Theory

It’s never too late to change

I am so thankful to all the people who have helped me on me journey. I think of it as serendipity, but honestly, the planets align too often for it to be chance.

Doug and Bruce – you are amazing. You don’t realise but the little nudges you both give me from time to time have helped me to remain open to content I would never have used.

Michael – your gentle post-structural mocking has paid off. I think I’m changing my mind. As a result I’ve just bought more books from Amazon (Weber, Habermas and Piaget) to see what I can think through, and I’m returning to my research on discourse theory for options other than post-structuralism.

As many of you know who have been with this blog since the start (my apologies) I’ve never really been able to problematise my problem other than “it feels wrong”. Thanks to the session by Ben and Doug I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Last week in response to David and I not agreeing again, I did up a model. It didn’t feel right. So, today I returned to the big sticky note on the wall and I think I worked it out. The product of education, defined by industry and government is being delivered by universities through their interpretation of the defined product which then produces graduates who are interpreted by industry based on how they defined the product. And no one is happy.

Problem is, the doesn’t need post-structuralism to analyse. Yes, I’m still looking at language and how it constructs the ideas and how there is a disconnect between what is said and what is happening, but that’s not about questioning of structures, it’s a questioning of how we are interpreting. It’s a translation issue, not a neo-liberal issue. If my thesis is about explaining what the problem is and pointing out it exists, I can’t do it in a way that turns people off. Going down post-structuralism is turning people off. It’s too angry for what the issue is.

The literature tells me  universities, government and industry do want ‘good’ education. And while it tells me globalisation is tearing university education, it’s by accident rather than design. We are here by chance, or perhaps incompetence, not because of intent. Did people really intend university education to become what it is? I need to write a thesis to answer this question, and perhaps depending on the answer, provide hope for how university education might just become what people want, rather than what it is.

Frank and fearless advice

Back in the good old days of the Australian Public Service (APS), there was a clause in the legislation under which public servants are engaged. It was something like, “…the provision of frank and fearless advice…”. I like this expression. Frank means clear and true (well at least to me) and fearless, well, it means that anyone in the APS providing advice to the Government of the day should be fearless. There should be no dynamic preventing honesty in the advice being provided. They change the legislation and removed the word fearless. I have no idea what it says now as I’m so disheartened by Australian politicisation of the APS I no longer read the legislation. (Yes, I used to read the legislation for fun.)

Yesterday I had a meeting with David in which there was much frank and fearless advice – on both sides. It was while in this exchange I realised something. As tricky and complicated as the relationship with my supervisors is, there is just so much value and trust. This makes the relationship important to my thesis. Without the ability to be fearless David, and Linda, will not be able to provide me important ideas and feedback, but if I can’t be fearless, my thesis will become theirs, not mine. The fact we can all be frank and fearless is sometimes painful – we hear things we don’t necessarily care to – but there is great value for me and my thesis will be stronger for the experience.

As I said in my last post, I actually wrote theory content and this is what David and I discussed yesterday. We have agreed it’s a basis from which to move forward. I also mentioned in the post the work with Leo. We’ve met and have altered my proposal to a point where we think we’ve got a good paper. So, I now have a lot of work to do. A methodology chapter (not yet started), refinement of the Change Chapter (about 65% of the way there) and completion of the theory chapter (about 30% there) as well as data analysis for thesis and for the paper with Leo. All before 31 December. Good thing I quit my full time job yesterday! (Yes – I know rent will need to be paid……I’m sure there’s a job I can find…..anyone hiring?)

As a side note – I’m blaming Bruce again today. Even though I quit my job and have very limited income stream I spent money at Amazon today! I thought I could use the e-book for Logics of Critical Explanation for research, but Bruce spoilt me with all these beautiful books I can hold in my hands, flick through, visualise the page with the information, scribble in and tag up with post-it notes. Damn you Bruce for showing me such beauty!

Silence is not golden – but maybe the end is shiny

It’s been a very long time since I posted and that’s not a great sign. In fact even that post was depressing too. This is a really handy insight into my journey and I’m really glad it’s here to remind me how bad it’s been for so long. Of course bad is relative – I’m not starving, I’m not homeless and I’m warm (I currently have two heaters running). Bad for my thesis has been no writing in almost two months and total frustration with theory (again).

There’s the summary, now what’s the detail? Well, as can be seen in my last post the literature review was not ideal. Of course what happened was I sucked it up and gave it to my supervisors anyway because horrible feedback is better than nothing, and is considerably better than me sulking in a hole about how awful it is. Turns out, both supervisors weren’t too unhappy. They aren’t in love with it or anything, but they had constructive feedback and there was no suggestion of binning the whole lot. What did this teach me? Well, that maybe my bad is not the same as everyone else’s.

Other detail is David trying really hard to get me to write the theory and methodology chapters. He has given me structure, he has given me word limits for the structure, he has given me reading resources, he has guided, cajoled, prodded, advised, humoured and been patient. I repaid all this with an email to him expressing frustration and anger and stating how I was going to do what I was going to do and then we would talk about it.

Something amazing happened. As soon as I sent that email I started writing. A lot. And it wasn’t dreadful. I mean let’s not get delusion here, there’s still a very long way to go, but at least I can write about theory now without wanting to vomit. (That’s serious there people – theory made me actually want to throw up every time I tried to write.) My plan is to write as much as I can (with references and everything!) and then provide it to David so he can see my vision of theory rather than more conversations of me trying to explain what I mean, failing, getting frustrated and sulking.

The other amazing thing is back in July I met with Leo on our next collaboration and I promised him a proposal by the end of July. That didn’t happen and the guilt has been building. Today, I got it together, did the data analysis I needed to in order to draft the proposal and then drafted. It’s now with Leo for comment. I can see the next article in what I’ve written and more interestingly, the theory was also completely clear to me. I can see how discourse theory works in this next paper and how I would write it up. And so while the silence of the last two months has not been golden (teary, frustrated, complicated – but not golden) I think the results to come from the silence might just be a little shiny.

And a big thank you to the neoliberal Diane!

Today I went to an awesome presentation held by Prof. Raewyn Connell called “Intellectuals and Universities in Neoliberal Times”. I only went because the wonderful Diane said she couldn’t make it and would I mind given it’s in my field. Oh wow!

There are moments were things line up, become clear, the clouds part, it is so obvious why didn’t I see it before. This presentation was this moment.

She wasn’t saying anything I didn’t really already know but she did have a cool slant to take which is always nice. And her presentation style was really good. She used people images to tell the story and for me that was something I’d not seen before. A clever approach. However, it was at the end when she started to talk solutions. What can be done? That’s where I realised the point of my thesis is to provide information so people can seek change. Prof Connell said she’d tried economic rational discussions to attempt change but this doesn’t really work with university management, in her experience. This resonated as I had often tried to use logic in the face of university management only to be met with blank stares and power struggles. What Prof Connell suggested was activism. And what activism needs is a catalyst.

Now if Laclau and Mouffe have taught me anything, it’s that revolution is an organic process where a range of factors combine together in a way that can’t really be planned. What is needed though is antagonism and logics of equivalence and difference existing at the same time. My thesis will show the logics and will hopefully provide understanding for possible leverages to use to become active in changing the direction of university education in Australia, because quite frankly, the picture painted today was very grim indeed.

Thank you Diane – I owe you!

Feeding the ideas and how to stop

Reworked the ‘change’ chapter today and am wondering for a topic as big as mine, when is it enough literature? I mean, I’ve got to the point where I’m finding literature quoting literature and there’s nothing really new, however, this is a big topic and I’m not convinced I have enough. So I think my step might be an EndNote and Scrivener audit to work out what I have from Australia on the topic versus other countries, then do a cross check on what I think, and then I might call it quits – for the moment, maybe.

The issue I have is I did a scholar search using a different approach and am finding some really cool stuff. It’s the application of post-structural thought into accounting and/or education. That’s cool. And then I’m finding topics in those that I would like to follow but then I’m in the proverbial rabbit hole. It’s time to get this chapter done so I can have my basis on which to move forward for data collection and analysis (which I’ve had to redo for the third time on my first collection as I keep rethinking about how to ‘let the story tell itself’. Of course, if the story is telling itself I shouldn’t have to ‘do’ anything, however I need the stories to tell me something vaguely thematic so apparently I have to think…) because the literature for me is an active player in my collection and analysis. This has been an interesting experience with the data collection while working up the literature. It’s been great to see how one idea feeds another, but at some point I have stop feeding the ideas and just get something done.

Had a great discussion with Michael this morning. It’s nice to have people around me to test my ideas and thinking, and not just on my thesis! Although we did talk about post-structural thinking this morning and agreed there was probably a bit of ‘get your hand off it’ in their process. However, the more time I spend with the post-structural concepts and ideas, the more I see how I need it in the thesis to explain my critique of the discourses. It’s nice to understand the limitations of my framework while gaining insights into their applicability. I do enjoy learning.

Additionally Amazon got more money from me today…..damn you Bruce.

David’s Title

There was agreement today with David on the title of this post and I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. And unusually I haven’t written it down….what I did write down was amazing stuff.

David and I had a supervisor meeting where we talked theory and I didn’t pout, sulk, get angry, teary or generally behave like a two year old. This is was we call progress. Conversation today was constructive, adult, informative, and I could keep up! Additionally, David suggested some direction and ideas and I was able to state that I’d actually adopted them already to a certain degree demonstrating our brains are finally vaguely on the same page.

The best thing about this same page concept, is that we have both moved. I don’t feel like my supervisor has told me I have to come to his idea of my thesis, and I haven’t dragged him to mine (wasn’t sure I had one to be honest…..). What we’ve done is had my two year old tantrums over theory and found a new page we can both share where we can both see the light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, David may state I have actually come to his page, and he knew I’d get here all along, but this isn’t his blog it’s mine so we’re going with my version of events. (How very post-structural, actually I think it’s post-modern).

Today also saw the return of narrative analysis into my thesis. I’ve been struggling with methodology and the LCE (logic of critical equivalence) but the missing piece of the puzzle came today when David stepped me through the ‘spine’ of my theoretical framework. All this time I’ve thought there was all these different theories I was using when in fact it’s just one – discourse – and everything else is the tools I need to do the research. The framework is the spine on which my research stems, but discourse is the theory, LCE, Laclau and Mouffe, narrative analysis are the way I use discourse theory in my research as the methodology. At least that’s how I understand it after today. Tomorrow might be different. That’s the joy of learning and growing – change is constant.

A precious moment

Today I’ve had a very precious moment. Early on advice was given to me and unusually for me I took it. “Write. Every day if you can. But just write. Write, a lot.” So I do. I probably don’t get every day, but I’d get close. And I save these random documents to the point where I have more, half and one pages of written ideas than I care to think of. And because it’s me, they are all sorted into numbered folders for easy access and Houdah Spot on the Mac is a great product for finding ‘that thing I wrote about that thing’.

But back to the precious moment. I’ve had what I think is a great thought about my theory chapter (but it’s not been a supervisor yet so, you know…). I started writing today in this structure I’ve got for the chapter and for the first time ever it feels right. But that’s not the moment. The moment is my brain going, ‘wait! you’ve written something like this before’ and low, in October last year I wrote a whole stack of words in the theory space which I can now reuse, to varying degrees. My random writing has paid off. My recording of ideas as they come rather than letting them slip away has become useful. At last I can see how I might get this done. By writing, every day, just something. Because it might just be useful in the future and I have technology to help me use it.

Another bonus was something I wrote in October 2015 referred to a journal article I didn’t remember so I went to Scrivener to look it up. I hadn’t recorded it! So I opened up the article from my archive, read it, made notes and it’s an awesome article I just hadn’t got around to doing notes on. Writing has made me not just have prepared words, but has also revived what was lost. This, is a precious moment indeed.