Chapter 7 Projects
Project work is a core element of the course, but it is not part of your formal assessment. Individual tasks are designed to quickly deliver research skills necessary at graduate level. The group projects are designed to get you used to performing research as a team. For this reason, don’t be intimidated by the scale of the output required in group projects - it is calibrated to be too much for an individual, but easily manageable for a small group. You will be assigned a group by the course convener. The projects will be organised on a OneNote notebook, which you will get access to at the start of term, and is accessible via Teams or KEATS.
I will assign you into groups for the group projects in week 1. Due to the fact that students may join the course late, these groups are subject to variation for the first few weeks, but I aim to keep them as stable as possible.
7.1 The Projects
- Article Critique
- Deadline: By the lecture in week 2
- Book Reading
- Deadline: By the lecture in week 3
- Research Design Prototyping Project
- Deadline: January 18th, 2021
OneNote is a Microsoft product that is selected for ease of use. If you have used Microsoft Word, then the general layout of the software should be familiar to you. The notebook will be accessible if you log into your KCL email through the web portal, and then select OneNote from the options pane.
The notebook will be laid out, so you don’t have to do any page creation/layout. However, there are some ground rules:
- For clarity, use Harvard referencing where needed. So “The cat sat on the mat (Doe, 2013, 3)” or similar.24
- Don’t edit other people’s work without permission.
- I’ll ask you to nominate one person in your group to be the person I contact with questions.
Why do this? There are four reasons that I have included this activity in the course (and like activities in other courses that I convene). First, people come to KCL from a wide variety of backgrounds, with differing expectations and understandings of graduate study - these activities allow me to establish a baseline and explain the expectations. Second is that group projects enables you to practice and develop teamworking skills. Third, this enables you to perform a related piece of group research prior to your assessment. The literature search precedes the literature review, and the case study precedes your essay. Lastly, this activity is intended to get you to think about the possibilities inherent in open and collaborative research efforts.
7.2 Article Critique
The article critique project is pretty simple: Write out a reasoned critique of what you think is the weakest point made in one of the readings for week 2’s lecture, and identify a good reading that the work cites.
The critique should be about a paragraph long. This isn’t a hard task and should take about 10-15 minutes on top of the normal time it takes to do the reading for the week. You don’t have to write out a full critique of the article, just identify the point made that you think is weakest. It doesn’t even have to be the most important point in the article (the main thesis, contibution, etc), just the bit that you think doesn’t stack up. It might be an overly broad statement, or a logical inconsistency, or something else.
The second part of the task is to identify what you would read next, drawn from the references in the article. Imagine that you are trying to answer a specific research question: “Would it ever be possible to know that the war on terror has ended?” Identify a reading from the footnotes/citations of the article that you would read next, and why you have selected it.
The point is that everyone is going to be doing this, so you can then read what other people picked up on. The idea here is that it is difficult (without spending a lot of time) to identify all the issues with an article, but developing an eye for observing issues is a key skill, as is identifying important readings from citations. Once everyone has posted their critique and selected reference, we can then review them in class, and I’ll discuss the points raised.
7.3 Book Reading
The book reading project is a task that is designed for you to fail. It’s okay - everyone will fail and that is the point. The idea for this project is to get an understanding of the possibilities and limits of processing books as sources of information. We’re going to be working through a method called the Sandage method of reading books, and tracking ourselves as we go. The Sandage (or X-Ray) method is an efficient way of mining academic books for information.25 It is as much about inverting the way you read a book as it is about extracting information from a book itself.
The key thing to remember is that, again, there is no wrong answer. That is, the point of the exercise is to try your hand at a method of extracting information from a book, not getting the right answer.
We’re going to read Stephen Neff’s Justice Among Nations, and we’re going to read it in a very particular way, and the output is tracking yourself as you read. At each stage in the process, I want you to write down 1-2 sentence answers to two questions:
- What is this book about?
- What is the author’s argument?
This task will take 3 hours from start to finish (in fact, that’s an order: don’t go over 3 hours in this task). The early stages will be very short, the last couple will take most of your time.
- Read the book’s title and subtitle, then note down your answers (best guess is better than “I don’t know”, but “I don’t know” is fine if you really have no clue)
- Read the table of contents, then answer the questions again
- Read the book’s index, then answer the questions (don’t spend more than 15 minutes on this stage)
- Compare what you have read in the index to the table of contents, then answer the questions
- Skim through the footnotes/endnotes of the book, then answer the questions (this is where you can take a while)
- Read the acknowledgements section, then answer the questions
- Read chapter 1, then answer the questions
- If you still have time, read as much as you can read until the three hour mark, then answer the questions
You should have 7 or 8 pairs of answers. Read through the progression of your answers, and try to identify when and how your answers changed as you read through the book. In the lecture we will discuss this progression as a group discussion activity.
7.4 Research Design Prototype
The last group project feeds directly into the final research assessment. This project requires you to read and consider the readings for week 12 of the course, and then to discuss it with your group so as to produce a short prototype of a research project.
The idea for the discussion, which can be synchronous or asynchronous depending upon your group’s preferences is to sketch out a skeleton of a research project. That is, imagine this as the first draft of a research project where you bounce some ideas around and come up with an idea that is interesting and coherent. This task isn’t meant to require you to do any independent research, instead approach it as a way of discussing the previous lecture material and course topics and thinking through how to create a research essay.
The theme for this year’s prototypes is “Dirty Wars in the Contemporary World” - You are free to draw from any of the themes of the main lecture series, so long as the problem is a contemporary one (last ten years).
Your prototype should identify:
- A research problem
- The importance of the research problem (academic/policy/both)
- A relevant theoretical disagreement
- A research puzzle
- A research question
- Research methods
- 1-2 candidate case studies
There is a word document on KEATS which you should use as your group’s template which contains detailed instructions for each step. Please send in your completed word document by the 18th of January at the latest.
During the workshop I’ll be giving feedback on these prototypes, and we will discuss the process of research design so as to identify common problems.
The KCL library offers referencing guides here https://libguides.kcl.ac.uk/reference/KingsHarvardV1 ↩︎
To read the original and clarified methods, go to https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1Bsne3Z-VSP0iCYkZK0-ZpRuPj6cMRKe4 which includes an example of the full note-taking method.↩︎