After speaking with a human geographer

Today I spoke with a (high up there!) human geographer who was kind enough to give me some time and she made some really good points and asked great questions. It was a bit disheartening that there was not anything about my project she thought was interesting but reassuring that she did not mention any bodies of literature I am not aware of.

The challenge she issued me is to first look at what question I want to answer. We resolved the reason why I brought the policy context into my project discussion and she described it as part of the ‘grey reading’. Quite helpfully actually, she separated my question into two options: either I am (1) interested in the form of the built environment possibly through questions of gated-ness and fear or I want to look at (2) social activities that take place and whether or not there are cross class interactions. Um, can I just have ‘part 1’ and ‘part 2’ in my thesis? Also, while the notion of class really grew on me after I actually read some of Bourdieu’s work I am a bit frightened about using it in proposals. The often cited (and possibly made up) figures of the percent of Australians who define themselves as ‘middle-class’ are always at the forefront of my mind when I go to write something about ‘class’.

Another interesting part of the afternoon was that she not only voiced the concern I have long held about looking at a suburb, but she was particularly concerned about this. To be fair, I think she thought that the suburb was an entire local government area (there I no way I am THAT ambitious). The other points she made on the matter is that communities that make a difference to people are not necessarily limited to suburbs and that the online experience may be more significant for people. These are both things I have thought about, but I think it is interesting that in the suburb I am looking at there are groups which are directly linked to the suburb and place based activities (i.e. revegetation, advocating against certain types of developments). It is also interesting the way that online technologies are used in relation to place. I know people who email their next door neighbours, there are Facebook groups for some suburbs and local councils distribute information and receive feedback from people online. I particularly like the article title, ‘Intranets and local community: ‘Yes, an intranet is all very well, but do we still get free beer and a barbque?’ by Arnold, M., M. R. Gibbs, et al. (2003).

Turns out that the case studies can be selected before the person starts research. If the ethics committee is completely unwilling to pass my proposal as it stands I will re-jig the project to have a short period of observation (with some participation) and short key-person interviews. I would then select case studies based on this primary work and the submit another round of ethics forms with more precise outlines of what data I hope to gather to flesh out my case studies. The only problem is that the likelihood of the case studies still being current when I then get the second stage of my methodology approved is not very likely. When I think of contingencies such as these I wish I was in an anthropology department with a true participant-observation project that requires me to hang around some tropical village for a year. Maybe my question could be what concept of leisure exists in that village.

In conclusion, I am going to be more mindful that I am doing research to write a thesis that needs to pass an examination. While finding out what people actually want or care about and how this then shapes what they are motivated to do and how they evaluate actions seems interesting, there is usually a good reason why interesting questions are without answers. Grounded theory might be a useful excuse to use in my ethics for what otherwise looks like an absence of planning, but I do not think it is going to be an answer for anything much.

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