Methods

Reflections on attaining a PhD, including vivas, mock and real

Posted on January 31, 2011. Filed under: Methods, PhD stuff | Tags: , |

Haven’t posted in a while as felt need to shut up a bit before viva. That was two and half weeks ago and I’m still digesting doctoral status – feels very quietly, deeply satisfying, an almost private pleasure. Too soon to know what difference it will make, if any, in the big wide world. Anyway I’m too exhausted to venture into that world, having been poleaxed into catatonia since viva – not entirely surprising after three and a half years hard hard slog, particularly past eighteen months.

The most gratifying aspect of the viva was the fact that three respected experts (Profs Keeble and McKie and Dr Cohen) so deeply engaged with the material, met it at the place where I hoped people would meet it.  This sounds obvious but the mock viva was so disappointing, made me realise that even accounting for the ‘worse case’ scenario that framed it, 3 people (including two supervisors) could end up asking reductionist, marginal questions, locked in their own fields of study. At the real thing, the examiners saw beyond their own borders as to how each of the fields under investigation might benefit from cross-fertilisation. They then asked really interesting questions that expanded rather than shrank the debate, like the tension between the critical approach that I’ve adopted in most of my writing to date and the more inclusive, less confrontational attitude suggested by a Jungian attitude. Spot on! Have felt this tug throughout the writing, but end up plumping for the latter (post-critical hermeneutics, I believe) – but emphasising that this is not about homogeneity of the Disney Its A Small World variety, more a recognition that at a deeper level the divisions are not so absolute after all.  There was also some discussion about Bernays and propaganda. Lots of agreement about it being well written apart from an overlong intro which needs cutting – other suggestions are up to me to include or not from the discussion: will take on board the need to modify or expand my criticism of the critical approach; expand section on propaganda; increase references to non-corporate PR and to locate the whole debate emphatically in the current crisis. This is very helpful – allows me to re-emphasise central points. The examiners were also great in letting me know from the off that it was a PhD – these minor amendments will only take a few days to make then the MS can be bound and lost in the depths of the library. Also lots of encouragement for the personal afterword in which I describe my own journey in and out of shadows – not a traditional academic thing to do, but one they welcomed as part of a general move to acknowledge the personal aspects of academic writing.

I think I would recommend anyone to think hard about how useful a mock viva might be. On the one hand it made me realise that just turning up with knowledge of the thesis but no prepared defence might be a terrible error; on the other hand I did not need an opening statement or a defence of methodology in the event and did not refer to the pages of prompts I prepared before the final viva (though it did clarify my key arguments). And the somewhat hostile effect of the mock was demoralising, especially the recommendation that I prepare a list of practical recommendations, despite having declared throughout that this was not the objective of this thesis. I suspect however that if the thesis is published (as now seems likely) this will represent a great chunk of potential readers. Luckily there will also be some like the examiners who will make the whole effort worthwhile. There will still be a journey to publication and beyond so I will keep this blog going even though its main task, as a PhD diary, is, astonishingly, accomplished.

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Is hermeneutics reflexive or vice versa?

Posted on February 4, 2009. Filed under: Methods | Tags: , |

Now at the second stage referred to in last post – pasting quotes in a sequence that helps me see the structure of the argument but with me kind of out of the frame (not very reflexive at this stage).  Finding it hard to weave reflexivity and hermeneutics together, they share so much but open different doors. Decided to treat reflexivity as the overall approach with hermeneutics as the particular avenue.

Sorry, I should explain: reflexivity theory is rooted in the idea that the concept of ‘objective knowledge’ so beloved of science is nonsense. The observer creates or constructs the world they claim to observe, by framing and choosing and interpreting. Traditional newtonian science rests on the notion of an ‘out there’ measurable, stable universe; humanities are seen as too subjective to be valid by these standards.

Constructionism emphasised the role of the observer in creating the observed; social constructionism stresses the social context of the scientist and both call for reflexivity in both method and interpretation, so that the role of the researcher is visible to all, including their prejudices and assumptions (normally concealed) and that the methods allow for more equitable distribution of power between researcher and researched. These theories mostly apply to social sciences, with human participants or reciprocators.

As I’m using text, I’m turning to hermeneutics which looks at theories of understanding and interpretation and which places the human experience of text or other at the centre of research. Trouble is, it’s such a rich and complex field with so many philosophical debates and dilemmas and exponents, it’s hard to find a clear thread through. It could be that I don’t need so mch detail bt I find I can’t explain something if I don’t grasp it. So hard to know what to leave out or skim over.

Good news is that I ‘ve written enough papers to know I get through this stage, that all of this is necessary part of creative process – and this whole project feels so creative – including the sense that I may not have the skills to honour the initial vision. We’ll see.

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methods of writing

Posted on January 27, 2009. Filed under: Methods | Tags: , |

struggling with methodology chapter. Decided to call it research approach as the whole point is that it’s conceptual rather than empirical research, emphasising thinking over doing.  I like the thinking bit best, can feel all the ideas swimming around making patterns and shadows like a shoal of angel fish. It all shimmers with meaning and connections. Then I have to put the fish into straight lines of letters and sentences and they just flop around gasping. I know I can do this but there seem to be three stages to writing for me:

1. try and think onto the page, often in a very personal language & tone, with chaotic organisation, just get my own thoughts down, no refs or quotes, just thinking.

2. Cut and paste loads of quotes but with v little commentary

3. start again, in the academic voice and try and knit the two together. This is really the first draft.

Have written version 1 – about 5k of rubbish, but helps me see where I’m going. Still too many thoughts, lots of mud churned up. Hermeneutics and reflexivity are both such large philosophies – I completely ‘get’ the underlying intent but expressing that academically is proving harder than expected. A hint that the rest of the year may not be plain sailing………………..

Also realise that the initial stages are particularly hard when I have a personal involvement with the material – I had the same problem writing novels (not stories, which burned their way out). The idea was vibrant and intoxicating, the realisation became laboured and dull. A symptom of this was constant checking of word count, an indication I’m in ‘dutiful’ rather than creative mode, ticking boxes rather than struggling to express truths (however partial). It shows in the prose.

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Feedback????

Posted on January 9, 2009. Filed under: main themes, Methods | Tags: |

I realise that while this blog is attracting a fair number of browsers, especially for the papers, which is of course gratifying, there are almost no comments. Perhaps this is because I am not inviting responses clearly enough, merely describing the stages of development of this thesis. That is of course my primary aim, to  create a log of progress, which will allow me to reflect on my own journey, as part of my commitment to reflexivity. But I would be sorry if this appears too solipsistic – I would truly welcome comments, suggestions, experiences. For example, are you also writing conceptual theses, or have you had a go at hermeneutics as a method? What worked? What stalled? Are you a Jungian, appalled at my misrepresentation of the Great Man’s thoughts? Or an ethicist alarmed at my failure to acknowledge a key thinker? Or another student hoping someone online has already written the essay that’s due tomorrow?

Do talk….. and if not, do come back anyway……..

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