Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

One person’s way of addressing recent attacks in Paris ‘through a less direct and more structural approach’


I found this blog post, # MAPS /// ANOTHER PARIS: THE BANLIEUE IMAGINARY, by Léopold Lambert interesting. I’ll have remember to take a closer look at the maps.

‘Constructing a new imaginary does not change much the reality it describes, and the exclusionary structures remain inexorably operative in their violent physicality. Nevertheless, these logic are so anchored within the way we perceive (and therefore perpetuate) the city of Paris and its excluded populations, denigrated by the almost entirety of the political elite, that it seems that the first step to undertake is to act on all elements that would claim to legitimate them.’

H/T HAU:Journal of Ethnographic Theory



‘Within anthropology, we find excellent illustrations of the insistently nondyadic and asynchronous nature of dialogism in such works as Keith Basso’s (1996) marvelous analysis of Western Apaches evoking an entire moral world by casually dropping a place name, sometimes provoking consternation among all listeners. This is precisely the kind of ethnographic materials that can be turned around and serve as inspiration in our attempt to think through the way our own work travels, is quoted, is appropriate or misappropriated, or alternatively disappears in the darkness of intellectual oblivion (or sold by used book dealers for £693.98).’

Besiner, N., 2014. On communicative worlds: A comment on Michael Carrither’s “Anthropology as irony and philosophy.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 4(3), pp.143–147.



ignorance shirt

‘Anthropology, of course, may be best known for the claim that full participation in any human activity requires forms of knowledge, particularly the knowledge of the ‘cultural’ forms of this participation. … Not so paradoxically, anthropology is also famous for the claim that this knowledge disappears from awareness into the ‘taken-for-granted’ or the ‘common sense’.’ (Varenne 2009: 338).

‘Anthropology has often been caught by the charge to identify those forms of ignorance that should then be remedied by the State (for example mothers in Japan should receive parent education). The more radical anthropologists have sought to identify the forms of ignorance that should lead to changes in the State.’ (Varenne 2009: 341)

Ignorance has no hierarchy (McGoey 2011: 154-155). ‘But [Varenne continues] anthropologists must first systematize the analysis of the production of acknowledged ignorance, and particularly of the conditions that lead to determined searches for new knowledge.’ (Varenne 2009: 341)

McGoey, L., 2011. Police reinforcement: The anti-politics of organizational life. In P. Bowman & R. Stamp, eds. Reading Rancière: Critical dissensus. London & New York: Continuum, pp. 148–162.
Varenne, H., 2009. Conclusion: the powers of ignorance: on finding out what to do next. Critical Studies in Education, 50(3), pp.337–343.

Should anthropology continue to search for better ways to live beyond the suffering subject?


I finally got around to reading

Robbins, J., 2013. Beyond the suffering subject : toward an anthropology of the good. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17, pp.447–462.


In the 1980s, anthropology set aside a focus on societies defined as radically ‘other’ to the anthropologists’ own. There was little consensus at the time, however, about who might replace the other as the primary object of anthropological attention. In important respects, I argue, its replacement has been the suffering subject. Tracing this change, I consider how it addressed key problems of the anthropology of the other, but I also suggest that some strengths of earlier work – particularly some of its unique critical capacities – were lost in the transition. The conclusion considers how recent trends in anthropology might coalesce in a further shift, this one toward an anthropology of the good capable of recovering some of the critical force of an earlier anthropology without taking on its weaknesses.

Rewind to 2011: The texts of my methodological angst