Blog Post

The Blogged Dissertation

Who am I?

Hi, HASTAC! I’ve introduced myself on the Scholars page, but have otherwise been relatively quiet as a new member of this organization. The next few months (years?) should change all that, but first I’ll briefly say something about myself and my work.

My name is Megan Farnel. I’m a first (ish) year doctoral student at the University of Alberta. I work in the fields of new media and critical theory, with an emphasis on affect, materiality and labour. Specifically, I’m interested in how online affective labour—that is, work which is understood as being produced and/or reproduced primarily due to the circulation of particular emotional conditions—is  determined to be work, or not, and how these determinations are impacted by various forms of normativity. The types of labour that, for instance, a straight woman of colour is expected to produce in the name of love (read: without payment) can often be markedly different from the labour a queer, white man is expected to generate, even when the same affect of love is invoked. So the larger investment of my work is in considering how systemic inequalities are both challenged and reinforced online through the very material ways in which affects circulate amongst, and create, particular types of workers. 


What is this blog?

As a PhD student, fresh out of coursework and looking toward the next stages of my degree, I’ve been considering what it would mean in practical terms to integrate my ethical and political commitments into not only what I produce as a scholar, but how I go about producing it. One area I keep coming back to in this respect is the idea of making the process of creating a dissertation public, rather than emphasizing only the final product of that work. This question is by no means an entirely new one of course; there’s a lot of great and ongoing discussions about the benefits and risks of writing in public, the political and pedagogical potential of emphasizing low-stakes writing, and the broader implications of a public intellectual practice. In the past, though, I’ve struggled with integrating blogging into my academic writing process, which led me to the somewhat obvious (if scary) conclusion that perhaps it was my academic work that should comprise the primary content of my blogging efforts.

Before I get to explaining the approach I provisionally decided to take, though, I should briefly discuss the structure of the University of Alberta’s PhD Program, which may (particularly in its early stages) look somewhat different than the structure many of you may be familiar with.

Rather than comprehensive exams, students who have completed coursework requirements generate two documents: The first is a short (~5 page) Statement of Research Plan, which provides the graduate committee with an outline of the project and its fields. The second, called the Long Thesis Proposal, is an approximately 50-page document wherein students provide more detailed information introducing the project, its fields, methodology, and provisional chapter descriptions. The latter, after approval by the committee, then faces an oral defense, which is the last stage before the student officially becomes a doctoral candidate and commences writing the dissertation.

In all, it’s a lot of writing! And I am really interested in making all of these stages an experiment in public writing as well as using them for their intended purpose (preparation for the dissertation to follow). To that end, I’ve decided to use the awesome space I’ve been given as HASTAC scholar to publically brainstorm, compose, and edit my research plan, proposal and dissertation.

What this looks like will almost certainly change and evolve. However, the plan as it stands is as follows: I’ll be blogging most of the work I do related to my project, which will include both the summarical reading-notes type information, as well as my efforts to synthesize and analyze this information for the purposes of my own project. My two supervisors will offer much of their feedback about this work publically as well, and I am also very open to receiving and responding (within limits, of course) to comments from the broader HASTAC community. I’ll also reflect from time to time about how this process is going—where I’ve struggled, what’s working well, and any changes I’ve noticed in my work and general writing practice.

From a professional standpoint, I hope this process will force me to foreground issues of accessibility and accountability by asking me to constantly consider how, why, and for whom I’m writing. (And this question of audience is already making itself intensely present in my mind; even while plotting out my initial posts, I’ve been grappling with what exactly it means to produce public academic work, and how the unclear expectations regarding the nature of my audience can/should impact what I say and how I say it.) For readers, I hope that the process of seeing myself and my supervisory team at work might provoke conversation not only about the project we’re working on, but about the processes of generating and supervising academic writing and how these practices impact and are impacted by digital media. Academics are, after all, increasingly among the population asked to work for love despite (and in fact largely because of) the increasing precarity of graduate student and non-tenured faculty life. So rather than seeing this mode of production as a tangential or secondary element of my project, I view blogging as a way to use a digital form to better engage with precisely the questions I am both interested and directly implicated in.

Personally, I am a young, queer, female academic who struggles daily with issues of anxiety, many of which are triggered by the simultaneously isolating and intensely public nature of academic life. Due in no small part to these personal locations and investments, I also hope to use this as a space for considering how digital public writing might aid academics, enhancing not only the quality of the work we produce, but the quality of life we live as we produce it. These personal and professional goals, though clearly intertwined, will also almost certainly come into tension with one another, which means that at any point I may take breaks from responding to comments, or from blogging my work altogether. But I will do everything I can to find strategies to work through these moments of tension, and to maintain an emphasis on self-care while exploring public academic writing. Because ultimately, I think (or hope, at least) that talking about and managing those issues in a public forum might be the aspect of this project that stands to have an impact on more than just myself and those directly within my field, and if there’s any way in which I might participate in rich and vital conversations about how to make academic labour and life livable for more people, that will certainly be worth the potential risks and moments of discomfort involved for me.


What’s next?

In the next few days, you'll get a more detailed introduction to my project as I begin work on my statement of research plan. A separate post will also share my initial thoughts about what my reading list is going to look like. I look forward to beginning this (weird and terrifying) adventure with all of you!


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