Writing and Research

Thinking about what to write in this week’s blog, I mull over the events at the Lessons with Persephone Retreat at the weekend. In the quiet of the Retreat, writing came easily. At the moment, this blog is going nowhere.

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When we were talking about if, and when, we had been published, I mentioned that I had only published in a couple of academic journals and one chapter in a book. This chapter was a shared enterprise with my PhD Supervisor, Prof. Jenny de Reuck, and a colleague who was also one of Jenny’s Post Grads, Sharifa Ahjum. The title of the chapter is “The Remembrance of Things Past”: Memory and Migration as Tropes in the Construction of Postgraduate Subjectivities. (You can see we didn’t resile from long and involved titles). When I reread it now, I am struck by the clarity of the writing and the sense of community we shared.

The book is Bartlett, A & Mercer G (Eds) (2001) Postgraduate Research Supervision: Transforming (R)Elations. New York. Peter Lang. pp 233-245.

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The paragraphs that I want to bring to this blog are my own.

In the beginning my doctoral research was to follow my own background – about the women who went to Africa, not from England. That was the intention. In the event, I didn’t follow that research – a common enough story for any PhD Candidate.

In this essay, I moved to writing about Jenny, Sharifa and I – our positionality and affective ethnicity. This is what I wrote: “Where do I stand to Jenny? Where do I stand to Sharifa? How are we so inclusive of each other? It is our coming out of Africa that is our ‘affective ethnicity’. Our form of ethnicity is beyond blood and colour. We draw our connection from our African origins, shared memories of experiences from a country we have left. ‘Affective ethnicity’; meta-ethnicity! Affective pedagogy!” I drew on the work of Moshe Shokeid (‘An Anthropologist’s Work between Moving Genres’ in Ethnos. Vol 57, 1 – 4, 233- 44, 1992.)

Following this I bemoan the fact that I have such difficulty in understanding some of the texts such as Foucault and Bhabha. Sharifa can read and understand these but I battle to make sense of such abstract concepts. Here, again, I quote myself, “Is it my age that stands between me and truly understanding these readings? Has my mind closed the doors—atrophied in the cells? Am I trapped in ignorance? Sometimes I bang my fists against these closed doors, “Open up! Open up!” I call, then, “Think Woman! Think!” Who is the teacher who can lead me to comprehension? Where is the insight that I deny myself? Self-proscribed knowledge, self-proscribed wisdom.

Finally, back to the beginning.

The first entry in my PhD journal reads thus:

Some of the things I want to include:

The spiritual aspect.

The sense of self.

The sense of place.

Identity as a fragile, contextual thing … I worry about my rigidity.

Can I sustain the energy?

The essence is this, researching and writing a doctoral thesis is a lonely thing to do. It is atonement for curiosity; an exercise in humility; self-inflicted isolation. Nevertheless, this is my search for an identity in an alien space. I was never brought up to be an academic. I was never brought up to be an Australian. I catch a glimpse of myself and ask “Who are you?” or maybe, “Who do you think you are?” And then I continue—because what else is there to do?

So, I did continue and eventually, a couple of days before I turned 60, I was notified that I was through. I was now a bona fide doctor.

Writing and Research

Delivering a ‘Paper’

Scratching through my Long Drawer I came across an article I wrote some years ago (think, 20 years ago) about the first academic paper I presented. The article was published in the Murdoch Uni Postgraduate (MUPSA) newsletter, Mupifesto (June 1999, vol 2 no 1).

Some of the hints that I outlined in the article seem reasonable such as, “Practice by reading the paper aloud … many papers look really good written, but flounder miserably when spoken”. I warn against listening to the nightmare stories, adding that I have a few of my own.

My nightmare story was the first time I delivered a paper at a conference. The chairperson did not enforce the 20 minute time limit allocated to each of the three speakers. As a result I had to fit a twenty minute paper into twelve minutes. Apart from being an excellent lesson in humiliation, it was frustrating and made me angry. Add to that, more than half the audience left after the first two papers. When I eventually stood up at the lectern, I proceeded to drop all my overheads on the floor and lost time picking them up and putting them in some sort of order. You don’t know what an ‘overhead’ is? Well, it was the time after writing stuff on a whiteboard and before the dodgy technology difficulties that haunted conferences in the early 2000s. Certainly well before Death-by-PowerPoint.

Very important. If you are given the choice of question time being at the end of each paper or at the end of the session, always choose the end of the session. Some people in the audience like to take question time to present their own views at length. This, of course, eats into the time allocated for the next presenter.

Two good things to come out of an ignominious debut such as mine: however poorly the paper is received you can still add the presentation to your curriculum vitae, and secondly, the experience taught me to be a good chairperson and to stand up for myself.

There is a third good thing. I actually got a publishable paper out of my experiences at that conference that served to change the direction of my Thesis completely.

 

Delivering a ‘Paper’