Problems and questions
Many would say that the purpose of research is to solve important problems or answer important questions. But what makes a problem important? Why is it, for example, that so much money is spent on astrophysics, which is concerned with looking at deep space, and proportionately so little is spent on solving social or educational problems? Ernest Boyer (1996), in an article published after his death, argued that scholarship must be engaged in solving fundamental problems of society; that scholars must work with society in addressing its concerns. He called this the scholarship of engagement. Whatever we take research and scholarship to be, that, surely, must be our greatest endeavour. Yet we will see in this chapter that research has an ambiguous relationship with what is of value to people. In discussing the problems and questions research addresses, I shall argue that research sometimes avoids attempting to solve society’s closest and most pressing problems, instead choosing to escape from the world to pursue knowledge of that which is distant and socially unproblematic.