Running (crawling) to the PhD finish line

This is the PhD section where life gets hazy and thinking gets confused. I’m heading into the time-honoured place where I’ve about had enough of working on the PhD because I realise there is life after PhD land, and life after PhD land appeals to me right now. Mainly because I am deep in data analysis and I have to keep poking my head up to think about things like substantive theory, thesis shape and other annoying elements of PhD land.

It was great to see my friend Rache on Monday and just clear up a few things about my talk on Friday – I was chasing my tail, as often happens on one’s own, when one is not able to discuss thesis and ideas with others. She cleared it up beautifully! So I went home, redrafted my pptx, and it now looks much more elegant, simple and clearer to understand. I have refined my literature review to two main areas: Cultural Psychology, and Narrative Inquiry. I will throw in the references to other research in Motivational studies, Expertise studies, Identity studies and various music studies, but I’m not putting them up on the PowerPoint, as they are not the focus right now. I can’t show everything!


Explaining your PhD topic in 50 words or less

Argh! Came a cropper last year when trying to explain my research in front of a respected professor and peer in a similar field to mine. I was unprepared to give a full talk, which I suspect was actually the aim of the morning group, so I just wanted to ask him about activity systems theory, but I was also unprepared for his rather probing question about what my research was actually about. It left me feeling rather shocked and shaky that what I was unable to explain quickly and precisely what I had been researching for the past two years, but I was also rather irritated by his quickness to denigrate me publicly. While it was not a wholesale collapse of my research, I would have much preferred a private meeting.

The whole experience reminded me to explain my research to both lay people and people outside of my expertise that my research looks and sounds messy, but that this is normal in narrative inquiry methods. It also showed me that my research is highly inductive. In other words, I’m not really sure what I am going to find out until I begin to analyse my data.

Like the many times I have already had light bulb moments throughout my PhD journey, this meeting, while an unhappy experience for me, was a good reminder that I need to learn how to talk about my research in a particular way.

So, for all you lay people out there, my topic is this: I am investigating the effects of participant values and beliefs on the practices of one-to-one tertiary singing lessons. It is a mixed methodology study, which includes the use of survey, interview, video footage and email as the data generation tools. I am employing a cultural psychology approach, and I am using narrative inquiry methods to analyse and write up my data.

Any questions?

It is an inductive method, where many results will not be apparent/ thought of until I have analysed my data. Therefore, while I have been researching intrinsic motivation on student practice; goal setting and motivation theories; practices of the music lesson; teaching for expertise; and the “pedagogy of care”, I have not limited my readings particularly to any one area. I may discover interesting power struggles in my data, or themes about adult learning that will require further reading. I am certainly under no illusion that the current reading I have done will be enough to get by for my literature review.

How do I analyse and write up my data? Well, actually, by watching and re-watching the data, which take the form of videos. Themes from the videos will emerge as being important to me, the researcher, and by checking the interview transcripts, I can begin to build a picture of the process of the one to one lesson and the values and beliefs that control the processes within the lesson.

I will be writing up my findings as narratives, which has its own set of challenges, and will necessitate the inclusion of a discussion chapter to unpack some of my writing.

My methodology is not grounded theory, but it has many similarities to Grounded Theory methods, where the data is inductive and you don’t even bother with the literature until you have analysed the findings and created a theory.

At this point I am feeling a bit better about my research. Yesterday I read through my confirmation document, which was better than expected, and which should provide a useful template for me to follow when doing my complete drafts. I have so much to do, but I am feeling better now about what I need to do.

Another book, another comment

Ok, so now I’m reading Michael Cole’s 1996 publication “Cultural Psychology” (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Mass), which seems to me an eminently sensible articulation of the main themes and premises of Cultural Psychology. I’ve spent much of yesterday and today underlining and sticky noting its pages. He refers, amongst others, to Bruner, Rogoff, Shweder, Bronfenbrenner, Lave and Wenger, and Engestrom’s Activity Theory. I don’t like the diagram used by Engestrom – somehow it seems too bounded, but I am starting to see where it might be useful, as it refers to artifacts, scripts and schemas, and all of a sudden some obscure terms are becoming more clear to me now. It is beautifully, neatly written.

I’ve been also reading some Carl Ratner, whose book “Cultural Psychology”¬† (2006, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; London) is misnamed. He is actually positing a theory called Macro Cultural Psychology. And he is fervently “critically realist” in his epistemological position, which is different to social constructivism. He is clearly opposed to social constructivism, which he claims does not allow for hegemonic primacy and discussions thereof. He claims that social constructivism “precludes criticizing any paradigm because it rejects any objective world or standard beyond the paradigm itself that could be used to assess it” (p. 227). He claims too, that social constructivism is “a kind of cultism” (p. 226). I think he misses the point somewhat, but then, he has taken a critical realist perspective, which he has underpinned with a political and reform agenda. So, I now understand why Rogoff, Bruner and others do not refer to his writings at all – they are diametrically opposed, despite using the same term.

This is a bit of a revelation.

Once again, here

So, all last week was spent with Nel Noddings and the Philosophy of Education. I’m about to spend this week reading cultural psychology books for a more thorough understanding. I brought a book home and I’ve not read yet begun reading it, but am about to start. I’ve had a quiet morning today, after a very quiet and work free weekend. A lovely weekend, actually. Sat around on Saturday reading the papers until midday, then did really very little. We’d had a great party the night before, so were both feeling a little tired. We saw a great movie – The Social Network – in the afternoon and had a light tea afterwards. Then on Sunday we did more of the same, except that we went shopping and finally bought a really nice dinner setting for eight, called Pianoforte, (not that we realised this when we originally saw it), in shades of white, taupe and black. Simple, elegant and refined. Children will probably break them all before one can say oy, but the setting was not too expensive, and easily replaceable in individual settings. Will probably buy the brekky bowls before too long and some espresso cups as well, just to round out the package. I’m seriously hoping that Jane Lamerton will not cease this range for a few years!

I was good – cleaned the house a bit, as it was looking very tired and messy – and hubby worked all morning. And some of the evening too. Then I had an evening meeting and completely missed out on my favourite show: Offspring. And then Medium wasn’t on, so had to make do with Juno, which I’d half seen a few months earlier. The young girl was a revelation and it was a sweet movie.

So, off I go to do some work now. Perhaps just a bit of transcription as well. I’m reading Michael Cole’s history of cultural psychology. Already it’s an interesting read.

So, cultural psychology, then?

I think I finally have it, with helpful asides from my supervisor: I’m thinking that I’ll use the overarching term cultural psychology to develop my multifarious themes and to create an umbrella term for all of the disparate although complementary ideas I have been wading through this last 18 months. I’m going with this for three reasons: my supervisor is strong in the field and has just published a book about it all; my potential marker may well be someone who is currently looking closely at cultural psychology as a way of articulating his own ideas in music education; my ideas are beginning to coalesce very nicely with this theory base. This means I will be doing cultural psychology through a narrative lens – both tricky theorems/methodologies because they are new and subject to pretty harsh criticisms, but they resonate with me and my supervisor is closely aligned with each. I am to be her champion, apparently, then. My ideas best accord with her notions of current research and while my methods are sound and could be used in other qualitative studies, I’m happy to develop these methods as I feel music research subjects are well suited to their approaches when studying the human condition.

The skies have fallen in (raining and pouring like crazy) and maybe I should stop typing now as I could lose everything!

Reading Philosophy of Education

Today, perhaps for the first time this year, I have been reading from cover to cover Nel Nodding’s Philosophy of Education (2007, Westview Press: Boulder, Colorado). I have sat with it all day, taking moments here and there to answer emails, write them, eat lunch, go for walks to buy food. I have reached page 135 – a huge achievement for one who is so plot driven that my average speed for reading fiction novels is about 100 pages per hour. Taking time to read about philosophical tenets that relate to education is like taking a refreshing dip in a mountain lake. It’s beautiful, the lake is blue, and the water chilly, bracing but invigorating. I’m enjoying another view of epistemology and ontology, given my current social constructivist phase and I’m learning for the first time the place of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Dewey and others in the history of educational thought and practice. Now I know why a particular school works the way it does, and why “discovery learning” has fallen out of favour.

This is what it’s like to “read” at university. I’m enjoying it, and it’s a good way to once again reflect on my own beliefs before I really start to analyse and interpret my study findings. I might confess, however, that I am very happy not doing my transcriptions in favour of reading this work, so I could actually be procrastinating slightly. Nevertheless, a long overdue reading of this work. I wish they had taught us this during my Grad Dip. A history of educational thought and philosophy would have been great and useful. Now I’m grumpy at Melbourne Uni for not including it and instead including some poxy sessions on creating websites that simply doesn’t matter any more.

I had a horrid day yesterday – studied and worked pretty well, but suffering from the effects of miserable hubby, too many children, losing my son to a southern state, and the after effects of too much game play and not enough real life time. So it’s nice to be on track again with my work and to have time to just read. I’ve cleaned up much of my interferences lately and am on the track to more study now: Monday, Tuesday and Friday are clear during the day although I teach in the evenings … Wednesday is reserved for work at Griffith, but may include boring process work such as doing my transcriptions, and Thursday is also a work day. Thursday is a difficult day as I am bounded by morning and afternoon lessons. Therefore, Thursday is a day I might consciously work on other activities such as the ANATS newsletter, or my business, or banking and cleaning the house.

But Monday, Tuesday and Friday are unfettered study days, huzzah.

Struggling with Deleuze

I’ve had an interesting morning during which I’ve finally acknowledged that I need an underlying philosophical basis for my thesis, one which will solve all my problems, relegate the methodologists to their proper place in chapter 2/3, and which will help to strengthen my premise.

I’m thinking Deleuze, although my good friend Ian suggests that as we live in a post-modern, post-structural society, that it’s okay to cherry pick from a number of the philosophies that most resonate with you. If one wants to stick with one primary philosophy it might be difficult as this is a modernist view, and we live in a post-modern world where multiplicities abound. This is social constructivism at its best. It’s okay to be confused, although, I think I am so confused as to be a screaming wreck right now!

Time to talk to the supervisor and get this baby on track. Maybe Deleuze. I had thought Shulman, but I think now it’s too limiting, although he is useful. They are ALL useful, but where to place them and how much should I refer to them?

And where does Bruner come into this? And Lave and Wenger? And Deci and Ryan? Help!


You want WHAT critical theory?

So, I decide to do a PhD. I have a hypothesis. I have a plan to research hypothesis. I could do a lovely scientificky one that does a lot of data analysis using stats, but no. I decide to go with a Narrative theorist, who then introduces me to cultural theories and critical theory, and now I am fooked. Fooked, I say. Completely confused and a bit annoyed that I have to keep fossicking around for the right theory to “fit” my research. Why oh why didn’t I choose the BLUE pill?

I’ve researched Deci and Ryan, and motivational theories, I’ve looked at Bruner and Clandinin and Lave and Wenger. I’ve begun to traverse the minefield of Nel Noddings, Shulman and other educational theorists and I’m even (tonight) looking at Deleuze! I’ve wandered through Bourdieu but found him impenetrable and frankly a wank, so where does this leave me? With a bunch of overly complex theories that essentially just confuse me and leave me feeling a bit stupid. I feel like my lovely, simple project has been hijacked and I’m annoyed that I can’t find my way. Urgh.