Truth in Society
February 9, 1995
Testing possibilities . . .
Everyone should, by the end of this afternoon's meeting, be a member of a group committed to conducting a "feasibility study" of some specific potential focus for a longer investigation. The question you'll be trying to answer is this: "Is it feasible for a team of students from the Truth in Society section to conduct a substantial investigation of this topic, question, incident, concept?"
What does that question entail? We see it as best dealt with by being broken down into a series of subordinate questions:
Remember, there is no reason that a group has to come back with a positive recommendation that we do the study; in fact, it would be equally useful if the group discovered that their topic were indefinable or impossible. Either way, the group should have a final written report, with a bibliography if possible (if not, the topic should be categorized as "not feasible"), by the end of the day next Tuesday.
- Is it a definable and investigatable topic, or can it be defined as one? (That is, are there temporal and spatial limits to the investigation?)
- Are there resources available which would support such an investigation? (By this, we mean primarily library resources, although other things aren't entirely irrelevant. The question would best be answered by a bibliography -- a list of periodical articles, general reference works, books on the subject or which demonstrably include relevant material, factual sources and documents. This question entails a serious amount of time in the library.)
- What are the implications of a study of this issue for our growing understanding of the ways in which people come to believe things, change their beliefs, refuse to change their beliefs? (This question is probably best answered by a piece of persuasive writing which might come out of a discussion among the feasibility study group after they've grappled with the first two questions for a while. One reason, of course, is that if the answer to the first two questions is "no," there's hardly any point in trying to answer this one . . . )
- Are there enough issues (subtopics, questions about the main issue, leads to follow up, problems to find out about) to support an investigation? (One way to answer this would be to generate a list of questions you think need to be explored about the proposed focal issue or incident or idea.)
- What evidence do we have, presuming that the answer to the first three questions is "yes," that there are going to be a substantial number of people in the class who would be willing to commit themselves to this topic for a month? (Again, this may be best answered by a persuasive argument that outlines its interest and importance.)
The process can, we think, best be accomplished in three steps.
- Library research. Between now and Tuesday morning, then, each group should, together or separately (together, at least to start, will be a lot more effective) meet in the library to begin the process of defining the topic and locating resources (these processes will almost certainly be closely related -- finding resources will help define the topic, and also defining the topic concretely will help in finding resources).
- Progress report. You should be prepared to give a report (orally, but lists of resources, etc., are never a waste of time) at a meeting at 8:30 Tuesday. We'll exchange ideas and problems and we'll rearrange groups if necessary (for instance, if people have discovered that their potential focus is a bust).
- Drafting a completed version of the feasibility report. The rest of the day Tuesday will be spent on the feasibility study (perhaps in the library, perhaps working in groups with what's already been achieved in the library, more like a combination of the two). At 4:00 Tuesday we'll meet to arrange for the reading of feasibility studies and the preparation for making some decisions on Thursday.