, that is the question: Apoptosis in human trophoblast. R Levy, DM Nelson (2000). Placenta.

To be, or not to be, that is the question: an empirical study of the WTP for an increased life expectancy at an advanced age. M Johannesson, PO Johansson (1996). Journal of Risk and Uncertainty.

And finally, if you still did not succeed. Just stick to the “to-be-or-not-to” phrase without adding anything significant. This example is particularly nice, with its frisky quotation marks around “be”.

Editorial: To “be” or not to “be”: that is the question. CT Frenette, RG Gish (2009). The American Journal of Gastroenterology

The above examples unfortunately do not cover all. The list goes on and on. For me, scrolling through the lists linked above simultaneously evoked subtle seizures of helpless laughter and a strong sense of discomfort. The lack of creativity is really disturbing. So please, please for my wellbeing, but also for your own good, take my advice and stay away from Shakespearian titles. These cliché titles do not leave a great impression about the author’s sense of creativity. Neither does it augur much about the content of the paper. I will certainly not read it and definitely not cite it. Because even before I start reading the abstract I will have turned away in aversion and vicarious shame.

Reference

Writing for Research (2014). Why do academics and PhDers carefully choose useless titles for articles and chapters?: Six ways to get it wrong, and four steps to get it right.

Camiel Beukeboom is an Assistant Professor in the department of Communication Science at VU University Amsterdam. He is also Program Director of the VU Graduate School of Social Sciences and initiator and editor of the Socializing Science PhD blog. (@camielbeukeboom)

Field is the answer, what is the question? – Part 1

Efe Kerem SozeriBy Efe Kerem Sözeri / Reading Time: 8 Minutes

Sometimes you find data, and sometimes data finds you. Fieldwork is sort of a dating site between the two of you.

efe
me, preparing for the respondents 😉 from upper left, clockwise: Acıpayam, Kulu, Şarkışla & Emirdağ

I am a qualitative scientist by nature, and a quantitative by nurture. It is not because I was weak at math, or hated computers; in fact, I am fascinated by both. It is rather that I prefer why questions over what questions, matters that are hard to quantify, human reason that comes before its act. Certainly, there are good qualitative research that reveals what happens where (Stepan, 1973), and good quantitative ones to explain why (Inglehart, 1977). But unless the data is conditioned in a laboratory (and even then so, see Zimbardo, 1973), it is acquired in the fieldwork where unexpected things can happen. This post is written to give you an idea of what to expect from it.

After various fieldworks for both qualitative and quantitative projects, I came to the conclusion that fieldwork comes not exactly as advertised. That is that “you collect data and come back to your desk.” Fieldwork is rather a site where you increase your chances of finding data –in comparison to your chances while sitting on your desk; and more importantly, what you find is not always the data that you planned to see on your desk. In a most self-reflexive way: Fieldwork is about finding yourself in the field.

Let me explain this in two cases:

1) The Tugelaweg Blocks

efe2
From the booklet of Ymere’s Tugelaweg peoject: Zo wil ik hier wonen!

The most divergent case in terms of planning on the desk and encounters in the field might be the research for my master thesis in 2011. The original plan was that I would basically knock the doors of migrant families in an Amsterdam-East urban renovation project to ask about their sense of belonging to their dwellings, but I eventually came back to my desk with low income families’ struggle in coping with changing housing market conditions.

Certainly, I was very much influenced by the ‘Grounded Theory’ (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) which suggests that the researcher develops the theory in the field, instead of treating the data as an empirical test to an existing theory, and go beyond the mere task of describing the field as in an ethnography (see especially, autoethnography). I was also thinking much in qualitative forms of validity and reliability (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), and reading much about public sociology (see Burawoy’s 2004 ASA address) and engaged scholarship (Van de Ven, 2007).

Overall, I may not have been very successful in writing the study, but it certainly taught me to ‘keep my options’ during the fieldwork, be not so rigid about what I was looking for, and be a walking-talking thinker –reflecting about my objectives, my practice, and myself as the data reveals in the field.

2) The LineUp of 2000 Families

The LineUp study (Guveli et al. 2013 & 2014), which I am currently involved in for my PhD research, contrasts the above. A migration study that consists of 48978 individuals in 1992 families certainly requires quantitative tools and methods, and much careful planning –especially the sampling and the concepts, right? Well, let’s see. For a representative random sampling, the size and distribution of a population should be known, and often the fieldwork is practised in clusters to reflect that population properly, so you start at that sampling unit and continue. But what do you do when the population bureau data shows a street that does not exist yet? Or points you to a street which is full of industrial buildings?

You walk around the problem until you reach a solution.

efe3
A theoretical guide to avoid hurdles in the fieldwork

I also took my turns in the Turkish migrant-sending towns looking for the ideological remittance –the influence of European political culture transferred to Turkey via return migrants. But I kept my eyes open for other types of remittance while walking, which is equally interesting:

Remittance: in money

 

efe4
Newly built, huge mosques in Kulu and Şarkışla

Perhaps the most common feature of a migrant sending region is the visibility of economic remittances. In remote migrant villages, one can find palace-like houses built by the early migrants for the traditional family gatherings. However, these seasonal gatherings are only attended by a few grandchildren and remain empty for most of the year, making them obsolete investments. Most of the remittance also turn into pocket money for the left behind relatives, only enabling the local shops and cafés to stay open, but falling short of long term investments. The mosques, however, should be considered as investments for the afterlife. The newly built mosque in Kulu reportedly cost about €1m and paid entirely by migrant families’ lifelong savings.

Remittance: in culture

efe5
Swedish Pizza in Kulu, Dutch Kapsalon in Emirdağ

Despite the popular belief on its oriental origins, and despite its widespread availability in ‘Turkse döner/pizza’ snack shops to support that, “kapsalon” was actually born in Rotterdam. Native Turkish people, living in Turkey, have not even heard about that food, there is no Turkish word for that. So, the traditional kebab place in Emirdağ town centre, photographed above (right), is actually preparing a Dutch food, exported to Belgium and remitted to Turkey by the migrants from Emirdağ who were living in Schaarbeek, Brussels. Though, one must note that its primary customers were the migrants who are used to eat kapsalon in Europe.

The Swedish Pizza in Kulu (left photograph) has a more complex story. With its thin dough, fresh tomato sauce and cheese, it certainly has Italian origins. But the history of migrant workers in Italian pizza restaurants in Stockholm is the story of how Turkish stewards made into chefs and took over the pizza business in Sweden. As for the side dishes, the indispensable “Pizzasallad” (cabbages with sour vinegar) is certainly not Italian, presumably a Swedish invent; and the “Vitlökssås” is certainly not Turkish -it is as foreign as knoflooksaus on döner to native Turks (yes, seriously, no one puts garlic sauce on a “lahmacun” in Turkey).

The remittance in both material and cultural tokens tells me the conservative nature of Turkish migrants in Europe: the lack of belonging is visible when the money earned by migrants is sent to Turkey instead of being invested in Europe; the cultural interactions are often one-way, Turks in Europe do not eat stamppot, they open döner shops instead. My walk in Turkish field did not lead me to the political remittance, there is no such street yet. Perhaps it is because the Turkish migrants do not really open their political baggages, so what happens in Europe, stays in Europe. Perhaps even that migrant Turks do not really live in Europe but rather create small-sized Turkeys to live in. But it takes a walk in Turkish towns to understand that.

Sometimes data surprises you, sometimes it takes a different look to understand; and sometimes, it is the lack of it that tells you the most.

Reference:

Burawoy, M. (2005). 2004 American Sociological Association Presidential Address: For Public Sociology*. The British journal of sociology, 56(2), 259-294.

Glaser, B. G. and Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine.

Guveli, A., Ganzeboom, H., Baykara-Krumme, H., Bayrakdar, S., Eroglu, S., Hamutci, B., Nauck, B., Platt, L., and Sozeri, E. K. (2013). 2000 Families: Migration Histories of Turks to Europe. GESIS Data Archive, Mannheim. (Data Set).

Guveli, A., Ganzeboom, H., Nauck, B., Platt, L., Baykara-Krumme, H., Eroglu, S., Spierings, N., Bayrakdar, S. and Sozeri, E. K. (2014). 2000 Families: identifying the research potential of an origins-of migration study. CReAM Discussion Paper Series CPD 35/14. Retrieved from http://www.cream-migration.org/publ_uploads/CDP_35_14.pdf

Haney, C., Banks, W. C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). Study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. Naval Research Reviews, 9, 1–17.

Inglehart, R. (1977). The silent revolution: Changing values and political styles among Western publics. Princeton University Press.

Lincoln, Y. S. & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA, USA: Sage Publications.

Sözeri, E. K. (2011). The Sense of Belonging and the Strategies of Dwelling among Turkish-Dutch Public Housing Residents in Amsterdam-East. Unpublished master’s thesis submitted to the Faculty of Social Sciences, VU University Amsterdam. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/1753970/The_sense_of_belonging_and_the_strategies_of_dwelling_among_Turkish-Dutch_public_housing_residents_in_Amsterdam-East

Stepan, A. (ed.) (1973). Authoritarian Brazil. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Van de Ven, A. H. (2007). Engaged Scholarship: A Guide for Organizational and Social Research: A Guide for Organizational and Social Research. Oxford University Press.

________
Efe Kerem Sözeri is a Phd Candidate in the Sociology Department. His research project “Political baggage and Ideological Remittance” explores how the migration experience influences (or fails to influence) the political preferences and attitudes of Turkish labour migrants and their descendants, both in Western Europe and in Turkey. More info on his personal page

Is participating in academic conferences worth the time and money?

van LeeuwenBy Anouk van Leeuwen / Reading Time: 4 minutes

Academic conferences are costly and time consuming. So, sometimes I wonder: Are they worth it? Or should I just continue to write my dissertation instead? After all, writing is time consuming, especially on days like this:

,mTime

Conferencing costs loads of time. Not only do we have to travel to the conference venue, and attend it, but we also have to prepare for it. Especially the latter takes a lot of time. In my experience, I spend at least a month working on a conference paper, and at least some days on a power point presentation or a hand-out.

Money

The reason that conferences are expensive is because they usually require us to travel. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but travelling isn’t cheap. For instance, in the last two years I went to conferences in New York and San Francisco. Buying a ticket here (during peak season!), staying in hotel, paying the conference fee, and going out to dinner requires you to bring a bag of money.

What you get back for your time and money

In my opinion, there are at least four benefits of attending academic conferences:

  1. Preparing for your presentation will help you to structure your thoughts. After all, you usually don’t have much time (or space) to present your work. And of course, you don’t only want your story to be concise, but also clear. So, complicated theories have to be simplified and long results sections have to be cut to the bone.
  1. At the conference you are bound to get some (hopefully good) comments on your work, which will tell you how far it has developed. Is your research relevant? Are your research questions clear? And is your dataset suited for the question posed? These are general, but important questions that are often addressed. Knowing whether other scholars understand and appreciate your work will help you to determine what remains to be done.
  1. Learning what your peers are up to may stimulate your creativity and provide you with new research tools. After all, interesting new topics and innovative research methods are often presented at these conferences. Besides, knowing where your research field is headed is important as it will help you to position your own work.
  1. Getting to know peers on a more personal level is not only fun, but may also lead to new opportunities. Future cooperation, publication possibilities and even job offers may result from participating in these events.

So, the answer to my question of whether academic conferences are worth the time and money is: Yes. This is because conferencing provides you with new insights. These insights are likely to improve your work. For instance, having prepared a short presentation on your research, you may be able to write a more concise paper. Peers may suggest new theories that sharpen your insights, or methods that are more applicable to your data and research question. So, in a nutshell, conferencing helps to you to solve your academic puzzle, and to write down what is in your head. Just give it a go and find out for yourself.

_____________

Anouk van Leeuwen is a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department. Her PhD research is on the (perceived) atmosphere of street demonstrations. The project is integrated in the international collaborative research project called ‘Caught in the act of protest: Contextualizing Contestation’ (CCC)