The following is an adapted excerpt from a thematic literature review, following a pilot study, that I carried out last spring. I proposed the finding that young people’s experience during the contemporary transition to adulthood challenges researchers with a complex, dualistic relationship between narratives as young people make reflexive, self-narrative transitions to adulthood. The accepted narrative is something like Horatio Alger Jr.’s ‘bootstrap’ novelle about the heroic self-made man. I drew examples from Nayak and Kehily’s studies of young masculinity and femininity during the dual transition of individuals from childhood to independence, and, as a period effect, the transition of British society from an industrial one to a neo-liberalist economy (Nayak and Kehily, 2008) in which making one’s own way in the world represents both a newfound freedom and new post-industrial shackle.
One thing I really like about student life is the conferences, and the way ideas cross-pollinate when a conference is set up right. That is, when there are spaces at a conference to ignore the conference and just shoot the breeze with some other student you’ve never met, from wherever, doing whatever. It’s best not when you find someone doing a whatever that’s similar to yours, but one that’s totally different but using the same framework, or language, or technology for understanding. What can we do to promote this kind of productive collision between ideas?
My secret plan, which I’ve been cooking up for some time, is to set up a collaborative blog, primarily for postgraduate research students, but inviting others along for the ride too, so that people can share their ideas whether thought through or not, and get that oh-so-important “web presence”. Even if it’s just to copy out a couple of sections from a paper they’ve already published, even only to point to a seminar group to check out the blog. Sounds good so far, right? And everyone says: yes! A lovely idea. Yes! I’ll write for you and that sounds just terrific and yes, yes, yes…
My big task at the moment is devising flash cards for my focus group method, which is supposed to be a development of Jonathan White’s from his Political Allegiance after Integration (2011), a crafty method for stimulating political content from a discussion. I guess I perceive a few challenges in adapting the method: first, to do the work and do it right; second, to make sure I have some ownership of the method, rather than performing a presto change-o switcheroo.
I want to adapt the method rather than adopt it, so it’s important I design important parts, like the flash cards used during the discussion, myself, not least because I’ll be able to make the method specific to my empirical intentions. The key to gaining ownership won’t be adapting the method itself but, instead, constructing a new method derived from the same basic ideas.
This is where things get difficult. To adapt an idea presupposes understanding. If you were looking to make a movie based on Romeo and Juliet you’d have to know what happened in Romeo and Juliet first, right? By the same token, if I’m to appropriate the essentials of someone else’s successful methodology I’m claiming to understand them. So that’s one thing: making sure that I fully comprehend the original author’s intentions and perspective and staying aware that his method, adapted, is an interpretation of his ideas.
Second, I have to actually sit down with some pens and do the work, pulling out my hair over trying to be sort of lackadaisical and cartoony with my drawings (it wouldn’t do to look like I tried too hard) while staying close to theoretical principles. Oh boy! I find myself looking back at my work and feeling either that I’ll show them to a group and they’ll scoff at me, or else I’ll turn up before the department and they’ll roll their eyes at my mindless doodles. Low confidence yields procrastination.
Third, it’s important that while doing the work and not trying too hard at it I keep a firm track of my ideas as they develop so that, step by step, I can explain my rationale to others and myself for the cards and topics I devise. Though the card exercise is not central to data collection I can’t simply ignore it: it’s important I am aware of the ideas I’m spreading around with my cards and those I have not included.
I am nevertheless happy about the methodology and its potential. It will be fun, too. I am not sure about posting example cards here but I am leaning towards doing so, just because I love the idea of open research. I will have to speak to my supervisor about it… peace all!
My research accelerates! So far I have been planning fieldwork in principle and now it’s time to take action. To have so many (and such complicated!) things to do, and a relatively comfortable time – six months – in which to do them is a challenge for me. I’m used to having a question given to me, and to be able to hammer out an essay to that question in some brief period, and seldom to have to organize anything outside pure research except a cloth to clean all the spilled tea from my keyboard.
I’m pleased to be doing an MRes for this reason. At first this extra preliminary year seemed like a logical way to build skills but essentially superfluous, an extra year to get through in order to keep my funding. Now it strikes me a wonderful opportunity to turn my preparation for my PhD project into a marathon rather than a sprint. Rather than hacking straight into the jungle the MRes has me on a well travelled path as I prepare my question and plot my methodology. This semester I’m running one project ostensibly as a pilot, although I am hoping to raise useful data from it, and I am thinking to beat my dissertation into a methodology chapter. In the long run how perfect if, instead of that old blighted and unpaid fourth year the students I meet dread filling with belated writing up, I instead have a productive MRes first year to put my hand steadily to the plough? Just as long as I work hard and get it done on time, I think I will look back and think this MRes a Good Thing.
Hey! I am also excited about something I thought would be a deadly bore – an independent research essay – having realized I can put it to work on some interesting topic I don’t usually tackle. Got the idea to look at science fiction… oh, or protest signs, that would be interesting! hm…