” We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden” (Goethe)
“Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change
anything.” (George Bernard Shaw)
Nothing is as permanent as change. These various proverbs referring to the surpassing of time we experience cannot only refer to daily processes. While human beings and nature change, sience and research intend to describe and investigate those changes.
This post intends to give an insight into the transformation of academia and research and contrast the previous philosophy of research to the actual one discussing implementations for today’s research possibilities. Some information in this post derive from a discussion of numerous researchers (Brew, 1997) of a variety of disciplines discussing whether external or intellectual factors or both have changed in our post-modern research community. Therefore, it is to investigate whether the academic content or research methodologies have been transformed.
The roots of research
Thinking back to all those great researchers of old times, such as Galileo Galilei (1564- 1642), Charles Darwin (1809-1882), we have considered research as another option to view the world in a more realistic, nature based view. Religion and other transcendent believes have become less credible to explain the world those human beings living at that time. As scientific ideas have been forbidden in the earlier centuries, research has undergone an extreme revolution since then. At the beginning those sciences developed that were able to explain the world and physical happenings in a descriptive way.
The new idea of research in those times had been called positivism that followed a rational and mechanistic,objectivist, realist empiricist tradition of inquiry. Positivism is based upon the assumption that there is one solution to a worldly question, one perspective and one explanation:
Kuhn (1970) redirects our gaze from the disembodied subject of reason as the source of knowledge to a source in paradigms, traditions and knowledge-producing communities. . . . Kuhn points to the scientist, the subject of science, who is formed and acts through an unconscious acceptance of traditional, community-based authority, an authority which provides a way of theorising or understanding, working in and changing the world. (Usher & Edwards 1995: 36-37).
But those positivistic ideals have long ceased to dominate our view of science, but include attempts to define research methodologies which transcend the rules of positivism (see for example, Brew 1991 As researchers have systematically and empirically managed to investigate knowledge others have produced, criticize it and create other theories, they have started to realize that in several cognitive and social matters, not only one perspective one solution can be considered the scientific truth, but that many social and cognitive attempts to describe the “truth” depend on personal interpretation. Psychology as a social science underlies those numerous divers interpretations of a subject, a thought and a construct. In accordance with this philosophy of science as a way to reflect upon knowledge and human thinking, the purpose of science has transferred from “discovering the truth” to “describing via construct a part of the world”. This definition has lead to a greater ambiguity and more coexisting theories about the same subject that can be examined through a variety of research methods. Nevertheless, experts agree
Our research today
Today, research is in a state of transition from a relatively stable view of its methodology and purpose towards an uncertain and far more diffuse pattern of studies, the nature of knowledge is changing (Brew,1991). Academia and science is not only limited to a few genius that revolution the scientific world, but almost everyone having pursued an academic career can become a scientist examining a small portion of the world. Almost everything can get investigated in our information technology world that defines itself as the generation of knowledge. Due to technological advances ideas can be spread quicker and easier and an exponential amount of new research fields has opened up in the past decades. Experts (Brew, 1991) have evidenced three main reasons for the change in research:
1. External pressures are changing research methods
Due to technological advancement, computers facilitate the collection and storage of an almost unlimited amount of information. Although research has not changed due to the use of computers, nowadays a variety of subjects (e.g. cognitive neuroscience) that have been untouched before, can be examined in detail and the last mysteries of the human brain solved. In some subject areas the existence of databases has transformed the discipline as there is information available which wasn’t available before. Having material in a database means that the researcher is able to concentrate on higher level activities.
2. There is a shift to short term project-based research.
While in the early 20th century, research was almost a lifetime achievement and if you were lucky, you could present ONE new theory to humanity in your life, today’s social sciences revolve around the idea to produce numerous significant contributions to the academic world throughout the course of your research career. Publishing and producing knowledge (regardless of how valuable these results are) have become most of the researchers priorities related to the ideas of a society in which consumption and innovation is so deeply rooted. Limited fundings and governmental restrictions intensify this competitive production of knowledge. It does not only matter that you have been able to discover or construct a new theoretical idea, but it is crucial that you are the FIRST to do so and competent enough to get it published:
Research used to be something you steeped yourself in . . . a month or two at a time and then
getting out there for an extended period whereas now. . the culture of research and the climate of the present is that research is about . . define a project in order to get a grant. . . you sort of do research . . . it’s largely defined by which grants you get. . . . . no time more money creates a
very different kind of methodology in a way, which for me is problematic. I do spurts of work. . I rush . . and do it fairly quickly. There is no sort of sustained, ongoing developmental engagement with the material (Brew,1997)
3. Content has changed due to changes in intellectual climate
Another fact that goes in hand with the above mentioned, is the fact that researchers are not able to investigate those topics they know best and thus have the highest motivation to dedicate themselves to. Most researchers are forced to work on related topics and be flexible while another person could be the better fit for this position.
To sum up, as we have seen in this post, a lot of things have changed in academic research since its very beginning, some have remained the same. It will be interesting to consider what research will be like in a century from today on. What are your ideas?
Brew, A. (1991). Underlying values in scientific method: is science a defence against knowing? Reflections on Higher Education, 3, 26-40.
Brew, A. & Phillis, F. (1997). Is research changing? Conceptions of successful researchers.
Proceedings of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of
Australasia Conference, Adelaide, 8-11 July.
Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Second Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Usher, R. & Edwards, R. (1994). Postmodernism and Education. London: Routledge.
As being part of EFPSA’s JEPS team, Sina Scherer works as JEPS Bulletin’s editor and is currently enrolled in the last year of her Master programme in Work and Organizational Psychology at the Westfälische Wilhelmsuniversität Münster. Her fields of interest cover the areas of Intercultural Psychology, Personality and Organizational Psychology such as Health Psychology.