Component Propositions—Teasing Out
There are usually a range of propositions underlying your research. These need to be identified and research done to support them. If support is lacking, you need to rethink their role in your project. To identify areas where additional thinking and research is needed, it often helps to presenting the propositions and corresponding counter-propositions to others who probe and discuss your thinking.
Consider, for example, a project with the following Governing Question
What aspects of my ongoing intellectual development become clear as I investigate the visceral impact of 19th Century American Romanticism on post-colonial New England and the importance of revisiting this history to understand who we are today as readers and writers.
This project rests on the propositions such as “American Romanticism had a visceral impact on post-colonial New England” and “our intellectual history (as Americans) is important to revisit in order to know who we are as readers and writers today.” Evidence is needed to support the first proposition, but it is possible to re-express the second proposition so it does not require support: “It is important to me to revisit our intellectual history (as Americans) to know who we are as readers and writers today, where 'we' refers to me and to readers who are like me in sharing this premise.” The proposition has become a premise. Readers who need to be convinced of this proposition are excluded from the audience, which may be OK with the researcher for this project. If that is so, this would be an illustration of “rethink the role of a proposition in your project.”
In order to tease out what research is needed to support a proposition, it is helpful to identify counter-propositions and counter-counter-propositions. Continuing the example above, in the case of the first proposition the researcher identified the following:
Counter proposition—As an intellectual movement, American Romanticism only impacted the well-educated, wealthier, Anglo contingency of post-colonial New Englanders.
1. While this movement did attract its share of wealthy, well-educated individuals, many of the contributors to the American Renaissance were home-schooled or poor.
2. Those it did impact reached out to others in the spirit of sharing learning and enlightenment.
3. This movement had a great visceral impact on my family who, while well educated, were farmers and trade workers living in Connecticut.
The lines of evidence that the researcher brought to bear to support the counter-propositions began from the following points:
1. Hawthorne, Thoreau, the Peabodys, and the Alcotts were constantly engaged in a battle with poverty. Their great faith in their art and learning gave them the power to keep producing literature or improving education.
2. Consider the case of Thomas Mann who almost died visiting county schools throughout New England in order to research and develop the best public school model possible—which he did when he established the Boston Public Schools.
3. My ancestors' concern and passion for 19th Century literature is evident in their letters that remain.
The inquiries implied in these initial points did not form central strands of the researcher's project, but spending some time on them enabled her to include in her audience any readers who might have needed convincing that 19th Century American Romanticism had a strong impact on post-colonial New England.
If the teasing out of propositions and counter-propositions is not yielding anything new, that is, no lines of inquiry where you do not already know the answer, you need to ask someone to probe your thinking. It may be that you are overlooking propositions underlying your projects that you have taken for granted or that you think are self-evident. The helper can take each branch or angle in your Map
and ask you, “Is there any controversy here?” They can also question each proposition you have identified by asking, “Would anyone else formulate this in a different way?” The other person can play the devil's advocate and try to see the issues in a different way from you. Of course, when no other person is available, you can try to take the probing and devil's advocate roles for yourself.
Component Propositions could also be called component arguments
but note that they operate at a different level from the Overall Argument
of your writing or your GOSP
, that is, how you grab people's attention, orient them, move them along in steps, so that they appreciate the position at each step that you've taken them to. Indeed, teasing out Component Propositions can come at an earlier point than clarifying your Overall Argument or GOSP, which is important when you begin to outline or draft your report. At this earlier point, the idea is to identify the variety of small and large propositions that are implicated in your project, tease out and prioritize the research needed to support them, and, if you are not able to gather support for some propositions, rethink their role in your project.
(See Phase D