What are the Values and Meanings of Research Today? An Empirical Survey at U.B.C.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Barbara Weber

Co-Applicants: Dr. Steven Taubeneck (Faculty of Arts), Dr. Kirk Madison (Faculty of Science)

[In the process of submitting]


Research Objectives:

The economization of the public (Arendt 1958) has shifted the focus so that, nowadays, its seems that the values and responsibilities of individuals have been superseded by those of market-driven corporate bodies which typically justify actions according to materialistic considerations of quantity, utility and efficiency (Weber 1973, Horkheimer 1967, Habermas 2004). Similarly, universities and individual disciplines are under pressure to explain and justify the economic usefulness of their knowledge (Slaughter & Leslie 1997). The competition between universities, together with the struggle for recognition by society, amplifies these demands (Honneth 1994). At the heart of the struggle is the free and innovative pursuit of fundamental research in the arts, education and sciences, along with a self-critical questioning about the actual meaning of and expectations for research today. In contrast to this view, we suggest that the meaning and value of research may reach beyond its direct application to the material world. Specifically, we posit that the creation of knowledge may also lead to the disclosure of richer ways of being in the world as well to raise the quality of human experience (Lamont 2009). These latter values reach beyond those of “utility” and “quantity.” Moreover, we believe that researchers across all domains consciously or unconsciously recognize both the direct application and the indirect, immaterial values of research.

Consequently, our hypothesis is that researchers value their research for reasons that extend way beyond just economic outcomes. This is why we propose to empirically text our hypothesis and identify some of those core values of research (both explicit and implicit) maintained by researchers. More specifically we would like to explore the following questions: a. How do researchers conceptualize different kinds of knowledge in their disciplines and why is this knowledge valuable to them?  b. In what ways do researchers believe their knowledge is valuable for society? c. What impact does justifying research with an economic vocabulary have on innovation and inspiration? c. What other vocabularies are available to describe the value of research and what impact do these alternate narratives have?   


We aim to do a qualitative two part-survey at UBC where we codify different forms of knowledge and the values of doing research as understood by both individual researchers and by the institution’s lead administrators. We would like to compare these to find commonality or dissonance. This study will be conducted during three months using guided interviews based on a version of the “Socratic method” (Birnbacher 2002, Heckmann 1981, Horster 1994).  Our methodology also includes facilitating group discussions as used previously by Mangold (1960) and Pollock (1955) during a half-day workshop for researchers and graduate students.

Anticipated Outcomes:          

There has been going on a long and substantial dialogue, about the nature and values of the academic pursuit and, in particular, the knowledge created by it. This proposed project aims to explore those core questions and criticisms. But instead of writing another theoretical answer or developing another theory, we propose to discover the influence that those fundamental criticisms and questions have on researchers across various disciplines. Our aim is to discover, what researchers and lead administrators actually think here and now (at UBC), what motivates them and what values they see in the kind of knowledge they find, create or support. By deconstructing the meaning of knowledge and its value we wish to disclose a different approach to the question “How should research be justified within academia and for society?” Finally, we believe that by questioning the core values and fundamental beliefs of our own research, we can teach our students to become equally self-reflexive, critically thinking and creative researchers.

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