Failed research ought to count

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.)

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Beginning of fieldwork in France

I’m writing this from a small white room on the 9th story of an apartment building, comfortably spartan, the shelves still full of the shirts and camera equipment of the previous occupant, the bed sprawled out under a striped duvet. A squadron of black birds are patrolling outside in the chilly rain. This is only a month-long sublet, and the precariousness of not yet having a place to live in July is beginning to alarm me.

After not having written much in the blog for a couple of months, I’m hoping to start writing a lot more regularly now that I’m in Paris for my fieldwork. The universities are just in the middle of closing down for the year, having final exams and the like, so it’s a bit unclear what I will really be able to accomplish before the summer doldrums. I’ve gone to a couple of demonstrations against the government university reforms, and will probably blog about that in my next post. And I have some initial contacts and invitations to pursue. No doubt this is pretty much the typical situation for the start of a research project. (If anyone is curious about the details of the research plan, you can read my long research proposal.)

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