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Bob Simpson

What are the civic responsibilities of universities in a democratic society? Since the emergence of the modern university system in the nineteenth century, financial support and a degree of academic freedom have been bestowed on universities but what should society expect back from these places of specialised and, often, elite learning? These are perennial questions, yet answers have been very different under different political and economic circumstances. Originally, the emphasis was on the production of knowledge in settings that were ‘antifunctionalist as well as antiutilitarian’ (Sahlins 2009: 1000); subsequently the wider knowledgeability of students was incorporated as the way the debt to society would be repaid (Nowotny, Scott and Gibbons 2001: 80). In recent years, the making of citizens or, rather, the making of better citizens has come to the fore as an essential output in exchange for society’s input. As part of their ‘service’ to society at large, universities will, amongst other things, produce people who will take their place as members of society with a strong sense of rights that will be asserted and responsibilities that will be exercised.

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Bob Simpson and Robin Humphrey

In the training of doctoral researchers in the use of qualitative research methods, considerable effort goes into preparation for fieldwork and the collection of data. Rather less attention, however, goes into what happens when they have collected their data and begin to make sense of it. In particular, relatively little attention has been paid to the ways in which doctoral researchers might be supported as they begin to write using qualitative data. In this article we report on an inter-disciplinary project that set out to develop research training for qualitative researchers who had completed their fieldwork and were about to embark on writing their theses. An important issue in the delivery of this training was the question of boundaries - disciplinary, academic, technological and personal - and how these might be productively negotiated in the quest for good social science writing.