Rennes day 6: Wrap-up, travel, and reflection

After last night and just a four hour sleep, I woke up remarkably refreshed. This actually concerned me to some extent: I mean, how could even my slight fever have gone, after such an evening? In my hotel I ran into one of the participants who was leaving already. We had breakfast together, during which we had a nice discussion on his career options, for he had recently received a nice offer.

The last meeting of our workshop would only last for two hours. We evaluated, thanked the organization, and two groups of papers were formed that would make an interesting publication when put together. Although my paper unfortunately wasn’t one of those (almost everybody wants to be in such a group, but nobody says so) I didn’t really mind that much. This because a few days earlier I was asked by one of the participants whether she could use my paper for her students. I pulled my nerves together (we had had some wines) and said that I wouldn’t mind that at all, but: “why not let me present my paper to your students myself?”. She appeared to really like the idea, so I already got my little deal out of this conference.

Afterwards, the few of us who hadn’t left already or needed to hurry toward the train-station went to downtown Rennes one last time. Looking for some nice presents for those left behind at home, I went into a book-store to find some really nice books (i.e. proverbs in Breton, the province Rennes is part of).

We had lunch for the last time. I choose to have a typical French salad, for the French really know how to do salads. Over lunch, we recalled some of the recurring jokes of the conference. The most prominent was “You ended before it got interesting”, which was a statement actually made by one of the discussants of one of the presented papers. It appeared that the presenter wasn’t offended at all and that the comment hadn’t been meant really bad, but it made some really nice jokes during other discussions. I was reminded as well to the fact that I had called a professor a geek, which resulted solely from his comment that he rewarded himself with half a day of after finishing writing a research paper (which, for those not known with the scientific progress happens perhaps three of four times a year). Fortunately for me, he had to laugh about it.

In the train back home, I spent some time reflecting on the intellectual side of the conference. Clearly, I’ve learned a lot: not only new techniques and perspectives, but also the different habits and `heuristics’ of a scientific discipline that resembles mine, but is clearly distinct as well. I think that three central themes were most important to me, although I do not know whether or not I agree with them yet. Nevertheless, they seem not to let go of me.

The first thing that occurred to me, is that the differences between the `hard’ quantitative methods and the ‘softy softy’ (not my words) techniques such as discursive analysis don’t have to be that completely different form each other. Perhaps I really should pick a book on discursive analysis sometime. The second thing was the pledge for the use of quantitative logical models, based on the statement that researchers first should think about how reality should be, and only afterwards test and investigate why deviations from that expected pattern occur. This will require a totally different way of reasoning than what I’m used to. Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait for next August for the book to come out. The last theme that really appealed to me, is the concept of `nested analysis': residuals from quantitative analyses are used to select cased for a qualitative, more detailed, study. I do have some objections against it (which I will work out later), but the basic concept is both interesting and workable.

All in all, I’ve had a really good time during the conference. Both on an intellectual level, as well as on a personal level. I’ve learned interesting ideas and met some nice people. The way this conference is set up (long workshop with the same people, instead of a different public each presentation) is something I would really love to see in my own discipline. But what it comes down to, is that I’m glad that the conference was interesting, way before it ended.

(This is one of my blog-posts on my participation on the ECPR 2008 Rennes Joint Sessions, that were held in Rennes, France. For an overview of all posts, ranging from somewhat personal to outright academic in nature, please visit this page.)

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