Bonfire of the Humanities

This is...painful
This is…painful

My main hope for this couple of weeks is that I won’t be ending up visiting hospitals.  Although given the weather forecast for high winds and then sub-zero temperatures over the period I wasn’t making any promises.  As it was I did make it to the end of a struggling (for energy/motivation) couple of weeks without any major incidents.  Then again there’s always the weekend!

Big discovery for me is the joy of running Spotify radio playlists of movie, tv and computer game soundtracks (largely Murray Gold, Fallout and Assassins Creed) as aids to concentrating.  Nice as I move around the uni or the house and keep them running off the wifi.  It’s a small thing, but it’s bringing a tiny drop of much needed sunshine into my working days.

Anyway, what did I get up to.

  • Reading
    • Finished off reading the Digital Scholar, and even had a brief exchange of tweets with its author.  Providing to me one again the power of twitter, he’s told me about his new book – and it’s almost certainly one I want to read.  And it’s available in open access – which delights me no end!  Think I might have to leave it until I finish this theory chapter though.  I’ve also been reading my through a book entitled Cyber Marx (Dyer-Witheford, 2009); as recommended by my supervisor.  I was rather delightfully surprised to discover what I thought might be a slightly dated book (it uses the term information superhighway in places – a term I’ve not heard since the 90s) on Marxism and technology, is actually a rather accessible (if dense) book on autonomism.  It is also going to be the last book I read before I crack on with the rewrite of the theory chapter.  I think I’ve gathered enough information to do this now, and I’m feeling a lot more confident about some of the constructs and theory I’ll be using.
    • Oh okay I crumbled and read a paper and the recently published HEFCE Monographs and open access report, to update me a little on the current discourse around these.  I also checked out a copy of Hart & Negri’s Empire (read Commonwealth a couple of years back, will get around to Multitude in due course) for light background reading in my spare time.  Or at the very least as an alternative to reading the Fallout: New Vegas wiki in the middle of the night to help me sleep.
  • Writing
    • Finally sat myself down in the second week to go back over my reading notes, and start pulling together the revised version of my theory chapter.  This week’s blog title refers to the feeling I’ve got when it comes to throwing out all the additional theories I’ve covered in the first draft and focussing down to the two or three methodological areas I’m going to use.  There’s part of me that really struggles with the idea of casting aside really interesting areas of thought because they’re just too far out of scope.  For example I just removed 2,000 words of discussion around methodologies I won’t be using, and replaced it with just 132.  I’m fairly sure there’s at least two days work deleted there which more slightly pains me.  However, it makes room for the rest of the theory discussion and cuts the chapter length I reckon by about 1/3 once it’s all done.
    • It’s not been a waste of time, as my knowledge of social theory is simply orders of magnitude higher than it was even 6 months ago (and yet, there is so, so much more to learn) but there’s always part of me that winces when I have to cut thousands upon thousands of words I’ve written and just throw them onto the intellectual bonfire.  However, that at least means the aspect of Marxism, Foucault and Autonomism that I am embracing can be developed further and hopefully make my intellectual framework for the thesis so much stronger.  Although right now I’m still a little trepidacious of making another misstep – I desperately want to be solid in this area and move on to my next field work, as I’m aware time continues to march onwards.  Year 3 is certainly the year the ticking clock is ever at the back of my mind.
  • The Joy of Glossaries
    • One of the things I’ve been keeping going since day one of the PhD has been a glossary of terms.  Writing it helps force my beleaguered brain to try and understand what some of the weird and wonderful terms like alienation, the national popular and retroductability all mean (there are far more weird and wonderful phrases in there too).  It was also useful recently in that while I was doing some research to try and nail a description on a term, that it turned up a very useful site online going into autonomous marxism is a fairly clear and concise way.  Something some of the stuff I’ve been reading has not been that helpful on the topic – or at least about as clear as a muddy puddle that someone has helpfully filled with ink and then stirred with an egg whisk!
  • The Blog
    • Updated both the about me and research pages.  They’ve been long overdue an update, especially the one about my research – it’s changed enough that the old one now made less and less sense; certainly in terms of theory being applied.  I expect my sites hits to literally do nothing in response, but I’m happier with the update.
  • External Examiner
    • Got my contract through for this, so signed it, provided the documentation they needed and sent that off.  Still not quite sure what it’s all going to entail – but I am looking forward to a few trips over to Cymru over the next few years as part of it.  I love Wales, so that bit will be no hardship at all!
  • A Fist full of Seminars
    • Face to Face to Facebook
      • Two seminars here, and the trend for poor attendance certainly continued, although I heard on the grapevine it’s not just my seminars.  The module leader asked all us lecturers to contact the worst offenders and remind them of the importance and expectation of attending as part of their degree course!  We’ll see if this improves the situation.  It is certainly more of a teaching struggle to run the seminar material as set, as there seems to be an implicit assumption on the part of some lecturers that we’ll have full classes to work on it – trying to hold an engaging debate with only 5 or 6 first year students is more than a little challenging when most of them don’t want to speak, feeling more exposed than they would do in a more full class.  But I shall soldier on.
      • For the record we were dealing with public service broadcasting one week and considering the tension that exists between the state and the broadcasters when there are elements they want suppressed or downplayed in the news; vs the remit of people like the Beeb who are entrusted to produce programmes “without fear or favour”.  In the light of the Charlie Hebdo attacks this was as relevant as ever; although we examined the historical elements around the IRA and the overdubbing of speakers from some parties on the news.  Actually had a reasonably interesting debate with the few students who turned up, so a tip of my cap to these brave souls!
      • The more recent session was developing this theme and looking at the subversion or subsumption of broadcast news by the state elite; particularly in times of crisis.  This was (whisper it) a roleplaying exercise; or rather as I sold it to the students a simulation.  And despite my fears that I wouldn’t have enough students attend, clearly my emails this week worked – as numbers were up by 25% from last week (I know, half the course is still missing but what more can I do!).  The session itself went really, really well – the students’ solution to the crisis in their fictional country was…eye opening.  One group really seized the day, and caught one of the other groups on the hop.  I came away feeling very energised, and also with a burning desire to rework the seminar into a conference workshop.  I think there’s a lot to be said about achieving spin control and public representation vs our private agendas and I think it’d be a fab session to run.  Probably need to find somewhere that would give me more than an hour though as we were slightly pushed for time!
    • Media Communications
      • One seminar and one tutorial.  The tutorial slot once again was a chance for the students to come and seek my advice over their course work.  This time I had a few bookings, some of whom were relatively easy to handle as they’d pretty much got it; although another was a little more challenging and time consuming  with a 10 minute consultation lasting 70 minutes!  Just as well the previous week had been student free so I didn’t mind devoting the time.  Going to be interesting seeing what they’ve all come up with for their profile articles; although not relishing the time it’ll take to read and mark them that much.  Ah well, crack on and get it done in the next few weeks as a break from theory writing.
      • The seminar dealt with the tabloidisation of news and obsession of the media with pop and low culture; rather than hard and investigative news.  Had a fair debate with the students in attendance as we considered issues around the artificiality of the high/low culture divide and asked questions about the role of the press as holding a mirror to society and representing genuine interests.  Although when we watched a few minutes of the documentary Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism there were a few shocked faces when it brought home just how much of a hegemony that man has over the people of the planet.  And this film is from around 2004…he’s had a decade since to expand his influence.  As we were also discussing aspects of infantilisation of news (and indeed entertainment media; bread and circuses anyone?) I also played a short clip from the much beloved (by me and one of the class at least) Nathan Barley – entitled Rise of the Idiots.  Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker at their sardonic and satirical best; and worryingly still an accurate deconstruction of the direction of news media and its cultural influences today as it was when first broadcast.  Well weapon!
  • Publishing and Conferences
    • Sorting out my booking for late March’s UKSG conference, and having a minor panic when I’ve not thought much about what to say yet.  Think I’ll wait until early March and then just really panic and get the session written.  It is only 20 minutes long to be honest so not as major as my Bangor session.  Also some discussion with my supervisor about submitting a book chapter together in a volume on the politics of publishing; which does seem to nicely align with my research interests.  I’ve not managed to get many publications out of the PhD yet as I’m a little unsure of where to place them or indeed where the interest for my work lies; so this is a very interesting opportunity to try and get something in print.  Or disseminated electronically, but in august company.  Be nice to collaborate on something again, as working solo in the PhD I have really missed collaboration with other scholars and workers on things; particularly publishing.  I think it’s the one thing I miss most of all about my old jobs.
    • Also started to ferment some ideas for a effective communications session for the FIL Conference.  They asked me last year, but I was double booked so I did say I’d try and submit a proposal for them again.  It would be nice to bring some of the teaching and theory I’ve been developing over the last couple of years into practice with the inter-lending community; for whom I’ve still got a deep fondness.
    • There’s also a conference in (aaaah) Vienna in the summer that I need to submit a proposal to.  Need to start writing that next week otherwise it’s going to hand over me (deadline is a month away but it needs careful thought).  Might dust off one my rejected summer school proposal and see if I can’t rework that into something that fits better to the conference themes.
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