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metaphors for the PhD

Monday, October 1st, 2007 @ 5:40 pm
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am having so many metaphors about the PhD in my mind and i guess depending on what stage it is, it takes different forms…I am usually not creative, or to be more accurate i maybe inhibit my creativity cause i think it cant easily happen in a second language (for example i couldnt easily have a poem inspiration in english)….but with imagery and metaphor it is different…it’s beyond language…and maybe i came in touch with it now and dont want to lose it. so, here am recording some of this process:

there are times that the feel PhD feels like a baby…i have never given natural birth but i have had other experiences of ‘bearings’ and ‘deliveries’

earlier today i had this image of the researcher as midwife, am not sure where i am with that, it’s in process, somehow it must be related to heuristics, maybe not. In an email i send to the PhD group, i wrote about it:
 “am wondering whether this metaphor of midwifery is relevant to the process of qualitative research, depending of course on the stance one takes: does data speak for themselves alone? (like a baby would probably deliver itself
naturally even without the presence of a midwife). Is data being delivered in a certain form, depending on the resercher’s level of reflexivity? is the researcher a kind of midwife, in some cases at least when talking of course about qualitative research about human experience? am not sure where this metaphor takes me as my thinking around it is still under
process but maybe have a look at this weblink about the ‘listener as midwife’ (we could possibly extend it to the researcher as midwife): how do we ‘listen’ to data ‘maeutically’ and hence how do we analyse it?”

Ann responded by saying:

“Your metaphor as researcher as midwife conjoured up rich images for me some helpful and some not.There was something about attending to the process of another, but only intervening when needed. And at certain  points one has to get one’s hands mucky.. give support, listen to the pain. i.e. get much furhter into the process of the other. So it feels again like this business of being in the process but also having an over view of the process simultaneously… mirroring empathy i practice, in our in research…getting into the world of the other without loosing touch with your own”

Kevin’s email response was:

“Yes, this idea of midwifery is fascinating.  But even if the baby can give birth itself, even that isn’t completely independent because the mother’s pushing affects the outcome.  I don’t think any data can reach us entirely unmediated, and as a qualitative researcher I’m with Kim Etherington when she says that we inevitably influence the data we collect, whether the researcher acknowledges that or not (Becoming a Reflexive Researcher, 2004, p.33).  (I don’t see how qualitative researchers avoid it either).  Perhaps the value of the best midwives is in their capacity for observation, intuition, mindfulness (a form of listening?) rather than in direct physical intervention.  I haven’t finished reading your attached paper, but I was struck by your contention on p.4 that whereas pregnancy is medicalised and “managed” towards a fruitful end, the medics don’t seem to regard psychological or emotional conditions as capable of giving birth to something valuable.  It reminds me of repeated reports from interviewees in my own research that although they would not objectively have wished their traumatic experiences on themselves, from a subjective point of view they would not want to be without the knowledge they had gained from the experience.  Can I throw in one other thought?  The right sort of listening does indeed have an impact on the quality of the data we can collect.  Schopenhauer maintains in his essay On Reading and Books that if we only read (and no matter how much we read), we are no more than ciphers for someone else’s views.  But if we are mindful in our reading, and process internally what we have read and re-express it in our own words then we have acquired knowledge of our own.”

William commented as follows:

“It strikes me that you are both (i.e me and Ann) in a liminal space or at least some of the time which is a great place to gather data from but not the easiest to write from!! And F., you have suggested that maybe Greece is liminal at times to Europe and the East – neither one nor the other – intersting how Alexander the Great went East not West! I keep thinking of my latest paper from JCPC in reposnes to some points you both make. The quote I offer from Rorti, the lack of comitment on my part to a formal methodological stance, the value of pragmaticism (with a small not large ‘P’!). I see all my work often as midwifery or witnessing that which wants to happen/be born/story to be told.
It’s a good sign if you are getting rich stories F.,  that’s the difference between questionnaires/structured interviews and open ended/semi strcutured – go back to Kvale. At least if you do it heuristcially the findings/themes cook inside rather than emerge by some dreadful meaning unit crunching process!

Good quote:  “no description of how things are from a God’s-eye point of view, no skyhook provided by some contemporary or yet-to-be-developed science, is going to free us from the contingency of having been acculturated as we were. Our acculturation is what makes certain options live, or momentous, or forced, while leaving others dead, or trivial, or optional.” (Rorty, 1991:13).

This suggests us how our data analysis indeed our researching is culturally specific. We miss the stuff we regard as dead or trivial. All we can do is be upfront about our stance wcih is never enough because some of it is outside our awareness/unconscious.”

How great dialogue with the PhD group!

am still wrestling with this metaphor i had during our last PhD meeting, the PhD as a fat, kind of uneven, disjointed woman…the Dali type that William suggested. I guess that at the stage I am at, where the PhD journey feels far
huge and all is still in pieces, dismantled etc as am still reading, collecting data etc…it does make some sense….and there was sth about ‘not digesting’ the process right now cause am not analysing or making much sense of it at
present, i kind of play seek and hide cause it is interesting but also painful etc etc….there are also periods of regression etc…and all this also connects to the fat woman that i kind of not like now…but Dori’s two volume PhD seems fat (=big) but so beautiful…or does it feel like that cause it is all together, well-processed, a creative synthesis?”

Dori responded saying:

“The ‘fat woman’ is only considered negatively because of culture and the
media, but it’s about fertility, the feminine and the celebration of the body. There is an elegance and beauty in all of nature”

There is more to come here, am sure…am glad my creativity has kicked off!

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