Cyber-femininities

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Crystal  is undertaking a Ph.D. in Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Western Australia, Perth. She is passionate about gender equality, feminism, percussive music, and penguins. Read more of her blogs  and follow her via @wishcrys

Cyber-femininities

cyber femininitiesImagine a world where we traded on intellect, circulated ideas, and communicated textually to convey our ‘inner selves’, where others evaluated us based on our ideal self-perceived identities… In this world, visible bodily markers that used to distinguish race, gender, and age would no longer penetrate our exchanges as fervently… Would this ideal world be a place free of racism, sexism, and ageism? Perhaps, an age of non-embodiment?

Apart from being a biological interface that maneuvers technology behind the screen, the physical body is not a necessary entity on the inter-webs. After all, one may craft avatars, pseudonymous personas, and entire standalone life course profiles to interact with other users without any reference to their actual physical appearance.

As appealing as this seeded thought is, users are more often than not bringing their physical bodies into the forefront of cyber-worlds, often intensifying particular bodily features and aspects of personality that they imagine to be their truest selves. We’re talking about self-trained artists in digital manipulation who erase fat, enlarge eyes, insert pecs, alter skin tones. We’re talking about the use of language, emoticons, and social media interfaces to convey an entire digital profile of a finely crafted individual. A re-embodiment on a digital interface. Perhaps even a hyper-embodimentin a bodiless world.

In my study of commercial bloggers in South East Asia, bloghop models tended to follow a handful of gendered scripts to convey their ideal mode of femininity. As gendered performances that are practised on and intensified via the Internet, I term these scripts cyber-femininities.

These modes of cyber-femininities were sieved out through textual themes, repetitions or recurring regularities in blogshop launches and the blogposts of owners and models.

As with other, recent work on femininity and masculinity, this analysis of blogshops moves away from a simple dichotomy between hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity on the one hand and subordinate masculinity and femininity on the other (Connell, 1987, 2002; Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005) toward a more nuanced view of diverse and complexly hierarchical femininities (Schippers, 2007).

At least six different sorts of femininity became evident in analyzing the online content of blogshops.

The ‘family girl’ portrays herself as a loving daughter and stresses the importance of her tight-knit family.

The ‘material girl’ emphasizes branded goods and other possessions in her online presentation of self.

The ‘globetrotter’ blogs about her travels and adventures.

The ‘fashionista’ updates readers on the latest and upcoming trends in apparel and accessories as well as beauty tips.

The ‘party girl’ showcases her sensational nightlife and provocative (hetero)sexuality.

The ‘rebel’ claims to reject social norms, including female body image, and expresses herself through verbal rants and expletives.

These femininities – or modes of feminine expression – are not mutually exclusive, though certain blogshop models are known for highlighting one or more through their online persona.

One blogger, for example, exudes the qualities of a ‘family girl’ with frequent references to her mother’s sacrificial love and supreme culinary skills, her tight-knit and doting family, and a consistent reverence towards God as the provider of all.

Another blogger paints herself as a ‘globetrotter’ with a plethora of past and future holiday destinations pictorially catalogued and communicated in pixels. Although she has a life partner, a close-knit family, and a day job in a corporate firm, the blogger focuses on her independence as a young sojourner in search of exotic adventures and exciting escapades.

Yet another blogger openly flaunts her ‘rebel’ image boasting a punk lifestyle taking on conventionally masculine sports like skateboarding and surfing, and a grunge fashion slant with multiple tattoos and piercings. She is also liberal in conveying her frustration and anger through harsh words and tones, though often being passive-aggressive in addressing everyone yet no one in particular.

While these and other blogshop models perform diverse cyber-femininities, in contrast, for instance, to a singular hegemonic femininity or masculinity (cf. Connell, 1987; Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005), their position within the commercial sphere produces powerful and disciplining effects for both blogshop consumers and the models themselves.

More on this another time!

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“How breakthroughs come: tenacity and perseverance”

kip jonesKip Jones is a reader in Performative Social Science at the Centre for Qualitative Research at Bournemouth University. Kip is an American by birth, and has been studying and working in the UK for more than 15 years. His main efforts have involved developing tools from the arts and humanities for use by social scientists in research and its impact on a wider public. You can read more of Kip’s fascinating blogs at http://kipworldblog.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow him on Twitter @kip_jones
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The following is a repost of a blog written a while back that describes the process of creating, then publishing,’On a Train from Morgantown: a film script’  in Psychological Studies, an academic journal.
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train kipMore than ten years ago now, when I was living in a bedsit in Leicester and had just finished my PhD, I decided to write a conference presentation about Ken Gergen and Klaus Riegel. Both scholars played important roles in the development of my thinking for my PhD thesis (Narratives of Identity & the Informal Care Role). During this time I came across a volume (Life-span Developmental Psychology Dialectical Perspectives on Experimental Research, edited by Nancy Datan & Hayne W. Reese, published by Academic Press 1977) that was a result of the Fifth West Virginia University Life-Span Developmental Psychology Conference held at Morgantown, West Virginia in 1976. The conference centred on the work of Riegel and the book included a chapter by Gergen.My imagination got the best of me. What if these two, both influences on my own work, had a conversation following that gathering? As I recently explained, reported in a Times Higher Education article, “Gergen is a giant to our generation, so it was good to look back to a time when he was insecure…I wanted to examine how breakthroughs come, and the price people pay for them”. Thus, “On a train from Morgantown” was born.It seems a short time ago now, but we must not forget that in 2001 digital production was limited, at the personal computer level at least. I found video-cassette recorded footage of trains that would have been in service in West Virginia in 1976 then convinced a techy at my university to help me cut and edit it. I wrote a script (much like a radio play) and found people to record it on cassette tape (one in Germany, the rest in Leicester). I produced overhead projections for some of the visuals and created lots of sound files and edited music (again, on cassette) to fill out the imaginary train journey.

I packed up all these production materials and caught the ferry to Hamburg and then a train to Berlin and a conference at the Free University to present my grand production … to an audience that would include Mary and Ken Gergen. When my allotted time came, I spent it dashing about starting up a TV, co-ordinating a cassette player, an overhead projector, etc.—a bit like the Wizard of Oz behind his curtain. Ken Gergen responded quite emotionally following all of this. The mostly German-speaking audience seemed a bit confused by it all.

I recall this as a bit of madness on my part at the time, but also in many ways as the public birth of Performative Social Science, or at least the seeds for its future development. Being a visual person, I wanted to ‘show’ as well as ‘tell’–and this frustration became central to my efforts in developing a Performative Social Science (PSS).

Because publication is (is supposed to be?) the end-all of some academic lives, I began to think about how to possibly publish ‘Morgantown’. Because of my visual inclinations, I thought that a film script with all of its optical instructions might do the trick. So I wrote ‘Morgantown’ up as a screenplay, looking at many scripts in order to get a sense of how to present a visual story as text. A bit of a Pollyanna at publication at that time, I actually submitted the script to a few journals which I naively thought might be adventurous enough to publish it. They were not and it was rejected.

I put ‘Morgantown’ in a drawer somewhere and so it languished for almost a decade. About a year ago, the editor of a special issue on the work of Ken Gergen for Springer’s Psychological Studiescontacted me and asked if I would be interested in submitting a paper for the issue. I responded that, yes, I do have something that may be fit for purpose. Go ahead, I told myself: ‘I dare you.’ I submitted the script for ‘Morgantown’.

Desktop23 kip blogTo my great surprise, the submission was accepted with no substantial changes and now is published as a film script in the special issue on Ken Gergen in Psychological Studies. In my estimation, this represents a great breakthrough for Performative Social Science, or the use of tools from the arts in dissemination of social science research. It gives others a reference in support of their own work in moving academic publishers to being more open, even inviting, to alternative presentation formats.

‘Morgantown’ and its eventual acceptance holds a special place for me. In so many ways it represents ‘working in the dark’ against unknown forces and circumstances, but still being driven by our muses to create and invent. ‘Morgantown’ represents what I like to call ‘kitchen sink’ work—work produced because creativity compels us to find the means, the ways, the materials and then the outlets. This mirrors the way in which artists frequently work–something that social scientists and policy wags can learn a great deal from. The artist does not wait for someone, somewhere to establish a ‘cultural value’ for their outputs. They create and damn the consequences! I never want to forget that it is in these personal efforts the potential to make a difference lies.

Some of the responses to the publication of ‘Morgantown’ are repeated below. They convince me that efforts to open up channels previously closed to innovation and experimentation are not unfounded and offer support and encouragement to others:

· Congratulations. This is really amazing. Thank you for your courage. And for the work that you are doing for all of us.
· It’s just wonderful to see the glimpse of barriers breaking down between interdisciplinary research and innovative work. Well done!! It is happening a step at a time and we just need to keep on pushing those boundaries.
· Breaks the waves for academics like me dreaming of more than the written words to portray researched life
· I got very inspired, though, when reading about your publication as I share PSS’ engagement and ambition to intensify publications moving in between arts/social sciences/performance …I say/shout “GREAT!!!” from Copenhagen! Thank you for sharing!!
· I continue to watch your career with great interest and derive much hope for my own work from your example.
· Fantastique!!! gives me hope
· Think it is really important to share this kind of news as it gives all of us who research in creative ways hope!
· A massive achievement in the current climate!
· This is fantastic … and I received this just perfect for our course in qualitative research methodologies where I am teaching narrative and performative approaches. Will use your article as a brand new example and hope to encourage some of our students to be more daring!

Call For Guest Blogs

The ethos underpinning this Social Research Hub is to support a narrative between all of you who are interested in social research. It is hoped that SOCPHD can facilitate communication between researchers, those who apply its findings to develop and implement policies and practices, with those whose lives are affected by it  – Everyone of us.

As such this invitation for guest blogs is purposefully broad; I do not want to dictate the narrative. Clearly, no abusive or defamatory blogs will be posted, otherwise I want to help share your knowledge and experiences. Your blogs do not have to be exclusive to SOCPHD.

By SOCPHD hosting guest blogs I hope to engender a sense of community, but it is equally important to support your collaborative ventures. I am constantly inspired by your generosity and innovation and want to  let others know about it. So do tell us what you are doing.

I have established a forum at www.socphd.co.uk where you can post about your research interest, leave a link to your blog and help others to find you.

This feed and our sister site @phdforum   www.phdforum.co.uk are developing according to your needs. I am grateful to those of you who have expressed an interest in becoming more involved and look forward to developing these conversations  in the coming months.

Please forward any blogs you want to feature on SOCPHD or inquiries to    admin @ socphd.co.uk

Currently these enterprises are facilitated by one full time phd student and your patience with my response times are very much appreciated.

I look forward to hearing from you,

 

Donna (@donna_peach)

Keeping it simple: Say it as a story

Chandni singh Chandni is a third year PhD researcher in Rural Livelihoods at the University of Reading, UK. Her research explores farmer vulnerability to water scarcity and climate change in southern Rajasthan (India). Within this, she is  trying to understand why some farmers are more vulnerable than others and is assessing whether the current policy landscape is helping build local capacity. She enjoys travelling, writing poetry, and taking long walks to nowhere in particular. She is also disturbingly fond of dogs and new notebooks. Chandni blogs about her research at Village Vignettes and you can follow her on twitter @chandnisingh233

Write your thesis as if you were telling a story 

Brash beginnings

When I started my PhD, I had clear ideas. I was going to explore what made farmers vulnerable to water scarcity and climate change. I was going to unravel why continued policy emphasis on water management in India had yielded scattered, unsatisfactory results. I had a masters degree in Environmental Sciences, I had professional experience in watershed development; surely things couldn’t get too cumbersome. I blustered into my research, reading and absorbing, floundering and finding.

As I made my way from the perplexing to the practical, I decided my research to be all ears.  After a few agonising months of planning and re-planning, I set forth on a 10-month long journey listening to farmer stories of how water shapes their lives and how they cope with its ever-changing availability. Traversing the semi-arid landscape of northwest India, I spoke to farmers and government officials, local development workers and researchers, trying to uncover the complex constructions of water scarcity and climate change.

That sinking feeling

When I returned from ten months of gruelling fieldwork, I was bursting with stories both alarming and inspiring. I was charged with enthusiasm, things looked promising. But over the months that followed, I sat at my desk, far removed from the country my research was placed in, wallowing in a heap of data. In spite of organising it as I went along collecting it, I was overwhelmed. How would I ever weave together a narrative that captured the enormous breath and rich depth of the stories I had uncovered? I found myself sinking. I heard fellow PhD students groan; either about the humungous word counts one had to cover or their data being just too much to fit into a single thesis. I felt daunted by the data and frustrated at my inability to capture in words, what I had so clearly observed in the field. I fumbled along a personal trajectory of frustration until I realised: my research would be best communicated as I had approached it – a journey like no other, narrated as a stimulating story!

Mapping my road

After the fireworks of this brainwave, I admit, nothing happened for a while. And then I charted out the plot, and the main ideas (characters) I wanted to build. I started with what I, the clueless traveller, had set out to look for. During my first year, I had sifted through tomes of literature, winnowing my way through roadblocks and blind alleys till I understood where I really wanted to go. That needed brushing up, and served well as an entry into the story I wanted to tell. In the methodology chapter, I walked the reader through my quest for finding the tools I needed on my journey – as a visitor to a new land, I had to equip myself well. I toiled till I had the appropriate tools to embark on this bizarre journey and then discussed the pitfalls of the way I had travelled. As I moved on to the results chapters, I discussed what I found on my travels, weaving narratives to draw a bigger picture.

This may come across as a romanticised version of thesis writing, potentially conveying that my journey has been a honeymoon of sorts. Contrarily, it has, and continues to, wring me dry, but isn’t that what makes a story poignant and inspiring? My PhD journey has been challenging and invigorating, a story of personal growth and learning. As an avid listener over the past year, the one thing I am sure of is that, no one can resist a well-told tale. My thesis aspires to be that.

Don’t mock the mock: The importance of a having a practice viva

jennacrop-213x300Jenna Condie is a Postgraduate Researcher who lectures in Psychology and Media Psychology at the University of Salford. She is an enterprising academic or ‘Enterprademic’  taking an entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial approach in teaching, learning, research, enterprise and consultancy work. Jenna’s doctoral research contributes to Environmental Psychology, as her qualitative study explores how people make sense of living in ‘disruptive’ places, specifically living alongside railways.

You can read more about Jenna here: http://hub.salford.ac.uk/entreprademic/home/ and connect with her via:

Twitter @jennacondie   LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jennacondie

Don’t mock the mock: The importance of a having a practice viva

I submitted my PhD thesis just over a month ago.  Since handing in, I’ve been a tad unenthusiastic about looking at it again.  When I do read it, the writing seems unfamiliar, almost as if someone else wrote it.  If the viva was the day after submitting my thesis, whilst I might be delirious, at least I would still be immersed in my research.    As more time passes, I feel increasingly distanced from my work.

However, I recently had a mock viva and this has changed everything.  In preparation for the real thing, my supervisors organised a practice run with two academics that I didn’t know.  The mock ran as similar to the real thing as possible.  I waited outside whilst the examiners convened.  I was called in and we shook hands.  They started with some easy questions to get the conversation flowing, which then proceeded into a more intense ‘grilling’ of the how’s and why’s of my research. All the while, my supervisor sat quietly taking notes on my performance.  It lasted for around two hours and I left the room red faced with a pounding head.  They had a chat and I re-entered the room for feedback.  Here’s a summary of what they said:

  • Rehearse your answers – so that I convey the main points of my thesis more clearly and concisely.  Although I made some good points, I did waffle on at times and strayed from answering the question.
  • Your language impacts upon perceived confidence – avoid vagueness and saying words such as ‘stuff’ and ending sentences in ‘I think’.  I need to find ways around this and further rehearsal of arguments is crucial to giving a confident impression.
  • Champion qualitative research – I know that I have a tendency to sound unconvinced of qualitative research and often position it in relation to quantitative research…but I still did it anyway!  I need to drill it into my head that qualitative research is valuable in its own right.  So, to prepare for the viva, I plan to fully immerse myself in the social constructionist and discursive literature again.  I am thinking of preparing a journal article to scaffold this reading and give it purpose.
  • Read up around qualitative research evaluation criteria e.g. generalizability – I got a bit stuck on this and how I ensured rigour in my methodological approach. I’ll be doing some reading around this as well too.
  • It’s ok if you can’t answer a question – I tried to answer everything.  Prepare phrases that give you a get out e.g. “that was beyond the scope of the study”.  It’s also ok to ask for clarification e.g. “could you expand on what you mean”.
  • Summarise each paragraph of your thesis into a sentence – even though I had my thesis with me, there wasn’t time to read over sections in the flow of conversation. One suggestion was to summarise each paragraph into a sentence so that when examiners refer you to a section, you have a condensed version.
  • You must own it – it is my research, I have done a good job, I need to believe my research and defend what I have produced.  It makes an original contribution to knowledge, and what I did met the research aims.

On reflection, I can see that the distance between the research and I impacted upon my performance in the mock viva.  I now have a clearer idea of how to go forward in preparing more thoroughly so I enter the real thing with greater confidence.  Having a mock viva also gave me the opportunity to talk about my research with others which has reignited some of the enthusiasm that I used to have for my work oh so long ago now.

I don’t understand how someone can go into a PhD viva cold. As it’s such an unusual scenario, it requires a rehearsal.   I think the mock viva worked so well for me as it ran as close to an actual viva as possible. I wouldn’t have taken it as seriously if my supervisors or colleagues had played the role of examiners.  The experience has made me feel more positive about my work and given me a number of ways forward. Fingers crossed I get a date for my viva sooner rather than later so I can keep this momentum going.

Thank you to Karen Smith and Jackie Taylor for taking the time to read my thesis, giving me the opportunity to talk about my work, and provide invaluable feedback (and notes!).  Thank you to my supervisors Phil Brown and Anya Ahmed, especially to Anya for arranging and hosting my practice run.  It is massively appreciated!

Deserving of respect: Some thoughts on researcher well-being

Dr Mark Murphy is Reader in Education, School of Education, University of Glasgow. He previously taught at King’s College London, University of Chester and the University of Stirling. Mark has published numerous articles in journals such as the Journal of Education Policy, Journal of European Public Policy, European Journal of Education, International Journal of Lifelong Education and the British Journal of Sociology of Education. His most recent book is Social theory and education research: understanding Foucault, Habermas, Bourdieu and Derrida (Routledge, 2013). He is also the creator of www.socialtheoryapplied.com, a website designed to provide a platform for discussion on the relationship between theory and education research. Mark tweets via @socialtheoryapp

Deserving of respect:

Some thoughts on researcher well-being

Taking its lead from the Concordat, one of the questions the #socchat on 30th May 2013 will ask is:   How do we develop a culture which equally nurtures researcher well-being as well as performance?

This is a significant question, quite possibly the most significant when it comes to researcher development. In the recent study on Why women leave academia and why universities should be worried, for example, several reasons cited are clearly emotional in nature: lack of adequate self-esteem, a sense of isolation, a feeling of not belonging in the academic world.

Anyone who works in academia will tell you that we expend a great deal of energy focusing on issues of status, prestige and reputation. The sector is awash with concerns over respect and recognition for one’s talents and contribution to the academic community. Although some would like to think so, these concerns are not peripheral to the academic culture – they are central to it. For me, this is not unusual (such a culture is prevalent in most, if not all, work cultures); neither is it surprising –  people have a strong desire to be recognised and praised for their work  and contribution, essential elements in building a sense of belonging and consequently self-esteem.

It’s not hard to come up with reasons why the affective content of academic life is glossed over or ignored; for a start, a rigid head/heart distinction is practically an occupational hazard. What is more of a concern is the impact of this unacknowledged affective component on the development of PGRs and ECRs. The desire for status and respect can lead academics to focus exclusively on their own career development, sometimes at the expense of their more junior colleagues. It is also the case that some academics see the emotional disaster area that is doctoral study as a kind of rite of passage, a way to earn some stripes in a profession that requires a high level of emotional robustness (if that is the right expression). Why should it be any different for a new generation of researchers?

This emotional context of academic life, however, while evidently part of the problem, is also part of the solution when it comes to developing a culture that nurtures researcher well-being. Whatever hope we have left for senior staff, there is always the opportunity to place concerns over respect, status and reputation explicitly at the core of early career development. In order to do this it is imperative that the PGRs and ECRs in faculties are placed at the centre of activity, rather than on the periphery (a sure-fire way to put people off any career).

This shift will undoubtedly place a bit more pressure on PGRs and ECRs, but the payoff is the development of a culture in which praise, encouragement, constructive criticism, recognition and reward should be actively encouraged. How better to facilitate a sense of belonging and acceptance among PGRs and ECRs? I would also emphasise that a competitive culture can exist alongside a more collaborative ethos, so long as the balance is right.

In this way then the dichotomy hinted at in the original question between well-being and performance becomes less of a rigid distinction and more like two sides of the same coin. People should be rewarded, in an emotional sense, for their academic performance – a normative state that effectively requires this performance to be visible.

Why blog?

Huw is a second year Web Science PhD student at the University of Southampton, supervised by Professor Susan Halford and Dr Nick Gibbins. Huw is investigating the implications for young people and huwcdaviestheir (lifelong) education of the democratisation of knowledge on the Web. He argues that existing research is limited by its positivist methods and reliance on age as explanation of youth’s vulnerability to misinformation.  Huw does not consider age to be self-evident and timeless but rather a moral classification – a product of over a century and half of social upheaval and productive power in society. He therefore adopts a mixture of qualitative and digital quantitative methods to demonstrate how young people’s attitudes to information on the Web are shaped by their social environment. You can read more of Huw’s blogs at http://blog.soton.ac.uk/ycw/ and also featured on http://socialtheoryapplied.com/   Huw tweets via @huwcdavies

Why blog?

I’ll get to an answer in a roundabout way. Please bear with me; it’s only 377 words.

As a social scientist PhD wannabe, I worry about my employment prospects. I am not spending my days processing big data. I’m not writing APIs for open or linked data.  I’m not producing social network graphs.  I’m not an expert on corporate security vulnerabilities. I’ll never be on Newsnight dazzling Paxman with my technical knowledge of cyber-warfare.  And, I’m not exactly the Nate Silver of quantitative methods.

However, I do spend my days reading and trying to critique a rare and undervalued commodity. In the desperate quest for growth the coalition government is bankrupt of them; in their place we have dogma, pleas to cut red tape so people can build more conservatories without planning permission and HS2. Ed Miliband comes out with one for every party conference which is then parroted by his party faithful before it fades into obscurity. David Cameron, in the days he used travel husky powered, acquired one he believed could rewrite the social contract between people and the state; or what we remember as the Big Society.  I’m talking about ideas; abstract, sophisticated and transformative ideas.

I’m no visionary but I do think we’ve lost sight of the importance of ideas. We know the current Education Secretary says ‘facts’, the King James Bible and Middlemarch is the foundation of rigorous education but where does this world view leave ideas?

I see, in my field, how ideas turn the wheels of the academy.  Social Machines, Web Science and Digital Sociology are ideas and therefore open to interpretation and discussion.  However, these concepts are becoming muster points for people with similar interests and ambitions to mobilise support, and attract research funding and generate new insights into society.

Endurable, workable ideas are created and developed by people with knowledge of the history of ideas, and a well-practiced ability to critique them. If we move towards an education system that marginalises ideas we leave empty field for dogma and number-crunchers to occupy.

A robust sense of purpose is crucial to a successful PhD.  I am convinced what I do has real value (even if it’s only to make me think a bit harder about ‘stuff’) and I think blogging could help convince others too.

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