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Course 707: Writing and Research Heuristics

Science is tentative, exploratory, questioning, largely learned by doing. One of the world's leading physicists was famous for opening his introductory classes by saying that it doesn't matter what we cover, but what we discover, maybe something that will challenge prevailing beliefs if we are fortunate. More advanced work is to a large extent a common enterprise in which students are expected to come up with new ideas, to question and often undermine what they read and are taught, and to somehow pick up, by experience and cooperative inquiry, the trick (which no one begins to comprehend) of discerning important problems and possible solutions to them. Furthermore, even in the simplest cases, proposed solutions (theories, large or small) "outrun empiricism," if by "empiricism" we mean what can be derived from experience by some procedure; one hardly has to move to Einstein to exhibit that universal trait of rational inquiry." -- Noam Chomsky

In this seminar, we will try to share the heuristics of doing research by learning to do research. The focus will be on your own work and the objective will be to pick up the trick of discerning a problem. Using largely your own work, we will try to learn what is involved in stating the problem clearly, how to construct a hypothesis, how to assemble evidence, what counts as explanation. In short, we will learn to theorize. The first three or four meetings will analyze a few carefully chosen essays to get a handle on the idea of research and theory building and to remove common misconceptions about theory. We will be doing a lot of writing and rewriting since the objective is to enable you to think about your own concerns as researchers formulating a researchable question and to conceive of your own writing as a way of thinking. I would like you to undertake two kinds of writing (please consider what follows as instructions for homework): one where you will be formulating your proposal; the other where you will be attempting a review of the field you are constructing. For the first class on January 1st, I would like you to bring a statement—no more than 3 pages and written as clearly as possible—that we will work on during the semester. I would also like you to make a list of 3-4 articles (preferably from recent and peer-reviewed journals) and 3-4 books that you consider important for your work. Give serious thought to what you select and how you select. If you have the time during the break, you may begin writing a review-essay based on these articles/books. In writing this essay, pay close attention to the form: how to document, how to quote, how to summarize. You may use either the MLA Handbook or the Chicago Manual; but once you have chosen a style, stick to it consistently. Please browse important journals for form (some examples: Comparative Studies in History and Society; Representations, Contributions to Indian Sociology, Cultural Studies, Political Theory). Pay attention to how different kinds of sources are cited and documented. While writing the review-essay, try to incorporate quotations and footnotes or endnotes. Learn to use the software “Endnotes” for making bibliography and notes. Activities for the first 3-4 classes are outlined. We will make up the rest of the schedule as we go along since it involves your on-going work. The readings for the course are to be used in two ways: as sources for ideas that will help in assembling heuristics for conceiving of writing as a way of thinking and as material that we will analyse for clarity, structure of argumentation and its development, organization—in short, all the features you will be exhibiting in your own writing! The readings and their arrangements are bound to be somewhat tentative. I may change them to suit our developing needs or if I find something more appropriate. We may use some of them for in-class exercises. Your suggestions are welcome too.

NB: What you need to bring for the first class:

1) a 3-page statement of your problem

2) a list of books/articles which you will be using for a review-essay

3) brief notes of the material assigned for the week.

Week 1: Research, Creativity and Heuristics

Polya, How to Solve it, pp. 1-36. Link found here .

Margaret Boden, The Creative Mind, pp. 1-41 Link found here

Herbert Simon, “Scientific Discovery and the Psychology of Problem Solving” Link found here

Week 2: Bullshit, Ignorance and Inquiry

Noam Chomsky, “Science/Rationality.” Link found here

Harry Frankfurt, “On Bullshit.” Link found here

S.N. Balagangadhara, “On the Nature of Ignorance.” Link found here

Week 3: Concepts, Theories and Explanations

Herbert Simon, “Does Scientific Discovery Have a Logic?” in Models of Discovery

Charles S. Peirce, Essays in the Philosophy of Science (selection)

N.R. Hanson, Patterns of Discovery (selection) N.R. Hanson, Observation and Explanation (selection)

Karl Popper, “Knowledge: Subjective versus Objective.”

Alan Garfinkel, Forms of Explanations (selection)

Week 4: The Natural and the Human Sciences

H. von Wright, Explanation and Understanding (selection)

H-G Gadamer, Truth and Method (selection)

Karl Popper, “The Problem of Demarcation.”

Week 5 onward discussion of drafts

More readings

Uday Singh Mehta / Conclusion: Experience and unfamiliarity Link found here

Martin Heidegger - The Age of the World Picture Link found here

Ranajit Guha - Epilogue: The Poverty of Historiography - a Poet's Reproach Link found here

Agamben- "infancy and history: an essay on the destruction of experience." pp 11-65 Link found here

Jean-Luc Nancy / Finite History Link found here

Pierre Nora / Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire from Representations, No. 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory. (Spring, 1989) Link found here



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