Tag Archives: Research

In which Wikipedia solves a dilemma

I solved a problem yesterday, I think. It’s not a nice, clean solution, but it’s workable, which means I can move forward.

I’m currently working on my dissertation research proposal. This will be its third iteration. The first I wrote when I was applying to PhD programs (fall 2007). That idea was abandoned sometime between finishing my master’s thesis and starting my PhD. The second I wrote when I finished my coursework and was starting my comprehensives (spring 2010). I needed to explain the new direction I was headed so that my comprehensive plan made sense. I’m still headed in that same general direction, but now instead of a rough plan, I need a detailed outline.

The whole research proposal thing stymied me for a while. I did one for my master’s thesis, of course, but it was pretty informal. The PhD proposal needs to be more formal. So I got out some books from the library and spent some time thinking about structure and outlines and what needs to be included. I still didn’t feel like was getting anywhere. Yet, when I thought about actually doing the analysis and writing, that part didn’t block me at all. I could see myself zipping forward when I got to that point. Finally, I asked: what’s the hold up? What is preventing me from writing this proposal so I can get started on the analysis and writing?

The answer: writing about my plan without knowing whether it is actually possible or not. I realized I need to actually generate the list of texts I’m going to analyze and the rest will follow.

In general terms, my plan is to analyze some narrative texts (print books) to see if what, if any, effect social media/web 2.0 had on narrative writing in the 2000s. More specifically, I want to limit the texts to memoirs and non-genre fiction and the authors to generation-X Canadians. If it seems like it would be easy to do a search in any book database and find books that match these criteria, you would be wrong. Depending on the database (and I’ve tried many: bookstores, libraries, WorldCat, etc.) searches either turn up too much or not enough.

Memoirs are often bundled with “nonfiction” and categorized by topic (i.e. the main subject of the book). In some cases, they’re not tagged as “memoir” at all and so are unsearchable by that term. Going through every nonfiction book would be, of course, ridiculous. Fiction is often lumped into a big “literature” category that includes poetry and anthologies and genre series. But the bigger problem is that even when I found books, I had to make sure the authors met my criteria. I kept trying different databases and different search terms and kept being frustrated.

Yesterday, I went to Wikipedia and I found this list of Canadian writers. Immediately, I realized that I was going about this step backwards. I need to find the writers first and the books will follow. That list is not perfect, obvs. It’s Wikipedia. But it’s a lengthy list of Canadian writers with (drum roll) birthdates and genres. And that will do.

Update: Just plunked the info from that page into a spreadsheet and sorted by birthdate and genre. Eliminated ones outside of range. Left with a list that is more than long enough to generate what I need. Woohoo, progress.

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Miscellaneous (Mommy)Blogging Quotes

Just some quotes from posts I had bookmarked, which may or may not be useful.

Shirley Jackson might have been a part-time mommy-blogger, had she lived in the internet age. … Life Among the Savages, a memoir of her life raising three small children in Vermont … is a direct ancestor of the current crop of mothering memoirs — someone should put together a history of the genre — and it shares their frequently jokey “if I didn’t laugh, I’d cry” tone, a tone so different from that used in “The Lottery” that I had to check to make sure this was the same Shirley Jackson. The beginning sucked me in completely[.]

Stephany Aulenback

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The real problem, of course, the real reason why I’m not “squeeing” over BlogHer (ugh, what a word, squee), is that these aren’t really the blogs I read. … BlogHer is a meetup for a particular set of blogging communities, and that’s why people bond and hug and clap and get so emotional. The problem for me is that I read geek blogs and copyright blogs and academic blogs and some politics blogs and some crafts blogs, and those bloggers aren’t at this conference. This conference is for a fairly specific slice of the blogosphere, and I guess it’s not really the slice that I feel at home in.

Jill Walker Rettberg

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While the first BlogHer conference, in 2005, seemed to be about empowering women bloggers, today, empowerment appears to be about “look how powerful we are, corporations take us seriously and want to give us free swag!” But of course, if blogging becomes mainly about accepting free swag and loving the corporations, well, that’s not empowerment, that’s more like oppression – a slightly more subtle form of oppression, perhaps, maybe willing oppression. It doesn’t bode well for the power of blogging to actually spread the voices of the people, though, if the people are happy to speak for the corporations.

Jill Walker Rettberg

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Honesty – how truthful do you want to be in your blog? There are plenty of examples of fictional blogs that have presented themselves as real. When readers discovered they were fictional, they felt cheated and became very angry (I’ve blogged about why readers get angry at this. On a smaller scale, most bloggers leave out the ugly bits and maybe play up the good stuff, as in the quote from Lars Tangen in this blog post. I’m not saying you need to be utterly honest (in fact, the more literary blogs get, the less factual truth matters, in my opinion, but you do need to think about this.

Jill Walker Rettberg

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Dooce.com is now the full time job of both Heather and her husband, Jon. The blog supports an online community and a merchandise store. Heather is the author of a bestselling book, was named by Forbes as one of the 30 most influential women in media in 2009, and just signed an exclusive development deal with HGTV.

In a recent post entitled “Check Up for Self Delusion,” Penelope Trunk, another popular female blogger, recently wrote, “Probably the most accurate representation of women is in the blogosphere. There is no filter here, no need to appeal to both Peoria and Pasadena all at once.” She goes on to compare Dooce.com with an even more popular mommy blog, The Pioneer Woman.

Alaina Smith

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Probably the most accurate representation of women is in the blogosphere. There is no filter here, no need to appeal to both Peoria and Pasadena all at once. But even the whole of the blogosphere does not represent the female experience particularly accurately.

The Pioneer Woman is largely housewife porn. The men are hot and rugged, just like in a romance novel. The author, Ree Drummond, is running an operation similar to Rachel Ray or Martha Stewart, but she markets herself as a stay-at-home mom, and a homeschooler at that. The whole thing strikes me as totally preposterous. … On Dooce, Heather Armstrong blogs about depression, her kids being difficult, and her parents being Mormon. I love Heather Armstrong. But she’s the gold standard for writing a blog about your life and keeping a marriage together, and she is not, actually, writing about the female experience for married women.

Penelope Trunk

Round-Up of #creepythesis Posts

Have I missed anything substantive? Let me know.

Something that has shifted, profoundly

[C]onfessional memoirs have been irresistible to both writers and readers for a very long time, and, pretty much from the beginning, people have been complaining about the shallowness, the opportunism, the lying, the betrayals, the narcissism. This raises the question of just why the current spate of autobiography feels somehow different, somehow “worse” than ever before—more narcissistic and more disturbing in its implications. And it may well be that the answer lies not with the genre—which has, in fact, remained fairly consistent in its aims and its structure for the past millennium and a half or so—but with something that has shifted, profoundly, in the way we think about our selves and our relation to the world around us.

Daniel Mendelsohn

A profound connection to more than one place

I think we need a better way of thinking about citizenship and what it means. I see no reason why a person must be limited to either being Canadian or Haitian – an individual is capable of having a profound connection to more than one place. Perhaps the world would be a more tolerant and peaceful place if all people were connected to many different communities rather than feeling one nation had to be prioritized over all others.

Evelyn Miller

(in comments on Globe & Mail story)

A circle that returns on itself

In the non-Aboriginal tradition, at least until recently, the purpose of historical study has often been the analysis of particular events in an effort to establish what ‘really’ happened as a matter of objective historical truth or, more modestly, to marshal facts in support of a particular interpretation of past events.

While interpretations may vary with the historian, the goal has been to come up with an account that best describes all the events under study. Moreover, underlying the western humanist intellectual tradition in the writing of history is a focus on human beings as the centrepiece of history, including the notion of the march of progress and the inevitability of societal evolution. This historical tradition is also secular and distinguishes what is scientific from what is religious or spiritual, on the assumption that these are two different and separable aspects of the human experience.

The Aboriginal tradition in the recording of history is neither linear nor steeped in the same notions of social progress and evolution. Nor is it usually human-centred in the same way as the western scientific tradition, for it does not assume that human beings are anything more than one — and not necessarily the most important — element of the natural order of the universe. Moreover, the Aboriginal historical tradition is an oral one, involving legends, stories and accounts handed down through the generations in oral form. It is less focused on establishing objective truth and assumes that the teller of the story is so much a part of the event being described that it would be arrogant to presume to classify or categorize the event exactly or for all time.

In the Aboriginal tradition the purpose of repeating oral accounts from the past is broader than the role of written history in western societies. It may be to educate the listener, to communicate aspects of culture, to socialize people into a cultural tradition, or to validate the claims of a particular family to authority and prestige. Those who hear the oral accounts draw their own conclusions from what they have heard, and they do so in the particular context (time, place and situation) of the telling. Thus the meaning to be drawn from an oral account depends on who is telling it, the circumstances in which the account is told, and the interpretation the listener gives to what has been heard.

Oral accounts of the past include a good deal of subjective experience. They are not simply a detached recounting of factual events but, rather, are “facts enmeshed in the stories of a lifetime”. They are also likely to be rooted in particular locations, making reference to particular families and communities. This contributes to a sense that there are many histories, each characterized in part by how a people see themselves, how they define their identity in relation to their environment, and how they express their uniqueness as a people.

Unlike the western scientific tradition, which creates a sense of distance in time between the listener or reader and the events being described, the tendency of Aboriginal perspectives is to create a sense of immediacy by encouraging listeners to imagine that they are participating in the past event being recounted. Ideas about how the universe was created offer a particularly compelling example of differences in approach to interpreting the past. In the western intellectual tradition, the origin of the world, whether in an act of creation or a cosmic big bang, is something that occurred once and for all in a far distant past remote from the present except in a religious or scientific sense. In Aboriginal historical traditions, the
particular creation story of each people, although it finds its origins in the past, also, and more importantly, speaks to the present. It invites listeners to participate in the cycle of creation through their understanding that, as parts of a world that is born, dies and is reborn in the observable cycle of days and seasons, they too are part of a natural order, members of a distinct people who share in that order.

As the example of creation stories has begun to suggest, conceptions of history or visions of the future can be expressed in different ways, which in turn involve different ways of representing time. The first portrays time as an arrow moving from the past into the unknown future; this is a linear perspective. The second portrays time as a circle that returns on itself and repeats fundamental aspects of experience. This is a cyclic point of view.

Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996)
via Delgamuukw v. British Columbia (SCC 1997)

Thinking, Drafting and Re-drafting

The coming into existence of the paper-and-print book has many accomplishments, two of which, it seems to me, were scarcely foreseeable in 1455. They are entirely remarkable. One was to enable the emergence and wide appreciation of novels and short-stories: forms in which authors spend months and years on a work, thinking, drafting and re-drafting, so that they can reach all the way down into the subjects they treat. The other has been the possibilities for readers to enter into relationships—quite intimate relationships—with books, with authors, with fictional characters.

Keith Oatley