Re: Robin Hill's query

Harry Oxley (
Thu, 28 Aug 1997 11:19:15 +1000

Robin Hill's methodological problem is solved now, but (unless it's
a Big Boys Don't Cry thing) I was a bit surprised that nobody noted how sad
the situation behind it is. Here we have a bunch of accountants working
happily and hard enough at teaching the tricks of their practice to get
their degree going, and their reward for it is to be told to turn
themselves into 'researchers'. Which they seemingly don't want to do - and
why the heck SHOULD they?
It seems unlikely that 'research' will make them better accountants
or better teachers. Presumably they are having to do it because its doing
is part of what distinguishes 'university'-like places from mere technical
colleges. This is especially important in polytechnics, but is becoming
just as important this side of the world in so-called and even REAL
Interesting travels of a meaning. Many university people used to
do research because people who wanted to do research or some such creative
work often found universities nice places to do it in. Universities (at
least Down Here) are no longer such nice places to do that sort of thing
in, but the old association has lingered to become a criterion for
institutional definition. In that role, of course, 'methodology' also
becomes crucial; the chore has to be done Just So or its definitional
function loses credibility. I find this turning of the most natural and
enjoyable human activity of simply trying to make sense out of the world
into a wearisome chore for forcing upon people (often under rigid rules)
rather horrid.
I am of course one of those "anything goes" folk, holding that the
research act is like the sex act in being better done than studied up on.
So long as the 'anything' turns up something interesting. I too have known
people whose wishy-washy approaches led them to say nothing useful. But I
have also known people to use the tightest methodologies and also say
nothing useful. And I have known people use very dodgy methodology in
making theses out of insights that proved to be of the uttermost creative
usefulness, and that grew to feed the thinking of better methodologues
later on.
In the Old Days, that was. These last few weeks I have spent a
little time trying to help a colleague with some very fine insights from
unique and difficult study to put her stuff into 'academically' proper form
for a PhD, and I have the nasty feeling we may have failed. I fear the
winners of academic fishing competitions may increasingly get picked
according to the quality of their rods and lines rather than for what they
For what it is worth, I would think (a) that bad research is better
than no research at all, especially for people only just starting out on
that sort of thing, and (b) that a permissive attitude towards 'anything
goes' approaches - for those who like them - may be best for feeding
CURIOSITY; and that curiosity is what makes people want to do 'research'
and that wanting to do it is the best way of getting around to doing it.

Harry Oxley