The URL for COST | New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on ‘How Matter Comes to Matter is here

Scholars presently exploring “how matter comes to matter” call themselves new or neo-materialists. They do radically interdisciplinary research based on the conviction that the current economic, ecological and political crises as well as technological advances and everyday practices do not allow a conception of “matter” as (an) object(s) that could be captured along traditional disciplinary lines. Stock market crashes, earthquakes and the increasing complexification of political and social systems (and their breakdowns) demonstrate active interventions of materials previously regarded mute or socially constructed. Meaning-making “to matter” does not occur only in the linguistic frameworks academic research applies to phenomena and crises in a retrograde move. The current European new materialist scene is vibrant but remains largely dispersed compared to the U.S.A., which dominates discussions at the moment. This Action wants to network European new materialisms: how do they look, and what can they innovate?

The URL for COST | New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on ‘How Matter Comes to Matter is here

Scholars presently exploring “how matter comes to matter” call themselves new or neo-materialists. They do radically interdisciplinary research based on the conviction that the current economic, ecological and political crises as well as technological advances and everyday practices do not allow a conception of “matter” as (an) object(s) that could be captured along traditional disciplinary lines. Stock market crashes, earthquakes and the increasing complexification of political and social systems (and their breakdowns) demonstrate active interventions of materials previously regarded mute or socially constructed. Meaning-making “to matter” does not occur only in the linguistic frameworks academic research applies to phenomena and crises in a retrograde move. The current European new materialist scene is vibrant but remains largely dispersed compared to the U.S.A., which dominates discussions at the moment. This Action wants to network European new materialisms: how do they look, and what can they innovate?

The reflective work that semester two labs is using for assessment is not about you thinking more about your research content and/or problem (that is taking care of itself in your exegesis and thesis work), but on your experience being and doing research. The sorts of things that matter, that you notice, and that you can then use to understand yourself in new, different, or simply better ways. For example, I really struggle to finish pieces, but find it very easy (absurdly easy) to have possibly good ideas and begin new projects. When I first realised (noticed) this, which was many years ago, I also began to notice all the other things I either didn’t finish, or finished in very bad ways. Glasses of water (I literally would leave a small amount in the bottom of the glass. And I have no idea why.) Relationships – nuff said – including a marriage. The ends of essays that, if only I returned to them and wrote that last paragraph… Doing the dishes, doing the things on a list, or even say marking student work and as I get to the last two or three to do I’d find other things to do…

So, I noticed this. It was frustrating, it lead to a lot of stress, anxiety and tension, but the turning point, what we call the double loop moment, was realising that the stress and anxiety was not from a deadline or some other external thing, it was simply that I always did so much of something, then taking that last bit to finish it became monumental. My response? Two. I often now make and write things that don’t require such a premium on ‘completeness’ (I always worked like this anyway, though now I have a stronger understanding not only of why, but why I have gravitated to such forms). I also am now very aware of when I start to defer the tension of the end, of closing it out. I still pretty much miss every deadline, but I tell people in advance that this will happen, and I also let my editors and/or collaborators know, early, if things are going to be late. It is much better than it used to be (where I would hide and then just not deliver what I had promised or been asked to do, in the process missing out on several book chapters in significant anthologies), but the thing I have learnt is not how to solve it, but to recognise the feelings and so I am much more able to know why those feelings are there and what to do with them, and about them, and then just shutting up with excuses and doing the last push to the summit (which is what it feels like) to finish the damn thing.

Hence in your reflective writing we don’t want more research. If you write and you keep feeling stuck in something (you never know how to start, you always spend an hour on yesterday’s paragraph) then recognise this, write about it, and again when it happens. What does this feel like? Why? Is it frustrating, exciting, just hard work? Or something else? This is how you’ll realise that the behaviour and the feeling is part of a pattern. Does this feeling or experience turn up in other contexts? When? So is this one of your patterns, and so you need to recognise it and accommodate it, and also are there things you can do to actually change this?

This is what we call double loop learning. It is double loop because instead of staying in the same frame of reference (I have trouble finishing things, if I just start earlier the problem will be solved – a wrong answer, the answer is not running out of time or not being able to make, it is finishing in itself, starting earlier makes little to no difference to this) we ask questions about the things that frame the problem – it’s assumptions. In my case it isn’t about deadlines, and usually isn’t about having too much to do, it is doing those steps that shift things from being nearly near enough to good enough – by changing the sorts of things I make and being so much more aware of my own strategies to sabotage things. By the way, here’s some stuff on double loop learning and Chris Argyris.

This is lifted from the main honours site (http://vogmae.net.au/thehonours/2012/08/dad-whats-an-exegesis/)

As Becker reminds us in the chapter on “Editing by Ear” there are no algorithms we can employ when deciding how to structure writing, or what it should be. It is a tacit knowledge, so consists of what are, at best, rules of thumb. So I am going to outline the role and function of the exegesis broadly. In what I’ve written below I refer to chapters as individual things (a theory, project description, and analysis chapter), but remember, rules of thumb, in many exegeses some of these may be split and become two chapters because that makes more structural sense to the exegesis and its argument.

Something that is present in all that is written below, but perhaps not explicit, while an exegesis can use the personal pronoun (“I”) and be based on your specific experience in undertaking your project, it is still research writing. This means it makes claims. These claims have evidence to support them which comes from the literature and other relevant works, including your project, and these claims make an argument. An argument is a particular point of view in relation to the problem, but it is different to just expressing an opinion because it is informed by your reading and thinking and so the point of view is supported by evidence. This also means the writing is not just reporting on what you did in your project, but it shows how the project engages with the research question that you are wondering about. You can write this informally, in the first person, even as a graphic essay if you have the ability, as long as it makes relevant claims, supported by evidence, and that these claims make a justifiable argument. This means an exegesis is academic writing, but it does not have to be a formal essay written in the third person using only objective language. Finally, the only readers that matter for your exegesis are your examiners, you are not writing for the public, your supervisor, your teacher, or your mum.

An exegesis is not a thesis. A thesis is a written argument that generally has the form of some sort of critical hypothesis that it outlines and investigates. What that means is that a thesis usually has the form of a statement posing as a question which involves bringing two terms together, with the research being what happens when these terms are actually bought together. For example, regardless of the question a thesis can be boiled down to simple pairs such as “A Deconstructive Analysis of All That Heaven Allows“. Or “A Feminist Critique of Writing”, or “Postcolonialism and the new Singapore State”. In each case the writing will set out and discuss each one of the pair of terms individually, and then in the ‘heart’ of the writing bring them together. In the first example you could expect a chapter about deconstruction – what it is, what it means, examples of how it is used (probably in cinema studies since the question is referring to a film), and so on. Then a chapter specifically about melodrama and Sirk, and this may be inflected in particular ways (melodrama and narrative, melodrama and the women’s film, melodrama and genre). Each of these two chapters would primarily engage with what has already been written and thought and argued about these topics, laying out the terrain of the problem if you like. Next is the chapter where the film is (you’d hope) deconstructed, using what the previous two chapters have introduced. This is the heart of your thesis.

Now, this example is a thesis, not an exegesis. An exegesis is not where you make something as the project component (imagine for the example I had made a melodramatic short that has some sort of relationship to All that Heaven Allows) then write a smaller thesis about deconstruction and Sirkian melodrama. An exegesis is the writing that shows how the project you have done is research. Now at this point most people nod their head because they know this, except I’m pretty convinced they don’t since they seem to miss the important three words in there. “Project is research.” This means an exegesis is not, project plus research, or project and research, or project and some research. It is how your “project is research”. Therefore to be able to write an exegesis you need to think of your project as research, but what does that actually mean?

In honours research is not just going to the library, finding a lot of material about your topic, reading this and then knowing more about it. It does involve this, but this is one step in honours research, and one step only. (Your honours research is absolutely expected to be based on doing this step, but in honours we conceive of research as a richer and stranger beast than this sort of professional research model.) In honours you learn a lot about something and then use that knowledge to make your project, and through that making your understanding of your research problem changes – you don’t only know more about it, but you understand it differently than you did before. For this to happen the research aspect of your project revolves around a research question or problem, which is what you think you want to find out through doing your project. This problem is ideally something complex, potentially wicked, and most importantly you do not really know the answer yet.

Of course this begs the question of how your project is research. I’ll put that to one side as this has been discussed a lot in classes and needs its own post, but you do need to frame a problem that you are going to investigate through your project. If I’m doing the melodramatic short film that responds to All That Heaven Allows then there are lots of possible research questions I could ask. Some might be quite close to cinema studies, some much closer to an investigation of my practice as a film maker, and others somewhere in between. An example of the first might be a question like “How do I identify and use Sirk’s melodramatic ‘excess’ to create emotional investment in a film?”. This question is less about my specific film than a more general question about films and melodrama in question. A question that would be closer to my practice as a filmmaker might be “How do I direct actors so that their performance is a contemporary interpretation of the melodramatic performances from All That Heaven Allows into a contemporary short film?” This question can explicitly deal with the film that I am making and the relation of that film to another one, through the specific problem of directing actors. In each example constructing the problem in this way helps in thinking about the exegesis and what it needs to do as it frames a research problem that is part of the project. The research problem must be something you want to find out, and is related in some way to your project.

To summarise:

  1. You do need to do a lot of basic background and preliminary research
  2. This informs your project
  3. As a part of defining your project you frame a research question that your can investigate through your project
  4. A good honours research question will be relevant to your project, is something you think is valuable for you to find out, and it is good if it is not something you really know the answer to yet
  5. Through doing your project, from the point of view of it as research, not only will you know a lot more about it, but ideally your understanding of the question or problem will change in itself

What

To write an exegesis for these hypothetical questions I would have a chapter that contextualises the key terms of my problem. In the first example this would be around melodrama and its description in cinema studies as ‘excessive’, what this means, examples, and quite specifically detailing how this applies in the case of Sirk’s melodramas and of course All That Heaven Allows in particular. This is best thought of as being like a small essay in its own right in the exegesis where you are largely outlining what cinema studies has had to say about these things. For the second example the content would be quite different. Here you might look at all the literature about directing actors, the director actor relationship and material in performance studies and performance theory. Within this chapter you could then apply the relevant parts of this to describe what is known or what is likely to have been the relationship between Sirk and Wyman and Hudson. It would also be wise to identify and discuss any contemporary work that is self reflexively melodramatic, or even contemporary melodrama and what is has in common (or if it matters more, what is different) to the sorts of performances witnessed in All That Heaven Allows. In both cases this chapter contextualises your research problem in relation to what has been made and thought about before. This matters as your project should not be made in an intellectual vacuum, and is expected to be informed by what others have done (this is the difference between a naive and an informed making).

For project based research you are much better off thinking of this as a ‘theory’ chapter rather than what a lot of the ‘how to’ guides call a literature review. This helps because you should not limit yourself to only written work, and you want this chapter to do more than describe relevant things but to frame these in ways to indicate which ones matter more. It is here that you are able to introduce the key terms/ideas/concepts/theories that you will apply when you discuss your project’s outcomes as research later in the exegesis. This chapter can be written early, even before you have started your project, as what you find here (I hope it is obvious) will influence for the better what you make.

How

Generally the next key chapter of an exegesis is where you outline and discuss what you did. This chapter is a bit of a production diary. What did you actually do in the project? How did you go about doing it? What decisions were made and versions or variations in the project as a result? What happened? Why? This sets the context for the project component, and is often important for those projects that have a ‘small’ high quality outcome but which rely on a lot of ‘invisible’ work. For example perhaps my short film was only three minutes long, but it involved months of rehearsal. I can’t see that when I look at just the finished project, so this is where you show all this other work. I like to think of it as the iceberg problem, where the submitted project is the tip of the iceberg and in this chapter you show all that lies under the waterline. (This is also why good ongoing documentation really matters, and why it might be worth including this as an appendix, you need to prove to an examiner that you have done a lot of work, and that the work submitted has been informed by thinking it through, often realised through sketches, notes, prototypes, variations of the finished piece.)

Why

So, you have a chapter contextualising the problem from the point of view of work in the area and other relevant projects/things. A chapter outlining what you did. Now we get to the key chapter of your exegesis. How has the project answered the research question? Here you use the terms, ideas and arguments that you established in the ‘theory’ (literature review) chapter and apply them to your project. This is like writing a thesis where you have outlined and discussed your two big key terms, except now one lot of terms (ideas/concepts) are from the earlier theory chapter where you have contextualised your project in light of the field, and the other comes from your project. In my first hypothetical example it is showing how the finished film has used emotional ‘excess’. What devices (through perhaps storyline, performance, editing, mise-en-scene) have been used to contribute to this? How successful do I think this has been (perhaps I’ve surveyed audience members, or just reflected on what is present in the finished work)? For the second example I might discuss how the actors were directed, how this informed their performance (perhaps using evidence not only from the finished film but from rehearsal footage and outtakes too), and whether or not it has succeeded as a reinterpretation of the original melodramatic performances. You might compare and contrast images from both films, and so on.

The key thing to understand is that for this chapter your project is providing the research material, and the theory chapter the method for how you are going to analyse this research material.

It is no more mysterious than this. However, this does mean what you say and do in the theory chapter is very important, as it makes possible what you can say about your project here.

And

Finally, a conclusion. What have you learnt from doing this? What has changed in your understanding of the problem, your practice, in the project, as a consequence of doing this? In what ways do you feel this has mattered? Why? In an honours exegesis this does not have to be for the whole world, just your understanding is fine, but your understanding as it is situated in the now richer context of what you understand your field to be. So the conclusions you make are informed by your research and the experience of making your project and the project as it has turned out (the thing in itself). As a rule of thumb the more you can indicate a change in the sophistication of your understanding from where you started to where you arrived, then the easier it is to write your exegesis, conclusion, and the clearer the significance of your work is to yourself and your examiners.

After drafting you need to draw a line under, over, around, through, the writing and move to editing. Do not think you can’t start editing until you ‘finish’ writing, that moment never arrives. Ever. It doesn’t matter that much if the draft has gaps, feels a bit incomplete, and so on, that’s why it is called a draft. When editing the first thing to go over is to embrace your carbon footprint and suck it up. Buy carbon credits, turn off the lights more often, or plant some trees. Why? Because you should edit on paper, not screen.

Editing on paper means you can see the scale of your work, both its size, but also the bits. Seeing it all laid out helps, and makes a difference to the experience of this stage of the process.

Editing on paper means you can see the progress of your editing, as you cross out, rewrite, put red pen marks on your manuscript. If you edit on screen you can’t see the progress of your editing work, which means you have no real sense of having achieved progress. Also it becomes too easy to edit the same sentence or paragraph four or five times, when one is enough. Edit, move along. Because editing is not done once, but three, four, eight times, on the whole manuscript.

Editing on paper makes it easier to see if what you say here makes sense in relation to what you wrote there, because you can just look at both of them, easily, at the same time.

So the technique is print, edit on paper, make the changes on the digital document, repeat. Do not do it chapter by chapter but the entire manuscript. (I mean you do do it chapter by chapter but don’t do chapter one three times in a row, do your entire manuscript, completely, each time.)

Assessment in the labs for semester two will consist of:

OPTIONAL BONUS (the honours steak knife set)

Due
End of Week 8
Value: a bonus of 10 marks will be applied to your overall lab result
(you will lose 2 marks per day – including weekends – for each day this is late if you’re intending to do this).

Description
Submit to your lab leader and supervisor a completed first draft of your thesis or exegesis. It does not need to contain an introduction or conclusion. It should include a bibliography, and be footnoted/referenced.

RESEARCH DIARY (70%)

Due
Week 6 – Monday August 26 (35%)
and
Week 14 – Monday October 28 (35%)

Description
Maintain a diary throughout semester two. The role of this diary is to record, document, collect, curate, keep ideas, observations, snippets, quotes, asides and so on about your research. The research diary is for you to informally document the specific nature and texture of your research experience. As it is going to be read, what it contains needs to be contextualised enough for another to understand it.

This is not the same thing as a research journal.

Form?
The diary can be on paper, a blog, or an Evernote Notebook, or something similar, just ask first.  

How Big?
If there aren’t a minimum of three entries a week about what is going on then it isn’t working.

The Point?
This is to separate out your everyday note taking, which you should already be doing, from something specifically about and addressing your research problem. The diary is to address your experience of the research as a researcher and as research. (Yeah, we’re going meta.) This will inevitably include things about your research problem and ideas, but the object here is to make you pay attention to your research as a practice, rather than the specific content of your research.

REFLECTIVE CONCLUSION (30%)

Due
Week 14 – Wednesday October 30

Description
Write up to 1000 words (your diary and completed work can be used to provide evidence) describing:

  • what has been good for you in your honours experience
  • what has not been good
  • what you have found the most challenging
  • what you have found the most satisfying
  • a paragraph (as long or short as it needs to be) stating what you understand research to be, or is (a definition)

It can be formal or informal, perhaps a letter to your earlier self?

Groups.jpg

I have put up a ‘mud map’ of key themes from the research presentations on the whiteboard in the lab. The idea is to form informal reading/study groups – across and outside of the labs – for those interested. For this to work we first of all need to see which of these topics rises to the top, and then who thinks they’d like to be involved. So;

step 1.
you all have three votes. you can vote for the same thing more than once (up to your limit of three votes). simply put a mark (using the whiteboard marker) against the topics that you think would help you. They are clustered in little ‘clouds’ if there is something very specific in there that really matters then draw a line from the word to your vote….

Please do this asap. This will let us see which ones matter and have legs….

Step 2.
once we get a list (if we get a list) you can self organise and I’ll give you a hand to kick it along. The aim is to not to create more work but to provide context and support around what you need to do/are already doing.

Honours Research Day (HRD, or perhaps The Honours Intensive Research Day, aka THIRD?) was held today. Twenty three research in progress presentations. A lot of critique, sharing, picking apart of ideas, identifying of common themes. Everyone provided an outstanding morning tea and lunch. The official budget paid for the venue. All the presentations were sharp, generally well focussed, and for me the key was to see how much progress everyone has made from where they started only twelve or so weeks ago to where everyone is up to now.

Ideally, given the intensity of the day, it would be nice for it to flow into a shared evening. Perhaps in the future the model is at least two days, away. The first day would be the presentations as we have just done, and the second day would involve intensive work in smaller groups responding to the issues that come out of the presentations around how the research is going to be done. I think a lot would be achieved for a relatively small investment, and the ‘culture’ of honours and excellence and really making high quality work really get further developed.

For me was a very rewarding day. Photos I took on the day stuck in a gallery over here. All the presentations are available in a shoebox I’ve set up on dropmark.

Here in all their quintessential goodness are the parts you need for the research strategies portfolio:

In addition you need to provide your Gantt chart, and your complete current bibliography (ie an appropriately formatted export of your bibliography database software – Zotero, EndNote, Menedely).

In summary your portfolio contains five things.

The key to use for the reflective graph is:

  1. getting the questions
  2. choosing which question
  3. finding references
  4. curating the references
  5. reading the references
  6. taking notes
  7. making the bibliography
  8. planning the work
  9. starting the writing
  10. writing the draft
  11. editing a draft
  12. final proofing
  13. finding the ‘thread’
  14. printing
  15. handing it in
  16. getting the work back
  17. getting the mark
  18. getting the feedback

Having a realistic, visible, and measurable project timeline really makes a difference to your research. It shifts things from ‘in your head’ out into the world and really brings home just how substantial the constraints really are (particularly time). The simplest way to do this is using a Gantt chart.

Some useful Gantt chart tools are:

  • Team Gantt, this is an online service, you can use it for free for 30 days but can’t export, but it useful if you want to build one (and you can always print to PDF on OS X to get a copy of it). There are a lot of these services online, this one is one of the better ones
  • Omniplan a Mac OS X application, it is expensive. Like all of OmniGroup’s software it looks great, is very nice to use (simple but as complicated as you want to make it), though for honours overkill in terms of features and cost
  • Project Planner is an OS X application that also has an iPhone and iPad version too. You have to buy them all separately if you really wanted your project plan on your iPad, phone, and desktop (bit extreme I reckon). But at USD10 for the desktop version this is good value

Good presentations

  • have a story to tell
  • don’t feel obligated to fill up the whole screen with picture/text/notes/lines/arrows
  • (because a good story, even visually, knows that you don’t narrate it all)
  • has visual consistency (you don’t change fonts, style, colours because you think the same structure becomes boring)
  • takes advantage of negative space (leaves room around things, look at this blog and all the empty space it uses…)
  • uses visual cues to signal hierarchy, e.g. this gets a lot of attention simply because it is a heavier weight
  • keep it simple visually
  • keep related things together, if you use images, put them together and don’t spread them over the whole slide to make a pattern (if your images matter treat them as if they matter)
  • the images are a complement to what you say, they don’t have to literally mirror what you say (but that is OK too)

Now, then talking:

  • make sure you’ve rehearsed it
  • don’t panic if the slide auto changes and you think you’re out of sync, audiences can cope and won’t know anyway
  • if you use cards then use a hierarchy, most important point first, then in descending order, that way if your timing is off you just drop the lower points knowing you’ve nailed the most important one
  • if you’re not holding a card or paper, then having something to do with your hands (a pen, jacket pocket), all speakers are nervous which is why most have something to do with their hands when speaking
  • have water with you while waiting your turn as your throat will go dry
  • don’t fudge, don’t feign, it shows through quickly
  • be direct about what you don’t’ know (but only if it matters – don’t sell your knowledge short)

In class last week I mentioned ‘design patterns’. Here’s a definition from software design:

“A pattern is a reusable solution that can be applied to commonly occurring problems in software design” (Osmani, Addy. Learning JavaScript Design Patterns. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc., 2012. Print. p.3)

I used it in the context of being able to listen to your research problem and its ‘data’ and to have a basket of theories, skills, tools, that you can apply. As you become better at the practice of research you have commonly reoccurring problems, as well as outcomes, and so you develop specific patterns (of understanding, of application of particular things at particular times) to understand or deal with these.

So I think Ben is the one behind the Building 9 blog, and he headlines:

“The object of what we study doesn’t really matter anymore, it’s now about how we’re doing it.”

Ah, the plucked quote. No idea when I said that or what it was in regards to. But I think what needs to be taken from it is that the content is something most of you are managing, and also as we discussed, realising how large and messy it really is. This is ‘know what’. It is reasonably hard (what does that essay really mean?) but not impossible – there’s a good blog about it, a secondary source, and so on. But how go about doing this, how to find these things, and how to use them, this is ‘know how’. It is the difference between implicit and explicit knowledge. Hence in research strategies we are moving from thinking about what we are studying (what is the problem, etc) to how do I actually study that.