30 October 2009

Failed Seduction

I wanted to post on another topic today, since I've been in a sort of psychic meltdown since last Tuesday.

You see, I overestimated my persuasiveness. I thought I could convince 18 year olds to give up their free time to interview with me. I had very high hopes friends.

Instead: no dice. Two contacted me back. The rest are maintaining radio silence. I've contacted them three times, which to me constitutes on-the-edge-of-coercion. I am reminded of Thomas Newkirk's "Seduction and Betrayal in Qualitative Research." Sharon Miller addresses this same phenomena in "Lessons from Tony: Betrayal and Trust in Teacher Research." Miller asks, "But how far should we go to capture the data that we think we need?" Do we betray our students? Miller did. I think I could have certainly continued to seduce these women into participating in my project: more money, fewer interviews, a revised personality that reads more like a peer, less like the Assistant Director of Composition.

But this project is to be my first, and I can't stomach the psychological resistance. I can't stomach countering this resistance. I refuse to chase and coerce and woo and seduce and reward and possibly betray. My stance is from an ethics point, but it's also logistical. There's just not time to that convincing.

So I'm back to a proverbial square one. I've started my background reading for my new project on writing instructors who self-identify as working class or blue collar. Specifically, I'll be looking at graduate students (as opposed to lecturers or professors) because graduate school is the place where we're taught to be professionals, where we're led to construct our persona as a representative of the academy. So I'm reading Villanueva, Mike Rose, Giroux, Bordieu, collections of working-class academic autobiographies, Ira Shor, Alison Jagger. But I'd like to write up my experience with the failed project as my reflection piece this semester, especially as it relates to positioning and reflexivity. I think that's the kind of artifact I need (and is one that has the potential to turn into a co-authored article one day!).

That Sharon Miller article is here: http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/149. Newkirk is in Mortensen and Kirsch, Ethics and Representation in Qualitative Studies of Literacy (which I'll have to recall soon if you have it. Let me know!).

Theory Hope and Feminism

I'm working on my review of Reynolds's The Single Woman, and I found it necessary to revisit Stanley Fish's "Anti-Foundationalism: Theory Hope, and the Teaching of Composition" (1987) to ground my review in Fish's skepticism. Fish asserts that "questions of fact, truth, correctness, validity, and clarity can neither be posed nor answered in reference to some extracontextual, ahistorical, nonsituational reality, or rule, or law, or value; rather anti-foundationalism asserts, all of these matters are intelligible and debatable only within the precincts of the contexts or situations or paradigms or communities that give them their local and changeable shape" (344). Reynolds relies of Fish's "theory hope" to carry her discussion of the politics of being single, though she does work to situate it "on the ground" and in the discourse of the women she interviewed. This point, I feel, is the one that draws the line between expansive critical theory as it's housed in the Humanities and theory as it exists in Educational Psychology. The first is ethereal, sometimes ephemeral; the second is lived. This point may be followed with a "Well, of course," but hang with me.

In 2003, Fish's article, "Theory's Hope," posited that "truly effective theorizing occurs within disciplinary contexts and in response to the urgent questions those contexts have precipitated." (The article can be found at http://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/issues/v30/30n2.Fish.html.) Theory hope, then, lies within disciplinary paradigms.

What I'm finding in Reynold's book is that she's writing against the non-history of research on singleness as she tries to (maybe imperfectly) set up this dichotomous relationship between single and not-single, alone and not-alone. She pivots to research on and with single women by using research about other types of women or by utilizing even more imperfect models of previous research on single women which she then critiques as both incomplete and misogynist. Some of the studies she uses as models, such as Giddens (p. 10), pits "ordinary women against feminist thinkers," a reproduction of the dichotomies she's working to explore/explode (but supports with the alone/not-alone approach).

Of course Reynold's findings seem to produce a continuum of aloneness, a counter to the alone/not-alone binary, but she enters the project with a full investment of theory hope, with the belief that her disciplinary theories will carry her project forward, scaffold it with understanding, and give it some relevance outside the local.

Maybe it's that The Single Woman was a dissertation and wasn't fully revised to NOT sound like a dissertation, but this all-in adoption of feminist models felt decidedly unfeminist to me in its adherence to strict disciplinary bounds and its use of foundational theories. I'm not assuming that feminist research must always create new models of communication or new methods of inquiry; however, Reynolds begins to hint at the Politics of Singleness without working much to counter these politics, besides through those broad concepts of "understanding" and "recognition."

20 October 2009

Collaboration? More like CollaborAWESOME

Okay, okay, okay. Call me a suck-up. But I have to say that I'm really lucky to have the group members I have. (That's Lu, Meg, and Tammy.) I'll be honest: When we first started on this group project, I had major misgivings. Despite my assertion that English studies should look at collaborative projects with the same eye as single-authored ones, despite the fact that most of my mentors co-author research projects, books, and articles, despite my service as project manager on one large-scale study, I still entered the DA group project with dread. It was very Clint Eastwood: I work alone.

But I've learned so much by just talking about ideas and by working together to form coherent, cohesive theses. We've met in person three times, and we add to our g-doc almost daily. We're able to share ideas and bounce prospects off one another. It's such a different experience from the single-authored studies I've done, and it's different in ways that are beneficial. I've learned that texts can be read in so many different ways and that I don't have all the answers. (Duh. I know. But remember that I'm from a field that glorifies the isolated, suffering author and that I've been taught to latch onto my ideas with a commitment and righteous fury unlike any other. At least in the old-school led classes I've had.) To be a part of a group where each member is thoughtful, intelligent, and diligent is an eye-opener.

I'll definitely seek out opportunities to collaborate in the future. (So, Tammy, if you ever need a co-author for your graffiti project, drop me a line! That would be fun!)

14 October 2009

(Hard) Work

I was revising my prospectus on Tuesday when it hit me: This isn't a prospectus anymore. It's a chapter. Sixty pages is a chapter. Imagine my surprise. So I promptly emailed my diss advisor: "I've decided to narrow my focus. I know you'll be happy."

He's happy. He's been telling me to focus for three years.

See, I bring so many assumptions to my research: that these women will undergo family challenges like I did, that they'll have their identities challenged in ways that connect to their college experience, that it's all struggle, struggle, struggle. Because that's my experience, and well, why wouldn't they?

I am still learning.

**sigh** What I am interested in finding out is how they conceive of this term "work," especially "hard work." I think the idea of what counts as "hard" work changes as we move through life. I'm interested in hearing how these women consider work, what counts as work, and who cares.

Now, though, since the interview process will start in earnest soon (I haven't yet contacted the participants, but I will tomorrow and Friday for introductions next week), I wonder if I shouldn't make private my thoughts about it. What do you think? It seems detrimental to my project to blog about it in such a public forum. Dr. Paulus?

I have established a Blackboard org site with a blog function, and I plan to blog along with my participants. Good idea? I'm interested in this idea of collaboration and co-construction of experience (not just the first-year experience, but the research and writing experience, which is one of the reasons I like looking at FYC classes).

Thoughts, anyone?

05 October 2009

Vulgar Competence

You know the kind: learn a few terms and all of a sudden they're "part of the crowd." Sometimes I feel like I posture this way for my students, sometimes in grad classes, sometimes with professors, though all of these identities become more salient as I enact them. When I was personal training, I'd tell my clients to "fake it until you make it." They'd show up at the gym in their athletic gear (I had a rule that each person must own at least one "nice" coordinated outfit that made them look like an athlete), with their water bottle, their workout plan, and a list of goals for that week. Over time, these people who said that they would never consider themselves athletes or even gym rats would own that identity and accept it as one they could enact with confidence.

Wow, is academia just like that. Just use the words and the posture and the clothes and the inflections until you "get" wherever you're going. But getting assumes linear travel. Going assumes movement. Movement assumes leaving behind. Which circulates back to my diss (as most things do).

I haven't been actively avoiding blogging. I have enough to say to blog on the daily. I did, however, take a bit of a respite from work, spent some time on a beach somewhere, came back with an inner-ear issue and monumental vertigo. You haven't lived until you've been barreling down a rooty, wet decline on a mountain bike at maybe 10 miles an hour, and the vertigo hits. Pretty amazing.

But even more amazing, right before I left for my coastal ear-infection jaunt, I received 30 UT student IDs from the registrar. When I came back from said vacation, I had received 15 responses. (edit: now 16!) Our discussion in class has me a bit gun shy about coercion, but I do have to follow up with the list at least once. I'd love to share their open-ended comments, but I can't. Let's just say that they were overwhelmingly positive.

With all that said, I'll join the ranks of people who enjoyed reading Rapley. I like the Research Kit books, which my friend calls the Flick Series (after Uwe Flick). I like that name better: let me go get my Flick book now. Anyway, I found chapter 6 to be especially helpful as it outlines the various methods of analysis scholars can take in approaching a text. I am most interested in the lexical analysis, and I think my team members are interested in the some of the other approaches (like turn taking).

Things are moving right along! Who else is in Advanced Qual next semester? Am I the only one taking it?