How Disciplined Was Foucault’s Research Process?: A Proposed Method of Research Based on Philosophical and Critical Models OR How the Humanities can Help Students Understand Research
“How Disciplined Was Foucault’s Research Process?: A Proposed Method of Research Based on Philosophical and Critical Models OR How the Humanities can Help Students Understand Research.” Presented at the MD ACRL and MILEX Conference Considering #CritLib: Inclusion and Diversity in Libraries, Columbia, MD November 2016
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Basic Notes: This talk introduces an idea, a thought, nascent plans and potential methodologies for a form of undergraduate research training – and a potential research project. A project that will highlight connective and investigative questioning that compliments and expands on the ACRL Framework but does so through a refocus on research philosophies found within the humanities. It strikes me, of course, that we are, all of us lightening-ers discussing how to exist and thrive in an information rich world, not in the post-information dystopia we’re entering in January, but maybe the next generation will have better training…maybe. What is humanistic thinking? It is many things, but crucially for this context it is a mode of questioning and of developing thoughtful and thought out research questions. Questions formulated, As Bertrand Russell writes, “not carelessly and dogmatically, as we do in ordinary life and even in the sciences, but critically.” This is the crucial difference. The hope is to help students engage with ideas in a way that they may not be doing in their normal class, or put another way, that their professors think and expect they’re doing, but which they might not fully understand. As we work with the Framework to evolve what it is we’re seeking to teach with information literacy, and as we continue to adapt that concept, the ability to engage is more relevant than ever, perhaps. In my experience teaching first year and eng comprehensive information literacy sessions, it has become clear that students are not thinking about their research process in any clear or defined way. This is, of course, partially just out of their age and position in their education, but there are also larger issues at play. This is not the place to rant about the state of K-12 education and the myopic focus on STEM above all else, but I will. Kidding. Sort of. The problem is that students are not being given the keys to their own brains and the avenues of their own creativity of thought. This method, could, potentially help with that and in turn help to develop more interesting scholars. At UMD our school motto is “beat Michigan” (not likely), I mean, “fearless ideas” and hopefully by allowing students some space to evolve their ideas we can get closer to this ideal What is critical theory thinking? This is the larger question, really. How can I translate a humanistic approach into something tangible and practical. Slowly, is the answer. Incrementally Let’s unpack the crucial tool in this if there is one: Epistemology. This can get out of hand quickly. Some applications of epistemology seek to understand the very nature of knowledge and the ability of actually knowing. That is too deep a dive at the moment. What we’re concerned with is the lineage of knowledge and basing ideas and new theories on the backs of established studies. To help students make the connections of ideas, to learn from their reading and thus draw meaningful and rationally correct conclusions not from a priori assumption, but as a logical extension of the extant body of thought. This is important not simply in a humanities class, and this is my probably only solid point, that this is an important facet of all disciplines, expressed in different ways, but is an expectation of professors as a result of graduate training and professional scholarship. This is not always explained to students. Perhaps we can explain it to them. The ACRL Framework goes some distance with this idea with the frames “Scholarship as Conversation” and “Research as Inquiry” most pointedly, and it pops up here and there throughout others as well. “Scholarship as Conversation” speaks specifically of the discursive nature of research, but doesn’t go far enough into the methods of thought and the value of the modes of knowledge and the weight that a particular form of knowledge carries being either immense or zero. When I say Foucault, Shakespeare, Joanne Rowling, Edward Said, whoever – there is a body of work behind them that, in the case of these authors, represents an immense system. This is both the same and not the same as Jones & Smith (2013) in the Journal of Microconductors. The point is, there is a weight, a conversation, a discursivity of authorial authority that is important for students to understand. Students, in my observation, have difficulty with synthesizing an author’s ideas, or seeing the connective tissue. It is perhaps the nature and the modes by which this discourse is discovered and reflected upon that is the missing gap, perhaps, between the Framework – which tends to focus more on the mechanics of citation and attribution as opposed to idea connection – and the course and/ or deeper research. What: The idea is to introduce research as a more fully flushed out discipline, to effectively mark out the process and to purposely problematize elements of the traditional a-b-c research process. In other words, making the Research Cycle a philosophical exercise by teaching critical theory and a form of epistemology as a method of research questioning and thesis development by emphasizing particular avenues of thought and elaborating on them somewhat. What this isn’t: I don’t want to give the impression that my ideal IL session is a philosophy lesson…well, okay, actually it is, but I know that’s not a realistic option. So I’m not really advocating for starting a class with a dense passage from Heidegger, or even the quote I used earlier from Russell, nor am I advocating that words like epistemology, social capital, feminism (gasp) or marxism (double gasp) come from non-tenured librarians, but the hope is to USE these models, adapted for IL instruction as a way to help students THINK about their research as opposed to simply performing it. To make connections and to think deeply about the constructs informing belief. How?: Focusing on at least 2 key ideas: critical questioning and epistemology. This model, when finalized will attempt to fit into the already crowded and admittedly outdated space of people like McKenzie, Kuhlthau, etc. What will, I believe, differentiate this project from others is the emphasis on research as a separate discipline – one based on principles of humanist thinking in an effort to pull both rigor and creativity from the students as opposed to simply finding papers to cite – to, hopefully, get the students to engage in a more interesting way with the material they’re finding and to USE it. The hope to is to expand on these models as a simple adjustment to a more Framework based model. The Framework allows deeper thinking and getting outside the checkbox model of “things to do when researching,” but doesn’t go quite far enough. The major step that I’ve taken in this direction is to work with students to explain their thought process as they answer my questions in a session. As I mentioned at the top, we are now in a different world and the value of information either means much more or much less. By giving students, esp. non-humanities students, the keys to their brains, we can help unlock potential for a new generation of ethically minded, global students with more interest in investigating the set cultural assumptions.