So, I may have mentioned this already, Monday is the only day of the week right now where I have childcare for R&Z and it is the day where I should be making great progress on my thesis. Today, not so much. I did some grocery shopping this morning, and then my mum phoned and we hadn’t talked since last week, so we talked, and then it was so sunny outside, and I’m reading a really fabulous book (still reading the one I talked about before for the highly anticipated feminist book club), so I have been outside on a deck chair reading and sunning myself. I wrote one measly paragraph before I slid out the back door and on to the deck. I wrote about how complicated it is to code for something as slippery as ‘value’. Sure, we talk about value with the language of judgement – what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – we talk about what we like or what we don’t, and paint ourselves through our associations and tastes if we have the privilege and time to do so. But, so much of our expressions of value are cumulative, implicit, subtle shades that can’t be so easily picked out of a transcript, highlighted, coded, cross-referenced…. I’m torn between the understanding that my analysis must (serious voice) above all, be systematic, and a growing realization that this is often a smokescreen for something that is perhaps unavoidably arbitrary, or at least based on intuitions more than I can ever dare to admit. So, while I struggle to reconcile my duty to systematic coding with complex data which struggles against the yoke of ‘units of analysis’, I sit outside and read.
When I boxed up my papers and organized my digital files before I took my last maternity leave, I did not know if I would return to this project. I had become very disillusioned with the process, unconvinced that there was any ‘point’ to finishing, and had started to put out feelers into other areas of work. It was a complete surprise when, about two months after Z was born, I decided to start poking around in my files on the computer and began to think about my thesis work with renewed interest. When I had gone on break I had done some coding of my data and was beginning to write some notes for my findings chapters. Since I’ve been back at work properly (since January this year), I have been working to get back to that point and to be able to pick up the coding and analysis again, but from a more confident, secure position. I have spent the past few months working back and forth between my methodology chapter and my theory chapter. In this, I really see that (for my project at least) this work is not linear at all. When I wrote a draft of a project plan at the beginning of the year, I envisaged myself working through drafts of chapters in turn…working on one draft while another went to my supervisor for comments. It hasn’t really worked that way. Yes, I’ve sent work for comments and feedback, but they have not been ‘complete’ drafts. I have found that in order to work through the methods chapter, I really had to revisit the theory chapter and I have done a lot of back and forth with the two. The result is that I feel more secure with the theoretical framework, and have a clear idea about how it feeds into the methodology and the methods. Which brings me to the first piece of good advice I have received lately.
I have a very good friend who has finished her doctorate and who has been such a fantastic support as I work on mine. She told me that she feels that a major weakness in a lot of the scholarly work in our field is an unclear connection between theory and practice. ‘Make sure that you can see your theory run throughout your thesis’, she said (or something to that effect). It really stuck with me and the more I worked on my methods chapter, the more I realised that I needed to revisit my theory. I went back, did a little more reading, some re-reading, some writing, and then brought it into my methods chapter. I find that if I read something that works for me, I need to incorporate it into the thesis right away or I will forget it. Use it or lose it. Taking notes is only useful if I use them quickly and file them well.
Side note: Bad filing (weak naming/lazy folder organization) has cost me time in the past for sure. Right now I have a pretty good system and I update my document names each month so that I can see which are my latest versions.
In this way, I have fleshed out both the theory and methods chapters. Now, I am trying to get back to the actual analysis. I want to draft the analysis chapters over the summer and I need to get in and do the next round of coding right away. I do want to make sure that I’m doing this work intentionally and not randomly categorizing things. So, the second piece of advice comes from a really great article I read ages ago and re-read the other day. ‘Discourse Analysis Means Doing Analysis: A Critique of Six Analytic Shortcomings’, in a journal called Discourse Analysis Online. It’s a great piece and extremely practical for someone like me who is doing DA on qualitative data (interviews and focus groups). A lot of what I have read on DA is intensely theoretical and, while it’s useful, I have really been craving something I could use as a starting point for plotting out my strategy in a really straightforward way. Right now, I am holding the question ‘Are you actually doing analysis?’ in my mind while I plan my approach and get started on the next round of coding. It is really helpful. Antaki, Billig, Edwards, and Potter (heavy hitters in the DA scene), run through six common mistakes made by researchers and writers using discourse analysis as a technique and explain each one clearly. It has been reassuring to me as I jump back into work, that I’m not fumbling around in the dark, or at least I don’t feel as though I am, as much as I was before this break. So, armed with a clearer idea of what it means to do discourse analysis in a mindful and strategic way, and an idea of the two phases I need to complete over the next few weeks, I’m jumping back into the data and am getting started on the coding (and then analysis). I also have a list of questions I am asking of my data, questions drawing directly from theoretical framework. It has taken me a long time to figure this out – too long – but it’s good to be here.
When I was a little girl I read all the time. I read through the summers, lying on my bed with the curtains closed while other kids played outside. Sometimes I would play too, but more often than not I was reading. I read all the Enid Blytons, then all the Nancy Drews, then Agatha Christie murder mysteries. In my early teens I loved a good murder mystery. Then I went to university and studied English Lit. and I kind of stopped reading for fun. I enjoyed reading for uni, I loved (and still love) Shakespeare, Victorian literature, and modern American poetry. After I left Ireland and especially when I was backpacking a lot, I read a lot too. We passed books around in the flat we shared in Sydney, Australia. A friend introduced me to Tom Robbins and a battered copy of Jitterbug Perfume became a symbol of a special time in our lives. However, since I started graduate work I have read very little. Embarrassingly little. My bookshelves are occupied by four broad kinds of books: reading for my thesis and other academic pursuits; my husband’s books; my kids’ books; books given or loaned to me. The last are nearly all unread (at least by me). There are one or two books sprinkled around the house that I actually have read. There are some parenting books in the drawer of my bedside table. There are a few guiltily-concealed ‘chick lit’ novels around too. But since I’ve been in Calgary I’ve been (apart from the first year) doing this blasted doctorate and I have hardly read for fun at all. Most of my fun reading seems to take place online. I read personal blogs: lifestyle blogs, ‘mommy blogs’, feminist blogs, blog-critique forums, celebrity gossip blogs. Most of this is at least partially in the name of research, or at least I can write it off in this way (like a businessperson writing off a lunch with a friend as a ‘meeting’). However, to be honest, it really bothers me that I don’t read any more and I think it shows in my own writing. Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason that I am struggling so much to write my thesis is that I am not reading enough. I’m also an enormous hypocrite – I have told so many students who were having trouble with writing to make sure that they are reading, and I haven’t been smart enough to take my own advice. I put it down to a lack of time but I spend hours and hours reading blogs. Even if that is ‘research’, I can surely cut back by half and use that time on some literature.
So, with this in mind, I started a book club. We haven’t met yet but we have chosen our first book (Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). It is to be a ‘feminist book club’, and I am pretty jazzed to have the chance to sit around and talk about feminism and books and feminist books and life with a bunch of women. I am also glad to give myself a kick in the arse to start reading again. I miss it. I miss the freedom of it. It is a window out of myself. I’m not sure what it has to do with getting my thesis done but it’s been on my mind and I wanted to write about it. I guess I hope I can become a better (and, faster!) writer.