Failed research projects ought to count for something! It’s too bad they don’t. They just disappear into nowhere, it seems to me: into filing cabinets, abandoned notebooks, or forgotten folders on some computer. The data goes nowhere; nothing is published about it and no talks are given; no blog posts are written and no credit is claimed. You stop telling anyone you’re working on your dead projects, once they’re dead.
I’m imagining here that other social researchers are like me: they have a lot of ideas for research projects, but only some of them come to fruition. Here are some of mine:
- Interview project on the personal experience of people applying to graduate school in English and Physics. (It got started, but didn’t have a successful strategy for subject recruitment.)
- Interview project on student representatives to university Boards of Trustees in the Chicago area. (I got started with this, but didn’t have the time to continue.)
- Historical research project on what I hypothesized was a long-term decline of organized campus labor at the University of Chicago. (I only ever did some preliminary archival poking around.)
- Project on faculty homes in the Paris region. (I only had fragmentary data about this, and it was too hard to collect more, and never the main focus of my work.)
- Discourse analysis project on “bad writing” in the U.S. humanities. (I did write my MA thesis about this topic, but it needed a lot more work to continue, and for now it just sits there, half-dead.)