Two Series: Empirical and Theoretical

A follow up to the writing woes discussed here.

I have lots of empirical work in my dissertation, both fieldwork and archival work. I also have lots of ‘theory’ work, too. I think the single biggest problem I am continually finding as I am finishing this monstrous thing is that as I introduce my examples and discuss the development and transformtions to the scene of modified-car culture through empirical work I am also introducing and developing the concepts of the ‘scene’, ‘enthusiasm’ and so on. The problem is that I can’t introduce and develop all the conceptual tools at once, and then simply apply them; my dissertation would be unreadable.

The argument of the dissertation has to follow a somewhat linear trajectory, but the thinking that goes into developing conceptual tools is far from linear. It jumps around here and there, engaging with some examples, not engaging with others. The conceptual tools developed are a ‘solution’ (amongst others) to the problems that emerge in the empirical work. What I fear I will never get right is the balance between grouping relevant parts of the theory work and the empirical work in such a way that allows the dissertation to take on a reasonably normal linear trajectory.

The current nine chapter structure is the best balance yet. I am up to chapter four in the reorganisation. To get it done I have had to become more militant with my time from other parts of my life. Only positive affect here, please.

Oh, and I have my extension until November 30. At least that is some good news.

4 replies on “Two Series: Empirical and Theoretical”

  1. !) Linear in what sense?

    2) “The argument of the dissertation has to follow a somewhat linear trajectory, but the thinking that goes into developing conceptual tools is far from linear.” — Doesn’t this presume a separation between theorisation, application and presentation (and more besides) that your Delezuian disposition should want to reject? I don’t ask this question for the simple sake of being uber-critical; the point is rather to consider whether you’ve accurately or effectively diagnosed the problem. Is the problem really one of having a certain set of research insights (conceptual tools) that now need to be written up? Isn’t the problem rather that you have a dispersal of writings that need to be organised according to a logic that can be recognised by an audience and whose recognition will help that audience to make sense of the writings?

    3) Who is your audience? You can’t entirely predict how your examiners are going to respond, but you can attempt to estimate their willingness and ability to organise their reception of the writings according to logics that are less than utterly conventional. If your examiners are at least open to Deleuzianisms (to coin a horrible expression) — which you would be one of the major considerations in choosing them, surely? — wouldn’t they be more likely than less to be open to less than utterly conventional logics of organisation?

    4) What’s the point of an introduction/preface if not to spell out and justify the structure in such a way that you prepare your reader for what’s to come? Even Foucault — that champion of the “proliferation of significations” — had cause to attach a set of “directions for use” to his Order of Things — why can’t you?

    To put it another way, I can’t think of a more sensible way of organising the discussion than one in which “as [you] introduce [your] examples and discuss the development and transformtions to the scene of modified-car culture through empirical work [you are] also introducing and developing the concepts of the ’scene’, ‘enthusiasm’ and so on.” So long as you prepare your reader for that structure, and so long as you take care to try to do the development of the concepts at appropriate moments (and that’s really the problem isn’t it? what are the appropriate moments?), I don’t think you need to force the work into one or another of the three or four preferred organising logics.

    Apologies if any of the above is less than positively affective, and all the best with getting it finished (and remember always to heed your supervisor’s advice over anything that a marginal such as myself might say).


  2. rob,

    thanks for this. you are right, it is a question of preparing the reader. the trap there however, is to have too many moments of meta-dissertation, preparing the reader rather than making the argument. i have tendency for meta-dissertation writing that spirals into various nightmarish levels of meta-argument due to the complex nature of the argument developed. so part of my problem is simply letting go of this tendency towards reader preparation and accept this will happen in the introduction.

    this is not only fueled by a desire to properly prepare the reader but also an anxiety not to appear incompetent or unread. that is, i often go into meta-dissertation mode not for the sake of the argument but for the sake of demonstrating i have read enough to be able to draw on such theoretical tools. this is an expression of my prejudices against many ‘theory’ texts i have read where a lot of not much seems to be said. if my subject matter was more ‘normal’ or congruent with the typical concerns of deleuzians or foucaultians, then it probably wouldn’t worry me so much, i don’t know. the work of jennifer slack, charles stivale, and others gioves me confidence in this regard to not be too worried about how obscenely foreign modified-car culture is to most appropriations of D&G or whoever.

    i meant linear in the sense of an unfolding argument. outline the problem, i.e. enthusiasm, then engage with it. but it isn’t this simple. my problem is that i feel i need to explain how i am even identifying the problem in the first place, and secondly how it is a problem. therefore I introduce the empircial work and the way I am defining it as a problem as such. this I have done i think quite successfully, but it takes up a lot of dissertation to properly introduce the empirical work. then I need to shift registers however, as the real problem I am engaging with in the dissertation is the problem of how the ‘problem’ (i.e. enthusiasm) changes over time. enthusiasm of a given scene changes, the scene also changes. so it is the relation between these changes that I am interested in outlining so as to engage with the third problem (!!!), which is the current composition of the scene. each of these problems overlap back and forth, back and forth. that is why i have roughly three chapters on enthusiasm and three on the scene. (maybe I’ll just use a reworked version of this para in my intro, lol)

    examiners lined up should be sympathetic and, importantly, (i hope!) interested in my argument.

  3. the get it finished comment appears in context to be salient though akin to platitudes for bipoloarisation (please don’t misunderstand).

    wittengstein (paraphrase) talked of the two parts to his work, the see and the unseen, of which he considered the latter as more important (sorry for mangled paraphrase).

    the point being let the important stuff bolster the necessary work (ie dissertation – empirical and theoretical) suggestively.

    as a countercurrent to the laboured, drawn out process – instead of ‘militancy with time’ be millenary ie. purchase said hat upon which the switched on cat writes a summative argument against a wager ‘I will eat my frickin cap which would be a bummer, if my academic rap is not redrafted and complete come summer’

    final throw away comment – capture the spirit of all you have learnt, not legislate all you think you know

    must tell you the joke about jamacian love sandals but only when diss in complete salut

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