the end(s) of research – why do it if it won’t make a difference?

One of the warmest jokes/most sincerely bitter complaints of friends who’ve done doctorates is how short my thesis’s conclusion was. Similarly, one of the reviewers’ comments on a forthcoming article was that ‘it [didn’t] take that one step forward and make recommendations for the future’…

The problem

I completely agree. Indeed, in the conclusion to that article, I myself (now) complain that some of the problems are ‘so fundamental’ that they make ‘detailed recommendations difficult’. What I don’t say, because others have said that it’s assumption or opinion, is that the problems make even simple reforms unlikely.

These problems can be as basic as academics’ not gathering information, or their gathering but then ignoring or hiding that information. But equally they can be as serious as law enforcement officials’ turning a blind eye to crimes, or state networks’ collusion in crimes.

Why would you continue to bang your head against a brick wall?

Even though it consists of me imploring, “look at all of the manifestly stupid and harmful things… hey, you, stop doing manifestly stupid and harmful things!”, the (f)act of generating a big data set or a robust argument against wrongdoing is still satisfying; it still feels useful.

Or, it would. However, so far, the consequence of my research comprises the wrongdoers implicitly querying, “why would I stop doing something that benefits me?”, and carrying on regardless.

So, especially as I can’t get a job, I no longer get the excitement of ‘threshold apprehension’ (when I’m just about to score a point) or the satisfaction of publication.

Yesterday, I found out (or, rather, worked out from the deafening silence) that I had not even been longlisted for a junior position smack in the centre of my research area. Once more, I found it practically impossible to motivate myself to work, or apply for jobs, or do anything else.

Then, I received a comment on a four-year-old post (on my mothballed doctoral research blog). It was from a family member of an antiquities police agent whose tragic death I had investigated. They were still looking for information, and had found my work (and had found it because it was open-access).

At the moment, at least, that‘s what I work for. Unfortunately, predictably, nothing has changed in the intervening years. But the people affected by the things that I study know that someone (else) is trying to do something (as well as them). And maybe in time we’ll win some little victories.

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