One of the things that nobody warned me about as I’ve slid down the slippery slope into dissertation mode has been the creeping guilt. I know everyone’s dissertation experience is different and I wouldn’t expect everyone to share my exact academic anxieties (everyone should harbor their own; it’s perfectly natural). But I’ve reached a point where, whenever I’m doing anything unrelated to my dissertation (academic, professional, or recreational/completely disconnected), I feel this benign (yet still jarring) guilt that I’m losing ground on my monolithic self-assigned finish line. I know my whole life can’t be reading and writing for the dissertation, because that would be insane. But concurrently, I’d be in a bad position if my own conscience wasn’t nudging me back toward my mostly-digital pile of notes and drafts.
Please don’t take this rare moment of vulnerability as a caveat about my progress (or any discouragement for potential employers, *wink*). I’m definitely going to finish it, and in all likelihood on schedule. I’m not writing this to elicit sympathy or cast doubt on myself. I still thank myself disproportionately often that I walked away from my 9-to-6 life in DC to dive into academia. I still occasionally stop and think… “wow, I get to write this for a dissertation. Rad.” The pressure of the dissertation isn’t even a guarded secret among academics; a member of a seminal 90’s band (a great drummer and label manager but hardly the scholastic type) even shouted friendly words of encouragement at me when after his new band’s show in SF when he found out what I did.
I have three primary reasons for wanting to bring this up, all increasingly relevant to what I’ll be sharing here.
- I want to impart what little wisdom I’ve accumulated from the writing process thus far to anyone reading this who may be thinking about pursuing a PhD. Most of those people probably already have their minds made up but are just stopping by on their daily blogroll (thanks!)
- This is why I haven’t written anything on here for almost a month. I know I’ve had similar gaps before, but in this case, I’m honestly too preoccupied with reading, notating, and writing, and that aforementioned guilt has kept me from trying to produce unrelated material for my site. I’m also pretty subdued about works in progress, so I’m loathe to share much material about my dissertation, which (again) composes a vast majority of my recent productivity. I’ll relax this a bit tonight, though, because…
- The ostensibly last-minute mad-dash for literature and source material has yielded a few things in the last 48 hours that I couldn’t keep to myself.
A wise(au) man once said “Don’t plan too much, it may not come out right.” One piece of advice I’d gotten ages ago from a colleague was to avoid handicapping myself by doing anything other than expecting the unexpected when it came to research, especially given any umbrella as wide as a dissertation’s. I do have my proposal to reference whenever I forget, but I could never rewind my brain to whatever mode it was in when I first landed on my topic. The qualitative researcher is no different than their subject(s)- fluid and subject to an endless stream of external and internal influences. It’s just as important to keep as open of a mind in qualitative research as anywhere in life. This applies equally when digging through cluttered archives as accumulating the most iconoclastic of oral histories from folks in another country (both of which I’ve done over the past year).
Two research practices that have yielded mouth-nearly-agape results-level material for me in the past 48 hours range from superbly post(?)-modern (YouTube) to the downright old-fashioned (library stacks).
From where I sit, not a whole lot of scholarship has been done on how useful YouTube can be in qualitative research, at least within geography. Some disparate articles using YouTube have appeared over the last decade (Longhurst 2009, Garrett 2011, Carter 2015), but streaming and participatory video is hardly even a generation-old phenomenon. Video recording has become more ubiquitous through smart phones, but that doesn’t mean a treasure trove of audio-visual research material hasn’t been digitized and uploaded by benevolent users all over the internet. A full year after gathering stories about the first two Fugazi shows in Paris (November 1988 and December 1989), I discovered that not only were they both filmed with excellent sound for the VHS era, but they are also now online, thanks to Philippe Roger.
Even if you aren’t a fan of Fugazi’s music, this is a fascinating watch. You can see the violence breaking out among this snapshot of Paris’ late-80’s punks scene. Watch how annoyed (and even scared) the band gets when people won’t stop stagediving and otherwise disrupting them, but they still take it like true professionals and unleash their set of early-era highlights. Guy Piciotto (whose near-fluent French he speaks here) wasn’t even playing the guitar in the first show, embedded here below. You can check out the second one, from 1990, here. For those of you who were wondering what the essence of my dissertation was, and were looking for a response to be in video form:
Yesterday, I decided to go the library to dig up a 1984 edition of Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction. Normally, I just use the handy delivery service that UTK offers to save time, but the other day, I decided to give my legs and brain much-needed stretches and walked over there. I also needed to return a couple books to a different campus library, but that’s besides the point. Right before a seismic monsoon landed on campus, I ducked into the main library and wandered up to the third floor. The Bourdieu book was nowhere to be found. The staff couldn’t locate it either. I know how many books just disappear or slip under the radar within library systems every year, but at the time, it was a little frustrating. I did, however, grab a few books on a whim that have already jumped to the top of my reading list and begun to influence my writing. These included Utopia Deferred, a series of essays by the always delightful leftist quote-machine Jean Baudrillard. I also grabbed French Cultural Studies, a 1995 collection edited by Jill Forbes and Michael Kelly. I’m not sure how prominently this book will figure into my work, but I’m more confused as to why it hadn’t occurred to me yet to dig into French Cultural Studies as a resource. Last but not least (actually, least-least) was Nancy L. Green’s exhaustively-researched The Other Americans in Paris (2014), an exhaustively-researched history of the American community in Paris, from the gold- and culture-digging elites down to the petty criminals who escaped Uncle Sam’s grasp in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
On Page 1, Green clearly lays out her mission statement:
There is an untold tale of Americans in the City of Light, a history of expatriation that parallels the story of those who came to France for creative inspiration. But with an important twist. While many Americans came to France in search of (European) civilization, many more came to disseminate the American version of it. Even as the writers and artists of the well-known “Lost Generation” expressed angst over modernity and America’s role in it, other Americans overseas were participating in the debate over modernity in another way: by selling it or trying to.
The cultural and sub-cultural exchanges between the US and France, while I’m focusing on the past four decades, have been prominent for the entire lifespan of both Republics. These thoughts had been crossing my mind for the whole lifespan of my project, but until I grabbed Green’s book on a whim, I hadn’t really thought much about how much interwar American expats and tourists told us about the societies’ love-hate relationship. Did you know there was a vicious anti-American demonstration on Grands Boulevards almost exactly 90 years ago this week? Did you know hundreds of angry locals gathered to take out their frustrations on a cluster of the 200,000 American tourists in town that summer? Well, it happened (see Green, p. 204).
What I’m trying to say is, these are the things that have distracted me from this blog this summer, and take an hour a week to wander around your library’s stacks. Even if they don’t have the book you’re looking for, it can and will push/pull your research in different and fun directions.
Back to writing….
Carter, Perry. “3 Virtual ethnography.” Social memory and heritage tourism methodologies 49 (2015): 48.
Garrett, Bradley L. “Videographic Geographies: Using Digital Video for Geographic Research.” Progress in Human Geography 35, no. 4 (2011): 521-41.
Green, Nancy L. The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.
Longhurst, Robyn. “YouTube: a new space for birth?” Feminist Review 93, no. 1 (2009): 46-63.