Can I argue that my project is filling a gap in the research?

I have been moving slowly the past week or so because there are a few bodies of work that I am keen to read cover to cover. This is a very indulgent way of doing research and I feel anxious that I am wasting time. I have not been sleeping well and I wonder if this is because my brain is not getting sufficiently worked out during the day. However, on the other hand, I think taking this time to become familiar not only with arguments and theoretical perspectives but also methodology, data that has been gathered and the way that evidence is woven into understandings is an important stage in my research.

Ann Swidler’s work on understanding the relationship between culture, motivations and explanations in middle class America looks at accounts given in interviews (i.e. Swidler 2001). Through the use of participant observation, snowball sampling and paying attention to a different aspects of life the data collected in my project could draw on but also further extend or critique the models developed by Swidler in this work.

Mark Peel’s account of three disadvantaged suburbs is able to give a nuanced account of lived experience in these areas, how residents understand their experiences and what their expectations and hopes are (Peel 2003). This is possible through his use of ethnographic methods and three years of fieldwork across the three sites. In a similar way my project will only focus on one area in order to allow a year for fieldwork. The choice of a ‘mixed area’ with pubic housing but mostly comprised of housing types that require residents to be able to pay beyond what working class people could afford, presents an opportunity to address the imbalance of place based ethnographic research in Australia which has largely focused on disadvantaged areas.

Kim Dovey, Ian Woodcock and others’ work on neighbourhood character and the attitudes of residents to place and development argue that the terms employed by regulators and residents can be used to refer to very different things and that relationships of power are complicated and negotiated (eg Dovey et al 2009; Woodcock and Smitheram 2008). They have undertaken empirical work to look at views of residents as well as looking at the history and context for development in areas such as Beacon Cove, Caroline Springs, Camberwell, Brunswick and Fitzroy. However, it appears much of their research is based on interviews with residents who had lodged objections to developments in their area. The wide range of areas and strong understanding of the planning history of these areas contrasts with my project’s aim to provide an in depth, whole of geographic community view of one area.

The work of Cooper and others connected with the Tavistock Institute (eg Cooper and Lousada 2005) argues for a nuanced account that can include the interpersonal and experiential aspects of working within policies, organisations and networks. Their research appears to focus on the UK and either specific service providers or specific service target groups. By taking their attention to the interpersonal aspects of life and extending it to an entire geographic community in a slightly different political context I hope to be able to get beyond different types of representations and accounts perhaps as a way of answering cultural geography’s call for ‘non-representational’/ ‘more-than-representational’ work (Lorimer 2005).

These projects mentioned provide a strong base for the development of my project and will provide valuable points of comparison for my own data. My project also has the potential to extend these projects and fill a gap in empirical work with the hope of increasing our understanding of the complicated relationship between human experience, action and context. While debates around cultural/ social capital and cohesion will be relevant will be relevant and will need to be addressed I am intentionally choosing to favour the notion of ‘investment’, which will allow me to think of types of capital and relationships as being constitutive of and being constituted by action and ends.

Cooper, A., and J. Lousada. 2005. Borderline welfare : feeling and fear of feeling in modern welfare. Tavistock Clinic series. London ; New York: Karnac.

Dovey, K., I. Woodcock, and S. Wood. 2009. A Test of Character: Regulating Place-identity in Inner-city Melbourne. Urban Stud 46:2595-2615.

Lorimer, H. 2005. Cultural geography: the busyness of being ‘more-than-representational’. Progress in Human Geography 29:83.

Peel, M. 2003. The lowest rung : voices of Australian poverty. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Swidler, A. 2001. Talk of love: how culture matters. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Woodcock, I., and J. Smitheram. 2008. “No contest: Reciprocities of power and place in a multicultural street,” in Power and place. Wellington: ANZCA.


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