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Thursday, 27 November 2008

Blogging the reflective journal

This is the area where I will be posting my thoughts on issues related to my PhD. I started this doctorate about 3 years ago and have been grappling with various aspects of it which have been kept in two forms of a reflective journal - a written diary, and an audio based tape recorded version of more or less the same details, observations, ideas, etc., etc. The latter have been and will continue to be put into written form and posted on this site.

Reflective Journal Entry: One

As my PhD is not considered a traditional one whereby a problem is identified, research conducted, and a conclusion made from the other two elements, I wanted to chart the progression of my ideas and indeed the very process of thinking that will end up becoming an artefact or finished product. This idea has come primarily from my reading of Blogging PhD Candidature: Revealing the Pedagogy by Mary-Helen Ward, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Faculty of Education at the University of Sydney and Sandra West, an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery at the University of Sydney.

I am in full agreement with them both when they explain 'the use of blogs to enhance scholar/researcher development, through the foregrounding they make possible of the pedagogical relationship implicit in the PhD process and consequent revelation of some of the hidden pedagogical practices that underpin it.' (

I see the blog as a way to unmask some of the process and dynamics that are at work in the creation of new meta-narratives, and which in my view must ultimately replace many of the old narrative structures that have been hailed as the benchmarks for the production of new knowledge and research outcomes. I agree fully with Prof. Julia Evergreen Keefer in 'Searching for a Global Master or Meta-Narrative' who states that 'In our search for a global meta-narrative, perhaps we should start with the golden rule, Love the Neighbor as Thyself, for every religion in the world, monotheistic and polytheistic, includes some version of this truth in its teachings.'

And I also agree completely with Lucy Lyons thus, 'The importance of practice-led PhDs is that they are a legitimate way for artists to reclaim their work back from the historians, philosophers and critics by gaining an authoritative, academic voice through the validation of a doctorate.' (From "Walls are not my friends: issues surrounding the dissemination of practice-led research within appropriate and relevant contexts" - Lucy Lyons) (taken from - AHRC Research Review Practice-Led Research in Art, Design and Architecture -'

It is this reclamation of legitimate forms of pedagogy that interests me greatly for what constitutes 'proper' knowledge production has been in doubt from some considerable time and has been largely been allowed to be decided, determined, by those on the inside of the academy, not those practioners who have been actually engaged in these new, hybird forms of research. As she rightly says, 'We have also indicated some areas of inquiry that might be supported to advance the theory and methods of practice-led research. In particular we have come to the conclusion that conventional ideas of contribution to knowledge or understanding may not be serving us well.'

There are two components to this Practise Led doctorate (PLD): the first is a creative component called an artefact and the second is an exegesis or mode of interpretation which connects or links itself to the research question to provide a new mode of knowledge production and pedagogical practise. The following is the original idea some three years ago for my creative component.

My artefact:

'The creative component will consist of a set of short stories of approximately 80,000 words, which aims to address, in a meaningful way, the role of the stranger in narrative fiction, the issues of culture shock and assimilation, while still retaining literary market value. The stories will center around characters who enter the economic and cultural life of a city and, through dramatic events, not only change the city, but also become catalysts for change within themselves.'

This has in fact changed considerably. Now there is only one story and it is called 'The Accidental Terrorist'. I have also retained an analysis of the stranger in narrative fiction (though not insights related to culture shock), and in relation to issues like assimilation, cultural, philosophical as well as psychological insights will also be examined.

The exegesis:

'The exegesis component will be a reflection of the key tensions and issues that arose during the construction of my creative component with reference to the mechanics and craft of writing, and an investigation of the theories that underpin the literature of the stranger. Larger questions raised by Camus about the role of the outsider, concerns about culture shock raised in texts like Almost French, my own writing about these experiences in Thailand, and other academic and literary studies on assimilation by Sartre, Levinas, and Fanon will be examined. With increasing globalization, shared physical as well as cultural space, and the ideological clash between Islam and Christianity, there is now a need for a greater understanding of ‘otherness’ in the world today.'

This part is still very fluid, organic even. It is continually evolving although it is clear that there are several ideas that are starting to appear more salient than others. I am constantly amazed by the changeable nature of this as though it has already been written or exists somewhere else almost like Socrates' idea of the 'Forms' - the epistemological idea that there is no such thing as learning. When we feel that we have learnt something, we are in fact merely remembering it. Hence the idea of the forms is one where there exists a perfect copy of something - call it PF1 (perfect form 1). This would be the thing-in-itself, the version we see in nature. Thus, when you walk into your garden and see a tree, that is an instance of PF1. A painting of this very same tree would be PF2, and say, a dream of a tree, PF3, and so on ad infinitum. Each time we are getting away from the one 'true' form that exists and which we will never see or inhere in.

So I was thinking that there already exists a PF1 of my thesis and even though throughout this process of not having a clue about the nature of how or what the research outcome will be, as a 'practitioner', I am still able to unmask, unearth, uncover, and to borrow Socrates again, to 'remember' or 'recall' what has already existed in some other state or 'Form'. This for me is the most exciting part of the entire project.

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