Getting there? Probably a re-hash of stories expressing the hope of eventually getting close to finishing


A ‘funny story’ I have been telling for a few years now is that my father has been making the same joke for a few years. (In fact, if I was more diligent, I could probably have a look at this blog and give you links to other mentions instead of rewriting it here.) When I am asked at Christmas time family gatherings how much longer I have, he says that at least I am consistent in my replies; it is always another year. Another year, for years and years. In other words, it has been so long that not only can the same joke continue to be made, but I can keep telling the story about this same joke being pulled out year after year. I can even keep writing about continuing to tell this story.

When I was doing my fieldwork, sometimes people would tell me about other people they knew who did PhDs. Usually they would remark on the length of time it took. To my interlocutors, nearly three year or close to four years was a remarkably long time. These time frames also seemed remarkable to me, and many of my friends in anthropology departments, but because they were short. In Australia, PhD programs are funded for it to take you three or maybe three-and-a-half years. However, PhDs in my area rarely follow the sort of gantt chart anybody approving funding, ethics clearance or candidature milestones might approve. A tangent I often offer if I mention these fieldwork conversations is that it seems like information systems is the field you want to be in for a less-than-three-year PhD (although I do know a very experienced researcher in a health field who finished hers early).

I do not feel guilty. Enrolling in a PhD was something I felt was a selfish thing to do. In my field and not being particularly interest in what is usually accepted as ‘applied research’, I do not feel particularly special when it comes to having angst over taking resources from the state, supervisors, fieldwork interlocutors and supportive people in my life. All the material support, time and care was never going to be turned towards much other than my own amusement. Oh, maybe there will also be a piece of paper at the end of it and the opportunity to tick a different box on forms. I have read that believing that the piece of paper matters is an indicator of being more likely to complete. Separately, I have been told that faking it until you make it works in personal relationships. Maybe if I act like I care, results will follow?

Sometimes PhDs are drawn out because of children or career opportunities. That has not really been the case for me, but I have at times taken leave to be present for other people and I have certainly done some paid (and unpaid) work along the way in interesting fields. Nearly all of these opportunities to be there for others or make quirky career choices have been enabled by the nature of PhD candidature.

Often a PhD outlasts a relationship and a computer. While the first happened years ago now, the computer purchased during candidature specifically with my PhD in mind only died the other month. When I lost my computer, and had to live without it for a few weeks, I did suffer heart break. It feels like it is time to finish.

However, there is always so much to do. Even before I can wait for the response from supervisors who have never read the whole thing in order, there is the not-so-small issue of all those references lost over years of edits.


Authorship is not the same as storytelling


My drafts have been interrupted many times, with annotations from myself and others. But I can reword or delete the offending sentence (or entire argument), it can be removed as if it never existed.

In a face-to-face encounter, I can try to clarify or reframe. I can admit error. I can suggest the interlocutor is responding to what they heard rather than what they said. But I cannot make what was disappear quite so easily. I cannot make what was disappear so easily, but I can respond to cues. I can stop, expand, speed up or slowdown.

Praise for push bikes as part of the post-political consensus? 


She decided to ditch her car not only save money but to reduce her carbon footprint. […]

The avid bike rider has not only saved more than $6000 on petrol, car registration, insurance and toll fees but has lost 5kg.

“I’ve definitely gotten a lot fitter and my state of mind is much clearer,” she said.

From the Port Phillip Leader website, 13th April 2015, see

Democracy stinks like the sea



“The sea smells bad. This is not because of the mud, however. The sea smells of sailors, it smells of democracy.” – Jacques Rancièrè in On the Shores of Politics

A shoulder shrug


As I indicated in the last post, my current paid work is in direct service delivery. I am at the very bottom of the pecking (and pay) order in my program. At work, I am always doing things ‘wrong’. I do not set out to make mistakes, but I have started just shrugging my shoulders at the sound of being summoned to be told off by those in higher paid positions. This is probably more helpful than the smug-superiority I expressed the other week.

The higher paid workers seem so anxious. For the first few weeks, I thought it was because I had not worked out what I was supposed to do and I was making their work-life unpredictable. I set out to pin down what ‘should’ happen and where things ‘should’ be. Direct service delivery is always going to be unpredictable, but I thought I could contribute to more being known so less would have to be thought about.

However, I came to realise that different people (and the same person at different moments) had contradicting ideas as to how things ‘should’ happen and what I ‘should’ do. My superiors want things to happen seamlessly and in their preferred style. Particularly strange seems to be their yearning for everything to be negotiated face-to-face: “I did not want to write it down, I wanted to tell you when I got a chance. No, do not write it down for the next person. You tell her.” Furthermore, the most strong opinions were often expressed on issues that seemed to be of least significance to their work role. Maybe I am not good at gauging what is important?

Here is an example. The frustration expressed at my failure to do the ‘right’ thing in this situation actually makes more sense to me than many other moments.

One worker asked me to make a sign and, so it would stand out, put some red around it. I made a red border for the sign. I was emailed, with my line manager CCed, and told that I had not done what was asked of me. I tried again, but with less text and a red border around the actual words. I sent a photograph through to this worker (and my line manager) to find out if any further changes were required, as they usually work in a different building. When I was next at work, the worker took down the sign and sighed that she may as well do it herself as it would be faster. On the sign being reattached to the door I realised out that she did not want red AROUND the letters, but rather for the red texta to be traced over the black printed letters.

“I am only here for the clients.” seems to be a common self-talk mantra the workers use to get through exhausting weeks. When they say this, I used to feel a swell of frustration that I could not background all the non-client stuff to get on with things.

Now I understand absorbing the crush is my job. All the workers have something of an impossible job; the plans of clients, the aims of the program as understood by the workers, and the resources available nearly never match up. Letting off some steam by sending an email saying one of the lower-level workers had not done their job is probably not an ideal coping mechanism. However, believing that one day the lower-level workers will magically make everything work smoothly is possibly part of hoping for a future where higher-level workers will not be distracted from ‘being there for the clients’.

This post has been a very wordy road, but there is a link with my still-unfinished dissertation. While I can shrug my shoulders at work, the same does not seem to be possible with the project of writing.

A story about interruptions at work and all-too-familiar writing issues

Today is one of those days where all I can see are problems with my writing. Maybe I’m just grumpy?

Yesterday, at work (an accommodation service), I snapped at someone and then got told off for talking when I was not the one being spoken to. The case workers have been given tablets to use, but they do not know how to work them and prefer using the desktop computers. Their team leader has decided they have the primary right to use the support worker’s (my position’s) computer, which means we cannot check what tasks have been scheduled for us or do our notes. It is ridiculous and, as we cannot check if there are any alerts or concerns, rather irresponsible. Anyway, I quickly jumped on the computer when the case worker was going on a break. Just as we changed spots (and she kept complaining to me about the milk situation or something else to do with making coffee while I just got on with what I was doing), her team leader came in and said to her, ‘Oh! Don’t you need the computer?’ It was implied I had manipulated the case worker off the computer. To be honest, the computer would have been completely useless to her if I hadn’t kept helping her as she just kept sitting in front of it complaining she did not know how to do things. I interrupted with, ‘She’s going on a break and said I could use it.’ ‘Shh! I’m not talking to you.’ I was told. The team leader did apologise later, and I said I did know I interrupted.

To be honest, I was fuming that I was the one who was told off for talking over someone. The day before I had been in a mad rush trying to sort out really important paper work and appointments with a resident, but ended up in this surreal situation. It felt like a strange dream.
I keep getting called from the hallway to help the case worker because she cannot open the child locks in the kitchen to make herself a cup of coffee. She finally bothers to walk close enough to talk to me and, instead of seeing I am busy, continues to interrupt. The cupboards have child locks on them that cannot be seen from the outside, and so I told her I was busy but the magnets and the instructions are on the fridge (I made instructions with photographs to help people like me;) ). Instead of going to look for them, she protests that they are not and continues protesting while I try to ignore her. But it’s too hard to concentrate. While I am helping her, the resident receives a phone call and finds out we have to go to different locations to what we thought. So, suddenly we are running late and my carefully planned route through the madness that is this unfamiliar area is rendered useless. I ask the case worker, who is now back at the computer complaining about the milk, if I can quickly look up the location. She whines that she cannot remember how to use the internet on that computer. I show her the internet browser but, instead of her just letting me check the street address and location while she was logged in (and sitting there), I am stopped as soon as she remembers that is how you get on the internet. She says she’ll log out later for me. I just have to hope my mobile phone (as there is no work phone for the support workers) will provide the answers as we go.
It was not a dream. The other women (the residents) found it amusing that there was this adult woman, who was simultaneously in charge and completely helpless, passed her morning calling for me through the hallways and out the back door. I could even hear my name penetrating the front door while I was in the driveway fitting a baby seat. In this job, only once have I had somebody calling my name through the corridors when they could not see me, and it was a child trying to give back a pen (and she even promptly apologised on realising I had been in another room).
I am so grateful I am not as helpless as this woman. Some weeks might I might not make much thesis progress, and there are times when I interrupt my superiors when they are talking to somebody else, but at least I can think about something other than milk for my coffee.
There are lots of things that I can think about, but I suppose my readers might feel a little like we did listening to the case worker crying out about her coffee. The all-too-familiar issues: filtering words; directing attention; and answering the question, ‘Why does this matter now?’

Reading junk on the internet


My open browser tabs include searching for current Australian protocols on media reporting of suicide and a BuzzFeed article on #ActivistPickUpLines. Maybe I am drifting back to reading junk on the internet?

Hard copies


Hard copies are sort of inconvenient. IMG_2007You cannot have them all with you at all times and, as interesting as it is to look though an index, a full text search is usually more useful. However, their materiality and lack of full-text-searchability can also be a useful ordering mechanism. I also like how recalling the physical appearance of a book can help me remember its content (or even just its author and title).

Maybe if I bring the right pile of books to rest in front of my computer this chapter will come together?

Categorising archipolitics, parapolitics and metapolitics


Last year (or maybe the year before) I decided to work more closely through the archipolitics, parapolitics and metapolitics distinction. Jacques Rancière uses these labels to mark out what is not actually politics. Archipolitics is most clearly illustrated by the rule of experts (e.g. Plato’s ideal community), parapolitics by institutions and metapolitics by theory (e.g. Marx). Each of these are not politics because they do away with disagreement.

This recent post by Bert Oliver uses this distinction, and brings in work by Slavoj Žižek, to analyse current ‘world politics’. I really like the post and it is always inspiring to see that this ‘conceptual stuff’ can be turned towards unpacking current happenings, even in brief pieces of text.

Oliver brings in Žižek to discuss ultra-politics. To me, this appears to be Carl Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction. In other words, this analysis could also be offered with the work of Chantal Mouffe.

I have not used ‘ultra-politics’ in my work. I simply use Rancière’s concept of ‘the partition of the sensible’. I suppose there is always a supplement.

Don’t explain: Confront


‘The demand, in The Ignorant Schoolmaster, that intellect manifest itself in the confrontation between the will of the student and that of the ignorant schoolmaster posits community as a polemical encounter: in other words, what binds the schoolmaster to the student is not a common set of values, interests or sensibilities to be achieved by the student in some future, but confrontation between what is common, and over what is common. If one were to define a gaming community in this light, one might look to interactions in terms of ongoing confrontations over what a game is and is not, what it is to play and not play, what is it to be a fan and who can claim to be one, and so on — not with a view to checking their validity or the display of pre-existing social power, but in terms of confrontations or disagreements about what constitutes the community. If such confrontations are explained in terms of different levels of experience, what becomes perceptible is not disagreement but inequality: the incapacity of most community members to know as much as its porous leadership, and the good news that they are slowly catching up as a result of appropriate scaffolding. This perspective turns confrontation over what knowledge consists of, and the basis on which one can claim to have it, into temporal trajectories stretching from incapacity to capacity — a move which makes innocent the organization of community into a core and periphery, and which transforms disagreement over the object of knowledge into a call for those with more experience to enlighten those with yet-to-be-developed intellect.’ (Pelletier 2012: 109-110 )

Why post this today? Well, no ‘good’ reason. I suppose sometimes going through my notes to find a reference is more than a little inspiring.

Pelletier, C., 2012. No time or place for universal teaching: The Ignorant Schoolmaster and contemporary work on pedegogy. In J.-P. Deranty & A. Ross, eds. Jacques Rancière and the contemporary scene: The philosophy of radical equality. London & New York: Continuum International Publishing, pp. 98–115.