If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fields of Inquiry

I've been thinking a bit about fields lately.  Not the kind found at the end of a path in the woods (although I really like that kind), not the kind where you conduct naturalistic research, and certainly not the kind with four bases.  I've been thinking about research fields; scholarly disciplines; fields of inquiry.

I gave my doctoral students an assignment that involved them reading an essay on the philosophy of science and mixed methods.  To make his argument the author positioned paradigms as shared belief within a field of inquiry or a community of researchers.  While I buy parts of his argument, that doesn't work for me as a working definition of scientific paradigms.  However I realize I am probably influenced by my lack of serious grounding in any one field.  I have a very hard time identifying my community of researchers.

The discipline in which I received my training is different from the discipline in which I have conducted research for over twenty years.  I tend to identify with the field in which I work and not the field in which I was trained.  But with no true credentials in this field, I am often considered a bit of an outsider. It is a very interdisciplinary field so it hasn't been a large problem in terms of getting positions or funding but there are subtle exclusions.  I've felt them the most in my current position when it comes to discussions of curriculum and teaching opportunities.

Since my adopted field is interdisciplinary, we tend to publish in other people's fields.  We play in a lot of people's sandboxes, especially when it comes to publications.  At least I thought we all did. Now I'm realizing that even in an interdisciplinary field, most researchers tend to find a focused set of outlets (in terms of journals and conferences) and set up shop.  I haven't done this.  My CV is rather all over the place.  I believe this is contributing to my long list of rejections lately.  I'm treading into areas where I am an outsider.

I've also been thinking about fields of inquiry because I'm reading a fair amount of theory in other fields.  I like theory.  I like reading about it.  I like thinking about it.  I like finding ways to apply new theories to my work.  I even have a fledgling theory that I'm trying to develop.  However theories overlap across fields (they also diverge in interesting ways but there is a lot of overlap) and it should not be so difficult to accept a theory from another field.  Yet sometimes it is.

So I've found a theory that I really like that is in a field I know pretty much nothing about.  I've been reading a lot about this theory, mostly articles and books written by the theory's founder.  In doing so I've been really struck by the benefit of immersing oneself so firmly in one field (and this case one theory).  It is not that she hasn't learned from other disciplines, she certainly has, but her focus for developing the theory, evaluating the theory, and writing about the theory is all soundly in her field.

It would be nice to be so firmly positioned but I realize this never would or could be me.  I enjoy hopping around to much to ever stay in one field.  I like making analogies and connections across disciplines.  I feel I learn much more this way.  In fact lately I have plans to position my work in three additional fields (or subfields).  I don't know where this all will lead me but I imagine it is going to take me longer to get there.


Annie said...

There are advantages to working in one field; but it sounds like you've enjoyed both the benefits and the joys of working in more than one field- to be able to make connections and see "larger pictures" is both an intellectual challenge and a gift.

life_of_a_fool said...

It is tricky sometimes. I bridge two major fields (and multiple subfields). I have colleagues who are firmly committed to one or the other, and identify very strongly with it. That's really frustrating for me and can be counterproductive. Then again, it is that much easier (for me at least) to feel like that much more of a fraud when you're bridging fields or drawing on multiple fields.