Wednesday, 2 January 2013

making a hermeneutic method

I have found that the process of working on a PhD challenges me to really say what I mean. In other words, I cannot hide behind interesting metaphors or general discussion that form so much of 'academic' conversation. This is often frustrating, because it's comforting to get to those places in study where an 'argument' (of sorts) can be put together, but challenging to find ways to make that argument explicit and to discuss it in clear terms. 

I am at the start of a new phase of my PhD: I have all my data and am now getting into detailed analysis and the 'pulling together' of theoretical resources. I enjoy the sitting back and seeing what has been achieved, but as I look forward, I don't relish the hard work I have ahead of me. I know that future insights will come from unseen hard work such as the final hours of transcription I have to do, analysing data and writing draft chapters of my thesis...but I'm hovering on the edge.

I do have a plan, but as you will know, plans need detail and hard work so they can grow into things that actually happen. I have reflected over the last few weeks that it what we do with our thoughts that matters. Not that thinking is not work, but there is something about implementing and working that thinking out. 

I feel I am at one of the most complex points in my study. The illustration in this post is an attempt to convey the idea of having to weave multiple and diverse threads together. I wonder if I can live up to the idea of how great it will be. I have many threads to weave: the narrative hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur, the American Pragmatism of GH Mead and others, large amounts of audio and visual data, my reflections and so on. All of these things are in creative dialogue with my questions in my study. It is at this point that inertia can kick in, faced with the prospect of how to start: how to start the next phase.

My study examines the nature of narrative identity and its relationship with what I am calling the 'interactional contexts' in which it happens. I am looking at how experience becomes story, and how stories are used in professional action. I am interested in the relationships, transformations and forms of narrative identity 'work' that go on for my study participants. In general terms, I am seeing the process not about identifying 'causal relationships' between the things I've mentioned, but as a hermeneutic process: about interpretation and understanding. I am working with texts - transcripts and notes of extended conversations and my work is to look at ways in which these texts relate to interactional contexts. Ricoeur's hermeneutics encourage me to start with description and an examination of structural relationships, but to move beyond those towards a deeper understanding of the text. What is implied is movement back and forth across Ricoeur's mimetic arc and it's three phrases of prefiguration, configuration and refiguration. (Ricoeur, 1984: 54) 

Back to my original point: I want to move from describing what I read towards understanding. I want to understand the different forms that narrative can take in the mimetic arc. I want to be more specific about what is going on in that relationship between narratives of professional identity and interactional contexts. I can talk about 'relationships' 'transformations' 'forms' and so on, but my study is driving towards greater depth of understanding. 

At the minute, the 'raw materials' feel like a ridiculously complex jigsaw puzzle. I know I will enjoy looking at it and talking about it once done, but gathering and placing the raw materials will be hard enough. Saying this, I already have done plenty of coding within categories of data - I have narrative 'maps' which I have thought about with participants. My biggest barrier is fear itself (perhaps fear is too great a word) - what if the relationships and transformations I see are somehow 'obvious'? I remind myself: the PhD process often leads us to put lots of pressure on ourselves, after all, the PhD thesis is the start of a research agenda, not the master work!

What will get me to jump in? I will make a list, that's a good start. The list will combine the obvious (dreaded final set of transcription) and the puzzling (like how I will 'trace back' relational lines on the narrative maps I've produced). Oh for goodness sake, just get on with it.