Research without Theory

So, apparently you cannot do good empirical research without theory.

I am starting to get to grips with what is theory (sort of!) and certainly all that I read about the usefulness of theory, and why it is important, makes a lot of sense, no questions there.  The idea of using a theoretical framework (when I find one!) and applying it to my research is one that has a deep appeal, and I am looking forward to it... whatever it turns out to be.

That said, the suggestion yesterday that research without theory does not make sense (or indeed theory without research), I find counterintuitive.  I can think of so many research projects, reports and analysis that I have come across in the last few years that certainly do not appear to have a theoretical framework.  Is it just that they did have an implicit theoretical approach, which was simply unacknowledged? For example, when the MRCI analyses racist profiling, is it informed by an egalitarian theory of race that fundamentally shapes this research and analysis, though it fails to explicitly acknowledge this in an analysis which is primarily presented as descriptive.  Or is theory simply not relevant to an exercise such as this... indeed theory might even be thought of as a bad thing, a bias or ideology which would undermine the 'impartiality' of the analysis and arguments being presented?  That said NGO reports do not shy away from articulating a 'value' base.

If a theoretical framework is the structure used to build knowledge, do NGO reports like these attempt to put in place building blocks without any scaffolding?  Just not sure if I buy that.

Out of my depth

Tough week for lots of reasons to do with work, family and all the other not-too-serious-but-annoying-nontheless stuff, struggled through some very long technical and complicated reading on formal theory for Friday's design and measurement class - and no, I am not going to attempt to explain what I think formal theory might be.

I get to the class and two things happen in quick succession: (1) my mobile pone rings, shame! (the lady beside me actually takes the time to tell me I should really put that on silent!) (2) I discover I have been working off the wrong version of the course outline and formal theory is no longer on the programme (apparently it was not working as a topic, something having attempted the reading I can well appreciate).  There are two immediate implications of this:  2 (a) I struggled with that reading when I was really not up for it FOR NOTHING, and 2 (b) I have not a notion what is going on in the class now because I have not done the relevant readings.

It could have been the tiredness, or all the other things this week, but for the first time in a long time, I really felt utterly and totally out of my depth.  Its been a while, I am not used to it anymore.  Normally these days in a work situation, if I am not sure how to handle a something there are likely two possible responses (1) I know enough to spoof it, or (2) nobody else knows what to do either so it does not really matter.

36 hours later and I beginning to think this is a good thing, not a nice thing, but maybe a good one.... you know something to do with comfort zones... challenges... making you stronger... all that stuff I might be able to form in a sentence when there is a bit more distance between me and the described events.

In the meantime I now have two weeks reading to catch up with.

ps. it did shut me up though!