CSBS 310      Term Assignment: Theorizing a Research Problem

(with preliminary and final versions)                                     Winter 2014


I want you to come up with a research proposal that includes: a) an interesting problemb) some researchable questions that grow out of the problem, and c) indicate what approach (metaphor/model/theory) from the Rigney book you would use in to understand, explain, or investigate that problem.  Furthermore, d) indicate whether you are using a more positivist approach, or one of the post-positivist approaches (coming handout, and lecture on positivism.)

  1. e) Next, suggest what the metaphor/theory has going for it (or against it), why you have chosen it, and what sort of results you expect in using it. Choose another approach from the book or the class and say why you might not want to use that one.  f) Show how some (at least three) of the critical terms and choices presented in this course might helpfully apply to your research problem and/or to the model/metaphor/theories.  (By “critical terms” I mean concepts that point to shortcomings or good points in explanations.  (And remember, either an explanation, or a style of interpretation, is what a theory is.)  What I mean by “critical terms” appears on other handouts, and will be discussed in class ad infinitum)

Finally, g) I would like you to indicate would methods you would use to confirm or explore your research problem and its theory.  By this I mean

1) an indication of what population/people you would be looking at, 2)what you would be comparing, and 3) the methods (which may be several) you would use to collect the data or evidence you seek.


In an early preview, due the fifth week of class, Tuesday, February 4.  I’d like you to hand in a rough preview.  Include at least a problem and the questions it raises (see attached for examples), and say what metaphors/ models/ theories you are considering, and address how you feel about positivism and its post-positivist alternatives so far.  Also, indicate briefly with whom (what population or people, or peoples), or with what social/historical texts, and how you will go about the research.  On the basis of this preliminary attempt, or sally, I can tell you if I think you are on the right track.  Don’t make too much of this first version, but come up with ideas that interest you, so that you can use them in a final version.   A final version, given more thought and more completely filling in a) through g), is due during the last week of class, Tuesday, March 4. This last version should be from 4 to 6 pages.  It should be at least as long as these guidelines!  For a term paper, that is quite short, so it should be thoughtful and boiled down.


Let the above be your basic guide. Now here are some further hints for each point:

  1. a) By a “problem,” I don’t necessarily mean a social problem that the powers that be think needs to be corrected, like “how can we decrease the use of illegal drugs,” or “how should we respond to the threat of ‘terrorism,’ or what might end wars. Of course it can be one of those kind, if you so desire. But it might also be a more “theoretical” or analytic problem of general interest, or of interest in your field of study.  Something like ”what generates ethnic conflict,” or “why is the age of marriage going up,” or “what is the effect of harsh (violent) punishment on violent crimes,” or “what causes the current ultra-right (reactionary) resurgence in matters of race and gender,” and so on. The problem you pick is important for the next steps, so find something that interests you.
  2. b) When you state a general problem, there are always some somewhat more specific questions that arise, begging to be answered in order to give direction and interest to what you are looking for. State those questions in such a way that they can be researched. State them, that is, in a way that some possible evidence might be gathered in support of, or in refutation of, answers to your questions. (See attached for examples of both “problems” and “questions”)


  1. c) The next step is to pick one (or two or more, if you want) of the metaphors/theoretical models discussed in Rigney that you think would best help you to explain or advance your understanding of the problem/issue. At the same time pick one (or more if you like) that you think would be less helpful. Figure out and state what specific version of the metaphor (for example, the “hermeneutics” version of the “discourse” metaphor in Rigney, or Goffman’s version of the “theatre” metaphor) you intend to use to clarify, better understand, or explain your problem.  But don’t confuse the metaphor you want to use with the metaphor that may be in the minds of the people you propose to study (Western doctors have generally been taught a “machine model” of the human body for example, or business people hold tight to a market model.)  Their interpretive model and yours need not be the same. (E.g. you might want to use an interpretive discourse model to explore the market model held by some group.)


  1. d) Getting still more specific, indicate how you think using the metaphor/theory you have chosen might work, and why you chose it. Go ahead and give your proposed final explanation or interpretation of your probem if you like, but it’s okay to leave an expected, final conclusion more or less open.) Perhaps it is most important to indicate why you feel the research matterswhy should you, or anyone, care?)


  1. e) Are the metaphors you have chosen or rejected more positivist, or do they resemble one of the postpositivist practices? See handout for how these match up with the metaphors in the book, and be alert throughout the course to get a handle on these terms, and how they match Rigney, by these final weeks.


  1. f) Apply at least three of the critical terms developed throughout this course. They can be elusive, and require practice in how to apply them. Be able to state something like this:  I believe my theoretical approach is good because it is more holistic than reductionistic, it avoids being Eurocentric, it is historical in a good way, it is more materialist or more idealist or both, it provides a balance of agency and structure, and so on.  For the metaphor/theory you don’t favor, show why you think it would not likely be helpful because it tends to be, for example, too Eurocentric, overly reductionist, ahistorical, etc. Of course this is meant to be more than an exercise in labeling: you should make it clear why or how your approach is what you say it is (historical, or not historical, reductionist or holistic, Eurocentric or not, etc.)


  1. g) 1) indicate with whom your research would be dealing. 2) You might want to do a case study, a comparison of neighborhoods (or towns, countries, etc.), or divide a given population into parts like men and women, younger and older, working and middle class, etc., and compare them. Or maybe you want to compare regions, countries or states)

3) What methods and tactics will you use to gather or pull out information?  What will count as evidence?  Be inventive about how to explore your problem, never mind if anyone’s done anything like it before.


Besides what you get from class or the chapters in Rigney, there are additional criteria for good (or bad) theories in the “postscript,” on the last pages, of Rigney.

Approach your problem with an open mind, one that can change as you read and think about it.  I’m not looking for perfection, or an overly tidy piece of writing.  What I really want to see is your thinking on paper.  But address, in some way, each of the issues in a) b) c) d) e) f) g) above.


Find your own way, but start letting your unconscious work on it soon.  I’d do it this way.  Think of a problem soon, then think about it, let it ferment as you go through the book(s) and class.  When your brain is teeming, or even when it feels empty, write down everything that comes to you.  Go for a few pages without stopping.  Then go back and arrange and condense your best thoughts down to the four to six pages.  This should be a research proposal that is top-heavy with theory.  I repeat, I don’t want neatness and completeness so much as seeing your mind analyzing, weighing alternatives, interpreting, thinking.  That is what theorizing is.  Don’t let the “fact” monkeys talk you out of it.  ­­­­­­Final version due March 4

"Are you looking for this answer? We can Help click Order Now"