A new tartan

“Sumo” flickr photo by Better Than Bacon https://flickr.com/photos/slurm/3989895242 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

As thesis drafting has increasingly occupied my time, posts on here have become noticeably less frequent. I must confess that I’ve been finding it realllly tough going! I can knock out a 1000 word blog post in three hours or so, but the same amount of time is often only delivering a tenth that towards my thesis. I suspect that’s because I’ve elected to start with (WARNING: the following terms will not survive through to the final thesis!) a discussion of the literature, the theoretical framing and the methodological approach. All sections draw heavily from the literature so when you’re constructing an argument, you need to pull together the ideas expressed by a number of authors. Although I (usually) know the arguments I want to make, finding the references within the literature is incredibly time consuming. Clearly the notes I made during the earlier stages of my research weren’t up to the job and I now begin to see why some doctoral programmes require you to produce literature reviews very early. I must confess though, that I was in no position 12 to 18 months ago to do that. I’ve only recently begun to feel capable of writing about actor-network theory, sociomaterial approaches and other poststructural and new materialist ways of thinking. For me, there was no shortcut to getting some sense of understanding; it simply needed time for me to grapple and wrestle, to chew and chomp, masticate and munch.

Although I have a couple of chapters almost drafted, I’m far from satisfied with the way they currently read. I know I’ll inevitably need to revise them in the light of the way that the findings begin to emerge, but more than that, I’ve been seeking a narrative thread which will open the story, then coherently weave through from beginning to end. If I’d chosen a more conventional approach, I’m sure the path would have been clearer from the outset and I could have laid out the thesis in the standard format: introduction, literature review, methodology and methods, findings, discussion and conclusion. But right from the start, my intent has always been to try new things, explore new avenues and above all, see what worked, what didn’t, then explore whatever emerged. It was important for me that I attempt to produce insights a more conventional approach wouldn’t. And hey, I’ve always been one for the way less trod! So here I am “a blind, myopic, workaholic, trail sniffing, and collective traveler” (Latour, 2005).

My Scottish heritage suggested a way forward. The following graphic was inspired by the pattern in tartan (plaid), although rather than separate, distinct, interwoven threads (the warp and weft), as you can see, it’s more a series of overlapping filters (although I don’t think that particular optical analogy works). At the points of intersection, something different is produced; neither one thing nor the other, but something new. This is my version of the diffractive approach advocated by Barad and which I discussed in an earlier post.

“Version 1.0” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/36153723400 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

The warp (horizontal) are the different strands of my research and the weft (vertical) are the concepts I (currently) want to ‘plug in.’ The regions of intersection are the places of interest where new and different things are emerging.

It’s definitely Version 1.0. The straight lines and uniformity don’t allow for ways in which bands might split and pass across one another. I have Ethics passing through all the other bands, and Analysis and Presentation intersecting somewhat, but I can’t use this rigid form to have more complex intra-actions. (To be fair, that was just a result of me rushing to get version 1.0 to market!) More importantly however, the static nature of the graphic doesn’t convey the sense of fluidity that is needed in the making and unmaking of this assemblage. Sadly the animation skills required may be beyond my capability to learn within the time … and won’t render well on the printed thesis anyway! Nevertheless, I feel this takes me some way towards realising the first two of the three maneuvers that Jackson and Mazzei propose, and which I discussed in the aforementioned post. I’m going to take a shot at appropriating ‘plugging in’ and applying it right across the research endeavour, rather than just as a technique for analysis. OK, it’s a long shot and I’ve no idea yet whether it’s feasible or defensible, but for me, at the moment, it makes sense. Let’s see how it goes.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford University Press.


3 thoughts on “A new tartan

  1. This is wonderful! No one knows THE way to do diffraction yet… there might not even be a single way. You should try publishing this. Maybe working towards a paper that will work later as your methodology/ conceptual frame might help…a smaller piece of writing


    • Thanks for that feedback Naomi, and for the encouragement. I tend to get insights like this and either act on them, or leave them languishing in the archive. Working one up into a paper had never entered my mind, but you make a good point. That exercise in itself might serve to put more meat on the bones, both on the the idea itself and ultimately the thesis. You’ve certainly given me something to ponder.


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