I met with The Supervisor for about an hour yesterday. It was to go through some notes he had made on two of the empirical chapters that I had written in August. He had some very nice things to say about my grasp of theory and my way of communicating my ideas. That is reassuring at this stage. If there is one thing I have learned by now it is that taking compliments about PhD writing should be taken as what they are; move on with them in hand. The doctoral thesis is a piece of work to be done, plain and simple. If, at three years in, I didn’t know that, I’d still be languishing in the fifth circle of hell thinking about the differences between post-materiality and non-representational thought.
He also made some very good observations on the way that I organise my thoughts on the page. I have a tendency to write too many words: 5 when 3 might do. I also tend to avoid stating my principal arguments at the beginning and developing them with the evidence that I have gathered. I still think that there’s an academic manner in which to write and this is often best served, mistakenly in my view, by name dropping and quote hopping. At all costs, I avoid my own voice in the text and in any other passage of text beyond the mere descriptive. Sure, isn’t that what a blog is for? On the plus side, I write engagingly and thread through the ethnographic material gathered in a manner that tells a good story.
The doctoral thesis is not my life’s work. If there is one thing I would tell myself of late 2009 right now it is this: the thesis will end and your life will go on. It does not define who I am. No amount of theoretical noodling will do that. I think that is a distinct advantage that a 39 year old doctoral student has over a 24 year old one. I see fellow students struggling with defining themselves through their theses as if it is a natural step from Master’s level to doctoral work into an academic job. I thought years ago that this was the route to my own happiness. It is not. Far more can be done with a doctoral thesis than pleasing the academic canon, by citing all the right folk. I’m not alienated from that approach: OH has tread a path successfully. Being a member of a university’s teaching staff may not be for me. Not because those job opportunities no longer exist but because the decent educator role is now so devalued in this devaluing economy that the application of ‘wot I learnt at collidge’ means more than that. A friend and I are planning a route to the local elections in 2014.
In the next 12 month period I want to adapt my writing style, prepare a thesis for examination (after all, it is as much preparing for an examination as anything else) and then move on. OH has a well-earned sabbatical period from February and I hope that I can take some extended leave from my job in the latter end of 2013 to complete this thesis. The Supervisor also confirmed my belief that writing this thesis is also about meeting the expectation of the external examiner. If that’s the case, it makes it much more mundane an exercise than I thought it was three years ago.