Suddenly the thesis is real
This year 2019 has been all about fieldwork and method. Suddenly the thesis is real! Most researchers say they enjoy this part of the doctorate the most and I can see why. The reading and theory integrates with what you are discovering, what is going on, and what you are learning.
“a scary place”
Yet it is a scary place – being in the field. I am an experienced manager and presenter and have participated in countless recruitment interviews, yet I was so apprehensive about the research interviews and observation that I undertook a number of practice sessions with friends and family. This was invaluable and gave me the confidence to begin. Even then, the early stages feel unfocussed; it’s adaptation all the way.
Figuring out methods
How do you actually do research? The bookshelves groan and articles abound. But fieldwork only makes sense when you get out there and try it. ‘Flying a plane while building it’ sums up neatly what is going on, as theory and method intertwine and multiple iterations back and forth from field to desk shape the study as it progresses. This is certainly true of practice studies which are informed by a study of work and what is important to practitioners. However studying action, or ‘praxeology’, is not simply about ‘what people do’ in their everyday work. Rather, it is about how their work forms an intelligible, collectively understood system of activities which are socially and materially situated. A practice perspective de-centres individual cognition and motivation and instead makes collective practices the focus of study
“fieldwork only makes sense when you get out there and try it”
This way of thinking first emerged in 2018 when I was introduced to practice theory at the Interpretive Policy Analysis Summer School (#IPASS2018). In parallel, my supervisor lent me the seminal work, ‘The Practice of Everyday Life’ by Michel de Certeau. I didn’t – and still don’t – understand all of it – but it started me thinking much more deeply about strategizing and the work of managers as process and practice.
Summer Learning Interlude
To really get to grips with a practice perspective and understand what a practice ontology really means, I felt I needed to learn about it, not just through books and articles – important as these are.
The key is through teaching from academic experts and talking to PhD students employing this perspective. The home institution can only ever be a foundation, so off I went to the Practice Studies: An Advanced Introduction – an annual Summer School held at Warwick University which was recommended to me by a PhD buddy. Led by some of my key authors including Davide Nicoloini, Hari Tsoukas, Jorgen Sandberg and Richard Whittington, I was girlishly excited about meeting them!
The School comprised three days of intensive teaching, workshops, one-to-one mentoring, informal discussions and a research clinic where we had the opportunity to present and seek feedback on our work. Late night drinking was out as we were all reading and prepping for the next day’s work. It was a truly brilliant experience which fired me up for a re-draft of my literature themes and approach to my thesis Introduction.
I have reconnected with fieldwork and data collection with renewed purpose. And I feel ready for the upcoming British Academy of Management (BAM) conference 2019, where I will discuss method within the Critical Management Studies track and get involved in the BAM Strategy Special Interest Group.