Tuesday, 16 April 2013

PhD paranoia and justifying my theory frame?

I've been getting increasingly concerned about defending the theoretical framework constructed for my PhD study. This has built on (that fairly common) impostor syndrome I think part time mature students often have about their study, but it's more than that. I have dutifully read all of those articles and blog posts about how PhDs are examined, and heard from others who - on the surface at least - seem confident about their rationale for their choice and use of their theory frame. These things have led me to those predictable - 'how do I measure up' comparisons. I imagine any other Phd researcher saying "Oh, you haven't created a relational map of the whole of social theory and philosophy, located your theory frame in it and then justified your position in relation to all other points?...Ohhhhh".

I am being dramatic, but you get the idea. Let me let you in to my thinking process at the risk of pulling the curtain back on what I could otherwise present as some very 'intellectual' process. You see, I realised today whilst talking to a friend at work that I really have constructed a theory frame to reflect how I already thought. In other words, my theory frame was not selected through some cool, depersonalised purely logical or theoretical process. I realise in saying this that somewhere someone is going to accuse me of simply wanting to confirm or reify my own prejudices, but I'd not see it like that. I'll explain.

[This is a picture of our cat. She has no such worries. Neither is she likely to pass her viva.]

I came to my PhD study with a clear idea of the questions I wanted to ask, albeit in an embryonic form. I also came as a mature student and experienced professional who had thought about how they thought. Only now do I see that my immersion into PhD study and it's various communities and discourses has somehow prompted a weird sort of response from me. I had begun to construct a forced rationale for why I was using Ricoeur and Mead in the way I was. What I've realised - properly - today is that I had a way of thinking and being which I brought to my study, and I shaped my theory frame to help articulate my position. I see this as trying to achieve some honestly about the choices I have already made which position me in relation to my study. Those of you who talk Bourdieu might waffle on about 'habitus' to help explain this.

What I'm thinking today is that, as someone who is working with narratives and using a hermeneutic approach in my studies, I have configured a narrative (the theory frame) from my practices which in many ways prefigured it. After all, I am arguing in my thesis that practices and narratives are mutually constitutive so I'm also applying this to how I came to express my questions and articulate my ideas.

I might still have to fight impostor syndrome, but i have a line of thinking to pursue here. I am not willing to disregard the way I was already positioned in relation to my study, and I should not apologise for talking about how it has shaped the construction of my theory frame, instead I shall see this as a strength. Of course, this does not mean I will not address questions or inconsistencies, but I won't base my theoretical validity on needing to know about, and justify in relation to everything there is to know.