I do not often blog. In the last years of coming to terms of calling myself a doctoral researcher, it has been admittedly hard to sit down each day and write something in this blog. As a Greek native speaker and writer, writing in English has never been a problem for me. On the contrary, if I think of my last experience writing a paper to speak in a conference in my origin country, I enjoy more academic writing in English than in my mother language. Last October, I faced many difficulties to have a paper produced and kept at the academic writing in Modern Greek, and on top of this, to submit it for publication.
Without minimising the importance of how effectively a doctoral researcher is managing personal time, my circumstances of being a part-time PhD. candidate and a full time professional have less impact on my writing than the writing itself. I have recently read that writing ‘is a complex social act, requiring multiply evaluative criteria to be met, and entailing the deeply personal and thus potentially emotionally challenging construction of identity and negotiation of deeply meaningful values’ (Carter et. al. 2012: 30). In the last three years of my doctoral study, I have not stopped reading, making notes, seeking to learn critically from my supervisors, asking questions ‘about my disposition to writing and its effects, about the ways I structure language and the action it supports’ (Thomson & Kamler 2016:2). I write this blog now in order to identify these deeply meaningful values that shape my own reflexivity, and where it stands in writing for my thesis. Being half way through my research, it is a time that I understand how my voice is produced within the discursive practices of my institution as well as the conventions of the academic craft and the disciplines I have been operating within.
Some believe that we research or find and then we just do words about things we already know. I do not want to produce self-referential knowledge or become a self-satisfied expert. I want to enhance my agency to produce good academic writing and research in the intersection of museum with educational studies. In my case, establishing an ethically informed approach for museums to programme practices targeting ‘risky’ youth is the purpose of my doctoral study. Since the early stages of my study, I have been reviewing the blurring lines of defining ‘some’ or ‘particular’ young people as being ‘at risk’ and ‘as a risk’ in the milieu of museums. The concept of risk was not part of my initial inquiry and added in my problematization after the initial readings. The fact that I have paid attention to this concept from social sciences did not happen in a vacuum; it came from somewhere. This concept has helped me to understand how museums construct a youth audience group as being culturally deficient and as others who are ‘‘lacking’ access to ‘important’ civil institutions. In exploring the value of cultural programmes to facilitate agency and participation of young people in care, Gisbon and Edwards found ‘a dominating conception of risk, which placed limits upon what these young people are able to do (my emphasis); these discursive constructions around cultural value and risk call into question the emancipatory agendas informing cultural practice, at least, with young people in care’ (2016: 199) and point at the limits of ‘the youth work of museums’.
My assumption is that the deficiency model as being replicated in the enactment of museum interventions and practices to marginalized young people reflects the internal culture of the institution. I have several questions in researching current understanding of museums targeting these youths, some overlapping questions, others standing alone, but I have a range of research questions. What happens when museums engage with the most disadvantaged groups of young people? Does the deficiency model apply? And if yes, how is it experienced by them? Are specific groups that are marked and defined by this deficiency? What does this lack mean to young participants and professionals they relate with, those who organise and deliver these ‘beneficial’ museum programmes? Do young people perceive themselves as being ‘deficient’? What does the deficit actually describe? So many questions, and I am not entirely sure what I want to say. In my unique and simultaneously common to other emerging researchers’ difficulties, the actual research process is related to one typical challenge faced by many doctoral researchers: making a coherent thesis and fitting it into a scientific structure. I find coherence being important in exploring the essence of writing in research and writing as research. The messiness of doing a doctoral research requires reflexive awareness because it is ‘surprisingly easy to lose track of the central thread’ (Swetnam 2003: 89) and forget what to say and argue for your field.
In my opinion, the clarity of the argument makes a coherent thesis. Thesis is not a personal statement; it is a public statement to a defined topic in specific field(s) of knowledge. When I recognise cultural studies in education as the interdisciplinary field of my research, I need to be more concise about the outcome and which public conversation I want to contribute to. Examiners tend to be broadly consistent in their practices and recommendations and make their judgements depending on whether a thesis is typical for the field of knowledge (Golding 2017). Because of the interdisciplinarity in which I position my research, I should figure out which fields of research I draw upon to write my final thesis and define the main field I want to contribute to.
As such, sociological thinking (sociology of youth and education) and cultural studies theories (including Bourdieu and Bennet, among others) support my critical stance towards the subject of my qualitative case study research with a clear intention to contribute to the field of museum studies. This research approach has so far allowed me to write specific things more coherently and prolifically, and to focus on the perception of young people as culturally deficient in the world of museums. Writing for the readers, either examiners or the public, is a wise advice about writing for thesis; ‘writing is about clarifying, capturing meaning, crafting, honing. It’s hard work some of the time. But it’s possible to acknowledge the difficulty of writing and still be in charge’ (Thomson & Kamler 2016:8) to be able to fill this space with more blogs from now onwards.
Carter, S., Kelly, F., & Brailsford, I. (2012). Structuring your research thesis. Palgrave Macmillan.
Gibson, L. and Edwards, D. (2016) Facilitated participation: cultural value, risk and the agency of young people in care, Cultural Trends, 25 (3), pp. 194-204.
Golding C. (2017) Advice for writing a thesis (based on what examiners do), Open Review of Educational Research, 4:1, pp. 46-60.
Swetnam, D. (2003). How to-Write Your Dissertation: A Practical Survival Guide for Students. How to books.
Thomson, P., & Kamler, B. (2016). Detox your writing: Strategies for doctoral researchers. Routledge.