One of the pleasures of Islamabad is to shop at Saeed Book Bank; and part of that pleasure is to marvel at the idiosyncratic filing approach through which they organize their offers: you find sound scholarly studies next to dusty volumes of oriental British officers, you find the latest epistemological critique of Hadith exegesis next to coffee-table selections of the "true sayings of the Prophet". What I found, among all this, is Sadaf Ahmad's study of Al-Huda and upper-class urban Pakistani women.1Much of what she wrote chimed well with my own project in Lucknow, but these lines in particular stuck (12f):

Rubina, whom I had known most of my life, listened as I told her about my research plans, and then quietly informed me that she had joined Al-Huda the month before. The time I spent in Islamabad was the time Rubina took the one-year diploma course there, which allowed me to get a very close look at the process she went through over time and to see what changes the Islam she learned about and engaged with at Al-Huda brought to her ideology, her behavior, and her relationships. one of the relationships that changes was our own. She was the only "subject" I allowed myself to argue with freely.

Good research rests on good questions: on good research questions, good interview questions - and good questions about questions. It is these latter ones, the meta-level ones, that I attempted to collect for today's post. I tried some of them with the students I tought and advised this spring; some more occured to me while reading their final papers.1 Whether you ask these questions about your own project or pose them to students: I believe they work best if answered in only one concise sentence each. Give it a try:

First step: finding an empirical puzzle and a research question (I am deliberately not talking "topics" here, since research built primarily around a topic rather than around "questions" and "puzzles" tends to be not as good)

1. Which incident or reading inspired your research idea?

2. What exactly puzzled you about this incident or reading?

3. What larger issue is that puzzle an example of?

4. Which questions does this puzzle put on the agenda?

5. Which of these questions do you want to answer?

6. How would an hypothetical sample answer look like?

  • 1. One of the joys of teaching this term was the chance to see actual (if small) research projects through from start to finish - a rare chance before you are tenured and have your own research students. Thanks to all of you students (and the staff at SIT New Delhi) for this opportunity!

This post concludes the tripartite series of lecture summaries from the fieldwork methods class which I co-teach this term at SIT New Delhi.1 It addresses several issues faced by foreigners who do research in India (or elsewhere) as opposed to domestic scholars who research their own culture - and simultaneously problematizes this terminology. The lecture moves from the practical to the conceptual, picking four potential trouble areas: language, field relations, othering, and categories. The remaining posts of this series are here:

Description, interpretation, evaluation
Research questions, interview questions
Doing research as a foreigner

  • 1. More on this class here...

This post is the second in a tripartite series of lecture summaries from the fieldwork methods class which I co-teach this term at SIT New Delhi.1 Before Azim Khan spoke about interviewing in more practical detail in the second half of our lecture, I framed the practical issues he raised by looking at the difference between research questions and interview questions. This post sums up my key points from this framing exercise; the rest of the series is here:

Description, interpretation, evaluation
Research questions, interview questions
Doing research as a foreigner

Let's first look at today's picture, taken at one of my earlier attempts to interview Maulana Khaled Rashid in Lucknow. All the practicalities are sorted: tea is being served, the Hadith commentaries provide a nice background, cameras and mikes are set up (the latter are not mine, of course - it was the time of the Salman Rushdie controversy, and I had to share my appointment with a dozen journalists). But the central piece is missing: the Maulana, with whom I hoped to have a conversation.

  • 1. More on this class here; this particular lecture (namely its emphasis on the advantage of clear epistemological bases) was inspired by Roulston, K, DeMarrais, K, Lewis, JB. (2003). Learning to interview in the social sciences. Qualitative Inquiry, 9(4), 643–668.

This post is the first in a tripartite series of lecture summaries from the fieldwork methods class which I co-teach this term at SIT New Delhi.1 The post also sums up my individual take on the venerable "DIE Exercise", a pedagogical tool originally developed in the context of intercultural education and applied here in slightly more academic form to the youtube phenomenon "Where the hell is Matt?". Links to the next two lectures follow here once they go online:

Description, interpretation, evaluation
Research questions, interview questions
Doing research as a foreigner

  • 1. More on this class here, more on the challenge of coaching undergrad research here