Category Archives: Researchers’ corner

IF CITIES CAN’T REGULATE URBAN GROWTH, WHO CAN? A RESEARCH PROPOSAL

In both Canada and the United States, we have largely left urban growth issues to local governments, and many local governments have failed to manage them. Many will never succeed because local councils are not, in general, able effectively to resist development interests.
As a result, the growth of our cities is, in practice, primarily responsive to the interests of developers. These interests are frequently at odds with the considerations that bear on preservation of the environment, maintenance of agriculture, an efficient infrastructure network and a transportation system that serves the population as a whole.
Therefore, in a series of posts on the multi-level governance of land use I’ve argued that:
• In urban growth policy, unlike many other policy domains, too much local control is a recipe for bad policy.

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Case studies can produce theoretical advances: here’s an example

Case studies have unjustifiably acquired a reputation for being semi-anecdotal investigations of the small details of individual circumstances, research that is incapable of generating significant empirical or theoretical advances in knowledge. It is argued that the case study is, at best, a preliminary step, in that it may generate hypotheses that can later be tested using such “more reliable” methods as standardized questionnaires or statistical data. In the study of politics, however, that sequence of research initiatives may well work better in reverse.

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ETHICS GUIDELINES: LETTING THE POWERFUL OFF THE HOOK, HANGING SUBORDINATES OUT TO DRY

I’m an ethics bureaucrat – a lowly one at the moment, a member of my departmental ethics committee. I don’t like the job, but I stick with it because it keeps me in touch with a system that has to change. The better I understand the system, the better my chances of helping to bring about a change.
In fact, the system changes all the time, sometimes for the better, but mostly for the worse. The most frequent changes for the worse come, not from Canada’s Tri-Council Guidelines, which I criticized in an earlier blog entry and and a research paper (the discussion of ethics starts on p. 13), but from well-intentioned local ethics bureaucrats who over-interpret the guidelines. The other day an ethics application crossed my desk and I spotted a change that I believe originated locally.

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TRYING TO START A DIALOGUE ABOUT CASE STUDY RESEARCH METHODS

I’m off to Chicago to deliver a paper about case study research methods to the Urban Affairs Association. This is a slightly revised version of a paper delivered in Tokyo in December. I wrote the paper after it dawned on me that many of my colleagues devote a lot of their research career to case studies, as I do, but that we rarely discuss how we do them.
However, the part of my paper that stirred up the most interest in Tokyo started as an afterthought: a discussion of how research ethics protocols militate against, not only sound methodology, but also ethics itself. You can read that discussion by going to p. 12 of the paper available at the second link above.

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“THE TRUTH”: EPISTEMOLOGICAL, PRACTICAL AND ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS IN CASE STUDY RESEARCH

I’ll be in Tokyo next week, delivering a paper at a conference of the International Sociological Association. Drawing on examples of research I’ve done, in both Kenya and North America, the paper discusses issues faced by researchers who undertake critical investigations of the way political power is wielded. It looks at the problem of how to get at “the truth”, as well as some obstacles posed by inappropriate research ethics protocols. Following is a brief summary of the paper, or, if you prefer, download the paper itself.

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WANT TO KNOW HOW MEANINGLESS WEB PAGE HIT RATES CAN BE?

When we bloggers and other web site managers want to demonstrate the importance of our efforts, we usually cite the page views, or hit rates, that our page view counters return to us. I do it myself, but I always follow up by citing return visits to my blog and average length of stays. You can get a quick insight into what’s wrong with hit rates by looking at a sample of the returns I get from my Stat Counter for two of my blog entries.

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WHEN WE INTERVIEW RESEARCH SUBJECTS, HOW DO WE KNOW WE’RE GETTING THE TRUTH?

I was having a drink with a couple of colleagues, who, like me, are engaged in case study research, and the conversation turned to interviews. One of my colleagues mentioned some questionable propositions that had been put to him in one of those interviews. “I don’t believe that,” he said, “but if that’s what they say, what are you going to do?”
I knew the answer to the question: triangulation. But it took some excavation of my own research experience to remember how I had arrived at that answer. The idea of triangulation never actually occurred to me. It presented itself, in the form of a puzzle I encountered as a graduate student immersing myself in my first primary research project, a study of Kenya’s Million-Acre Settlement Scheme, the starting point for a book I later published under the title Land and Class in Kenya.

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