‘no man sees what things are, that knows what they ought to be’ (Gombrich, 1996:10) is the quote I used to entitle assignment 1 – a short diagnostic essay, but a theme that has carried through to the current draft dissertation of 5,000 words. Part-time studying over a long duration, means there is the challenge of remembering the ground previously covered, in this module or earlier ones. I’ve noted here a short chronology:
- A1 – diagnostic essay, but concerned with my misreading of the canal and semiotics. Gombrich’s aphorism is echoed in A4, superseded by Berger’s ‘the relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. The framing narrative for the dissertation evolved into the attachment of meanings to place and how even banal locations ‘conspire to avoid simple definition and understanding’. I highlighted important advice from my tutor’s A1 feedback – ‘... at this point you should focus on unpacking and making sense of canals as distinct physical spaces that provide sites for an array of cultural practices.‘ I believe my dissertation has achieved this.
- A2 – this was a literature review. I struggled a little with the linearity of the process set out in the course from this point. My research folder (Zotero) was bulging with ideas, but I hadn’t shaped them in to dissertation but only a loose set of ideas to explore creatively once I began writing. Yet, I was asked to write about the main literature used in the essay, before writing the essay. I later found that good practice for literature reviews is to treat them as a work in progress that would evolve with the essay itself. This how I’m treating it, with ongoing rework – this way I can make sense of the process.
- A3 – essay plan. The concept of the required written essay plan didn’t fit with my way of working. My approach was to mindmap some ideas and directions and then work through creatively while writing the dissertation. I did refer to the ideas in my written plan, but its flow carried little resemblance to the dissertation I ended up writing. My intention is to rework this assignment as a mindmap of the structure, ideas and key references of the dissertation. I think this will help me internalise what I have written and may also help shape A5.
And to A4 itself. I’ve not appended the work itself to avoid any complications in relation to plagiarism/self-plagiarism that I mentioned in a previous post.
Demonstration of subject based knowledge and understanding – Broad and comparative understanding of subject content; knowledge of the appropriate historical, intellectual, cultural or institutional contexts (25%).
My research folder contains over 200 references to various books and other media that have all been considered in the dissertation. While academic materials in relation to cultural geography were readily available, canal specific materials were challenging to find – other than engineering based ones. However, with some determination, I did track down a PhD dissertation based around living on a boat as a main dwelling; research into social / health concerns of travelling communities (including boatees); and a book of essays concerned with ‘thinking with water’. I’ve also drawn in broader cultural references to illustrate the difficulties in locating meaning.
Demonstration of research skills – Information retrieval and organisation; use of IT to assist research; ability to evaluate IT sources; the ability to design and carry out a research project, locate and evaluate evidence from a wide range of primary and secondary sources (visual, oral, aural or textual) (25%).
I continued using Zotero to organise and retrieve information. However, I took some time to restructure my folders to fit the various framed narratives in my work; eg canal, visual culture, industrial heritage (originally around essay chapters, which enforced a linearity to thinking and blocked creativity). I also, increased the level of tagging of material to aid retrieval and came up with the idea of ‘meta-tagging’ to flag items that might be included as quotes for example. Zotero has also acted as a store for my reading notes.
Because it is such a large element of my academic activity, I’ve reintroduced a separate page about my research folder to this blog.
Demonstration of critical and evaluation skills – Engagement with concepts, values and debates; evidence of analysis, reflection, critical thinking, synthesis, interpretation in relation to relevant issues and enquiries (25%).
The dissertation is critiques hegemonic perspectives on space and how power is used to shape meanings. It evaluates representation and the filters at work when meaning is attached to place. I believe it brings in relevant cultural and sociological materials concerning the specific us of a canal as space, but these also have a wider application.
Communication – The ability to communicate ideas and knowledge in written and spoken form, including presentation skills (25%).
Assignment is in draft written form. I have yet considered how this might be formally presented – something to start thinking during A5 work.