Staying on Topic: Doing Research Between Improvisation and Systematisation

  • Constance de Saint-Laurent
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture book series (PASCC)


Doing scientific research is, in theory, a systematic and well-organised enterprise. In reality, however, things often go astray: field works get cancelled, interviews get side-tracked and participants drop out. The investigation of human lives, as it turns out, cannot do away with the messiness of human lives. In such cases, researchers must adapt to the new situation and yet stay on topic: in one word, they need to improvise. How, then, does research remain scientific? What matters is what is done afterwards; how hunches and surprises are turned into systematic investigations, analyses and interpretations. This argument will be illustrated with the story of an ‘impromptu’ fieldwork and its unpredictable consequences; or, rather, how staying on topic requires one to systematically stray away from it.


Qualitative interviews Improvisation Systematisation Collective memory 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Constance de Saint-Laurent
    • 1
  1. 1.University of NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland

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