Just some quick notes on the past week

So my supervisor ended up liking the idea of ‘investment’. I think she especially liked it when she realised I was using its economic overtones as a critique of the notion of meritocracy and individual rational choice. After all, investments are mostly about what you start with, what risks you can afford to take, and your understanding of and ability to control/ predict contextual factors.

My supervisor reinforced that I need to get through the ‘classics’ of ethnographic and sociological research into what could be called urban place based poverty. I must say my level of motivation for wading through this work has severely dropped off. She also suggested that I look at some work on material culture, and I have just started but am really enjoying Home possessions : material culture behind closed doors by Daniel Miller (2001).

While I am mentioning what I have been reading, I am also really enjoying, and learning a lot from, Borderline welfare: feeling and fear of feeling in modern welfare [http://tavistockandportman.nhs.uk/node/629]. It does well what I, with my extremely limited understanding of psychoanalytic theory, tried to do in my essay on the ‘recovery approach’ in Victorian mental health. Only it does it well!

As for what I have been thinking about, I have been day dreaming about ways I can get input from some people from UNSW’s City Futures program, just so nobody from there ends up as an examiner for my thesis. While a lot of work on communities in Australia and place based disadvantage helped me identify what I wanted the starting point for my research project to be (taking a step back to look at the terms on which evaluations are designed), the more I read the more I think that this work on place does not set aside any place for self criticism. I think this is demonstrated by Deborah Warr et al from Melbourne University looking at place based health inequality chiefly through neighbourhood renewal’s baseline survey data. I know this work is coming out of projects funded to look explicitly at neighbourhood renewal’s impact on health and to look at the relationship between community and health. However, I cannot help but get frustrated at the circular logic that seems to underpin the entire project. If they are looking at areas that have the statistically demonstrated measures of disadvantage that have lead to the area being selected for neighbourhood renewal then it is hardly surprising that they are then going to find these sorts of disadvantage in the same areas at the start of the neighbourhood renewal project.

More interesting work about place is to be found at Melbourne University by Dovey and Woodcock (et al) in the Urban Design school. They seem to have done a series of studies of what urban character means to people who protest development in various suburbs. They not only acknowledge, but have also collected empirical evidence, for the lack of consensus around the meaning of terms. It reminds me of Cohen’s work on symbolic communities, and the argument that communities need symbols which allow adaptable interpretations so people can have something in common to rally around. However, Dovey and Woodcock’s work demonstrates that this indeterminacy of meaning can have very real world implications when it comes to cases in VCAT.

As for what I have been doing with my time, I went along to the research higher degree orientation day on Friday and burst out laughing several times and turned bright red with rage once. I am sort of glad I sat through it all because it is bound to give me fodder for a few angry conversations about the direction of tertiary education and administration over the next years.

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