Vanity ethnography

How’s it going?

This week in Australia we had an R U OK? day. In principle this is a really nice idea and I think is a really important message. However, over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a few people ask me how the thesis is going. This question is less ideal. Because the answer is it’s not. So today I decided I would be inspired and get back to my theoretical model. And because I’ve moved house and still have boxes I can’t find my book I did the planning in, even though I know I did it in this house.

It’s these seemingly small obstacles that mount and prevent people from progressing.

I did go to the archives again on the 29th of August, all excited because I got another folder released. Turns out I opened the folder to be told: A7916 control 20  (you will need to rotate to the right direction – sorry). The issue is I’d agreed with the amazing Natalie at the House of Representatives I didn’t need permission for this file because it would be public. Natalie got an email in the afternoon explaining how apparently I do need to ask for access and would she mind adding it to the already very long list. Archival research is time consuming. One lighter moment was when I returned the file to confirm my suspicions, I remarked to the Archives person I was coming up on a year trying to access documents. She laughed and said “That’s nothing, we have one person researching here who has been looking for three years”. I did not share her humour.

I did compete in the 3MT which was great. Lovely audience really well organised and a credit to Melanie and her team at the university. What was sad was I am in a Faculty with over 100 students and I was the only one competing. In addition only two people from the faculty came to watch. I suppose one of those points leads to the other in a way. Without Faculty support students don’t push themselves and without students pushing themselves Faculty doesn’t see the point in offering support. Interestingly I was so sick on the night I didn’t care much about the process and I think this made me stronger! I didn’t win of course (social science never does – we can’t show how we’re medically saving lives or money) and also because the woman who won was simply incredible! She had strong research, amazing stage presence and a real story to tell. She was simply inspiring. This is also annoying. All the students in my Faculty should have been there to see her. To see how you can present your research and inspire people. It’s an amazing way to learn.

Interviews have been occurring slowly for our research paper and I’m learning to transcribe more effectively as we didn’t get our grant which means more work for me. I really love researching outside my thesis and I think it makes me stronger in my thesis…..if only I can manage my time.

My last thought today I am hesitant to put down but it was an event where I wondered if auto ethnography wasn’t a better theoretical choice after all. I subverted the university administrative system. Every six months we fill in administrative forms so everyone can be comfortable with ‘progress’ being made. My first time I was very serious. It took hours, I added files, I provided evidence and was very diligent. The next one I simply put links to my blog as I hold a lot of information here. This time, well, I simply said “No one reads this form so simply, my supervisor knows how I’m going, he’s okay with my progress, so all is well”. I then didn’t answer any of the other questions. Fortunately my supervisor backed me on my approach, although he did answer more of the questions. This week the university ‘powers that be’ approved my submission and have agreed to enrol me in 2018, proving my point no one actually reads the forms. It is process for process sake and will only be used if someone needs to sue someone else. Interesting fodder for my thesis, although not really applicable to my data set, unless I change to auto ethnographic.

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And it’s a century!

I just imported a citation from Google Scholar into my End Note and it’s my one hundredth reference. I wish I could say I’d read all 100 references, but I have not. I have read a bit of all of them otherwise you don’t make it into End Note. All those articles I’ve opened on the off chance there’s something there, all the books I’ve skimmed thinking there might be something relevant, they don’t make the list. Only those items I’ve read that actually ‘make the cut’ are there.

Today I’ve had the privilege to read someone’s thesis. (well some of it….I didn’t get too carried away.) It’s someone I know and that always makes it better. A thesis is like a small window on their soul. It’s a part of who you are and reveals just that something more. When you know the person it’s exciting. It’s like knowing them just a little better. So thank you Tracey. I also learnt a more about auto ethnography. As Tracey pointed out in my presentation on Tuesday, auto ethnography is not vanity ethnography, but for me at the moment ethnography is a bit like discourse. There’s a large bucket with a label and lot of sorting to be done.

I’ve also found some great references today on research theory and contextualising policy analysis in the discourse frame including the whole postmodern idea. The text didn’t go enough into post-structualism so I found an article for that instead.

The one thing I haven’t done is what my supervisor asked me to do which was go back to senseless kindness. In the research time I have left  (I’ve taken to allocating research time on my weekends to manage housework, teaching preparation, free time and research) I think I’d better get to it. It’s been long time since I opened the article and given how much has changed I think I’m going to understand a whole lot more.

It is fascinating how my brain is changing. I’m not getting smarter, or really even learning anything terribly new conceptually wise, I just think differently now. It’s like I’ve got a diamond in my hand and have only just worked out if I turn the diamond a certain way, the light is different. Of course, I think the analogy works better if it’s just a diamond in the rough!

Vanity Ethnography (it really is all about me)

I owe this title to someone called Mary Maynard as she talked about the value of ethnography but the importance of it not being about vanity in her article Feminism and the Possibilities of a Postmodern Research PracticeTo be clear, I haven’t read the article, it was cited today by Barbara who did a great session on qualitative analysis. Maynard came up in relation to the question about putting a summary of yourself into your thesis to provide context. The key is to do it in a way that doesn’t make you seem vain and doesn’t detract from the analysis in the research. So, I thought it might be worth giving this a go. A couple of reasons, I think it might help me understand a little better where I’m going and also to remind me about where I’ve come from. So here goes:

In 1997 I was a very low administration officer in the Australian Public Service sitting in on a meeting on industry policy. A comment was made in relation to an upcoming skills gap for industry due to the changing nature of work requirements (more computers, less tractors) along the lines of, “Don’t worry about the skills gap, universities will fix that.”. I remember thinking back then, “How would universities fix it?” “How would they know about it if industry is even unsure about what skills will be needed?” and lastly “University is about testing ideas and critically thinking about the world you live in, how does that fix a skills gap?”. Of course, I had a major in English and Drama in my Bachelor of Arts so clearly I was not planning on using my university degree to fill a skills gap, but clearly the experts in the room back in 1997 believed other graduates would.

This thesis (well will be!) explores the juxtaposition between Federal policy intent for higher education, business expectations and commodification. Showing how these three aspects of higher education align and how they differ is in response to the 1997 me wondering if universities were about providing inputs to production (filling the skills gap) or if they are something else.