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Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Reflective Journal Entry: Four

I decided this may be used somewhere in the exegesis part of the doctorate:

When I began this project, a number of issues were in my mind. The first was that I was unsure exactly what was meant by a ‘practise led’ PhD and how different it was from the traditional form of research based PhD. More importantly, I was troubled at what I saw as a crisis of legitimacy e.g. the way that this new kind of PhD was lacking in any real sense of validity e.g. coming from the traditional fellows of the academy who at the same time seemed to not accept it as a legitimate form of research and thus as really contributing anything substantive to the academy as a whole. (Add this maybe – As X says, ‘In the Australian context, the creative writing PhD is subject to ongoing political debate about research worth and cultural values for creative practice. National notions of research equivalence (the debate here often led by the sciences) intertwine with internal university problems in valuing creative projects as valid academic pursuit.’ Nigel Krauth)

And again:

‘We work in a discipline field that abhors conformity - and this fact relates to the continuing powerful significance of creative writing in the culture. Good creative writing continues to get noticed and have central cultural influence precisely because it doesn't give in to anything politically, socially, or theoretically institutionalised. Exciting and valuable creative writing tends to map out the unexamined, the undetermined, and the unfavoured in the culture. The process of shoe-horning creative endeavour into the academic research context is difficult enough without worrying about standardisation of assessment. I have been running a postgraduate writing program where I tell students to break literary and cultural rules and progress thereby, but then I need to get each student aside to explain that the PhD requires adherence to a swagload of academic conformities. I also have to impress upon my students that there are examiners out there who are unpredictable. 'They're worse than critics,' I say. 'They're worse than national literary award judges.' (The Creative Writing Doctorate in Australia: An Initial Survey)

I had concerns in other areas, too. How should I lay out the findings of my research? Should I write the artefact first and exegesis second? How would they blend together? Should the exegesis be a fully-fledged interpretation of my artefact, a novella length story about a young man forced to become a terrorist, or something else? Should it seek to guide my reader or should it be less directional, less prescriptive and more descriptive, more open-ended and, most critically, open to the reader to decide the meaning and value of the piece themselves?

I also wanted to know how I was going to present the information not having ever seen an actual completed ‘practise led’ thesis. Under normal conditions, I would have been looking at reading around the subject, perhaps 50 to 80 academic articles, as many primary sources as it took to get a feel for the research proposal: taking notes, paraphrasing, summarizing, contextualising, making links where thy were there, and drawing conclusions from what I had thus gleaned. In the ‘practise led’ project, I was starting from a completely different standpoint not really having a clear, identifiable end point in which to aim for, no clear thesis that, with a carefully thought out, pre-planned academic rigorous exercise I would be able to bring out or elucidate. Not surprisingly, for a while I struggled with this anomaly and was slowed down.

Fortunately, however, while I was pondering or researching these problems, I always had the artefact part to work on as it seemed to decide its own limits, its own parameters, its own scope given that it was not bogged down with pre-conceptions that an erstwhile PhD would have been so that comforted me and made realise that ironically the artefact was serving two functions: the first was that it reminded me that the exegesis ought to work along the same lines e.g. that it not be too concerned with traditional academic structure for example, that I didn’t need have say, a table of charts, or a 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 etc., etc. (find out the exact name here for this), a traditional Literature Review, a few pie charts, or other visual information, perhaps even an abstract if, and this is the important part, if it was primarily there to impress a committee member or reinforce outmoded research protocol.

It also served to remind me that whilst on the one hand, I was banging on about there not being too much obvious planning and obvious rigor and structure, nevertheless ipso facto it already had considerable structure and organisation of its own in the form of a 3-act story structure, characterization, plots, sub-plots, back story, action sequences etc., etc. In other words, what I was realizing was that, whatever way it was written or presented, irrespective of how it was received by my peers or the wider academy, there would be no escaping that there would be a methodology that would be at work and that is something that seems to me is often lost or simply forgotten.

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