Can we be idealists and academic researchers?

“Well, if you have that kind of bias you won’t be able to conduct a truly objective research project”.

It was said to me today, online, when talking about research on (un)employment, the work-ethic and how I thought that we should find new ways of looking at work in relation to citizenship. I wanted to reply with “well, I don’t really believe in objective research”, but I didn’t want to make that kind of unnuanced statement without having to engage in a full-blown discussion about how I view my research practice when I have actual work to do, such as finishing that paper and getting back to my actual thesis.

In a way I don’t think any form of research is objective, nor is it, I hope,  purely motivated by some sort of random decision. We all, as researchers, have our reasons for focusing on a certain topic, and for choosing to contribute to a certain field. For those in engineering it might be to contribute to cleaner and more efficient ways to create energy, whereas those in bio-sciences might be thinking or hoping they can contribute to finding a cure for cancer or genetic defects. As a social scientist (I think), I want to contribute to improving society by looking for new ways to, among other things, understand the work-ethic and how we view work as part of our lives. I want to do so, because I personally believe there are better ways to live our lives and to view Others than to look at their employment status. Some people cannot find work for whatever reason, some people would be happiest working part-time. Perhaps more people would ‘work’ or ‘contribute’ to society if there wasn’t a pressure to be in employment regardless of there being any available jobs for those who find it difficult to work in an evermore digitalising world.

Of course I don’t want my work to become a manifesto. I don’t want to be preaching in my thesis, my papers nor my conference presentations. I aim to do research by a) reading up on what others have done before me, and to see what they have concluded, b) go out into the world and try to relate my own views and those of other academics to what I see, c) think and write about it, and d) ask others for input and criticism, as you do, as a researcher. But that does not take away from the reasons I am in this game of academic research. I am here because I want to stand for something, and to find ways to improve society. If that is ‘bias’, so be it.

I hope to find a spot in a few months where in collaboration I can develop research that does exactly that: bring about change or at least get people to start thinking about change. I have no idea yet as to what would be the best way to incorporate ‘work’ into a future society that will still have to deal with unemployment. I will come up with crappy ideas that will get shot down, and if I’m lucky I might get a few things right, eventually. Research, to me, is not a bias-free zone. I believe we can and should do better here. So I’m not just going to sit and complain about it. I’m going to use my skills to at least get myself and others to think about how we might change.

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