Back to the drawing board over, and over, and over again

I feel like I will never have a research question or a focus of enquiry. I was wondering if I could get away with a proposition, but I still do not have the clarity my supervisor is looking for. I know I should be looking for clarity too, but I sort of just want to get on with my work. Lucky I have a paper I need to get written otherwise her suggestion was to re-write why I did the project and what I have found. I wonder if revisiting this daily will eventually result in clarity as it is clearly the exercise in itself she is interested in rather than my answer (when I offered to edit some of my earlier versions of these reflections and send them to her she politely declined).

In the interest of keeping a record of my ideas (and not only of my frustrated rants), below is an extract from I sent to discuss at the last meeting.

Two sometimes slightly contradictory ‘repertoires’ on offer in Port Melbourne for deciding what (and how things) should be done are  (1) a relational approach and (2) a procedural approach. Both rely on systems with a degree of closure. A relational approach needs people to participate and know each other. A procedural approach in the way I am describing is working towards a system, ideally one where the right decisions or
necessary work will be undertaken without anything needing to go wrong to gain attention. It is not so much that one is giving way to the other. Both exist within a particular ‘distribution of the sensible’ (see Rancière), and both can be justified through evoking ‘community’.

While both ‘repertoires’ can be used to advocate for more radical ends, their limits are enforced by the ‘distribution of the sensible’. While you can go about things in many different ways, if you are not able to carry out your particular action you are not taken seriously. The ‘distribution of the sensible’ and the ‘repertoires’ do not foreclose the existence of a much broader gamut of desires. However, it does offer direction for the ‘object a’ which allows desires to be put into motion. As whatever manifests as the ‘object a’ is not actually the object of desire, it can be open to ridicule by others for whom it
is just an object.

I am not worried that I am moving away from the ‘social’ aspects of life in a suburb because my data is almost exclusively social. I have data on the social reception and negotiation of even the local plans and guidelines I have (covering everything from promoting walking to what window frames people have). My thesis will rely on planning policy to stand in for functions of the state more generally, as planning is one of the few substantive (and economically significant) mandates local councils have. Notions of ‘community’ seem to pervade planning strategies to a certain point (i.e. the idea we need to ‘reclaim’ streets for communities), but suddenly become absent when specific and negative claims about sociability are made.

Drawing on theoretical understandings of places to justify this blur between the social and physical in the data (and the privileging of the social in my analysis) should not be difficult in a time when everybody seems to be talking about ‘assemblages’ (e.g. Dovey) or the cyborg city (Swyngedouw), and ‘material culture’ (e.g. Ingold, Miller)
is all the rage.

Finally I feel like I have the language to explain (and justify) my frustration at what I saw, which catapulted me down the path of doing this project. There are plenty of ideas I want to test against my ‘data’, but I am a bit worried whether I will ever get over these hurdles in order to do so.



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