CS.A5 Rework

A few months have past since I submitted A5, at the beginning of June. I made a note of the feedback here and have followed the suggestion of letting the work breathe before making the final push. In the meantime, I have completed by BoW and am also about to submit A5 for that.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have worked again on the dissertation. It has changed significantly, although no additional research has been incorporated. I note here the main areas of change:

  • Completing my BoW and working with the idea that the dissertation should in some way help me to better explain / articulate that work (though not describe it) has been a help in restructuring the argument and flow of the dissertation. It was previously focused on an argument around ‘meaning’. However, it is now focused on an argument for the representation of the canal as a post-industrial landscape that is not merely pastoral, as seen in many contemporary images but a representation that both reflects social spatialisation and the continuing effects of deindustrialisation. This both places the canal at the centre of the argument and allows me to explain why I have chosen to include the images I have in my body of work. It has completely changed the flow of the work.
  • In the update, I have removed any of the antagonism towards the Canal & River Trust (CRT) that had creeped in as I researched their treatment of those on the margins of society, hoping to make do on the canal, with a boat as a main residence. The issues are still stated but in a way that also comments on the CRT’s perspective – this way they are presented as another layer to the canal’s story, rather than an attack on CRT.
  • The bulk of my time working on this iteration has been fine-tuning the wording. Adjusting or removing any phrases that jarred against the flow of the argument or the ear. Trying out different words. Removing unnecessary repetition, and so on. This was an iterative process, until I reached the point that nothing seemed out of place – at least to me.
  • I have concluded the dissertation with the same words I have used in my BoW short film. I see these acting as a portal between the written and the visual. It is also pleasing to see how my academic research is reflected in the prose of these words.

I’ve been remined that this kind of writing is hard work. It is no different to writing and learning to play a long musical piece for an audience. It requires practice and many revisits. There is perhaps something deceptive about writing – because writing in general is common place, what it takes to make very good writing is underestimated.

CS.A5 | Tutor Feedback

My tutor’s feedback on A5 has been sitting in my inbox, while I’ve been focusing on my BoW. Here I summarise the aspects of the feedback help with further refinement before I submit the work for assessment.

Overall a good draft with lots of ‘really engaging stuff’ with the potential to be improved by further editing. Key points are:

  • Further attention to flow of the work and cutting out some passages that may not be essential. ‘Don’t be sentimental’. At the same time ensure that which remains is fully unpacked. I’ve been conscious of the word count limit throughout and weeding out some areas would allow the remainder to grow.
  • Introduction needs to be more engaging and give the feeling to the reader they are in safe hands. This is partly related to the current structure and argument around meaning. I’ve since been considering the notion of heterotopia, which would centre work around the canal and allow the work on meaning to become part of the analysis, rather than introduce the work.
  • Need add more nuance to the depiction of the Canal & River Trust and check substance in areas that are retained in the final work.
  • Watch out for areas that are being lead by assumptions and either reframe them / look for evidence to support if they are important to the argument, or leave them out if not.
  • Make sure each section is meticulously argued and evidenced.

When I spoke with my tutor, he recommended to leave submitting for assessment for as long as possible – let the work breathe and keep refining it as more things come to mind, including through the BoW. For me, this would mean submitting in January 2021. This makes sense to me and I’m in no rush to finish, so will wait until then.

I’ll have a last catch up with my tutor prior to the final push towards assessment.

CS A5 | Self-reflection

A5 is a significant refinement of A4 – I don’t like to think about hours work input to this, but with Covid-19 lockdown at least time has been more on my side than normal. I had planned to get out shooting for BoW put after some deliberation decided to wait out lockdown until I can return to the canal, rather than reimagine the BoW. I think that is now going to be okay.

I’ve submitted A5 for tutor feedback and have a meeting scheduled for next week to discuss. I’m slightly over word count plus 10%, but will address that after discussion. I’m pleased with A5 (and hope I still am next week!). The organisation and flow has been reworked and the theme tightened. I read it with a sense of being more or less done, in contrast to A4 which I felt was a good start but needed more work.

I need to update my literature review to reflect the final direction of the dissertation and the works I ended up placing more emphasis on. I think some of the original review contents perhaps didn’t make it into the final draft of the dissertation – a sign of how far the work as evolved. I’ll do this after next week’s feedback, so it is all still relatively fresh.

The self-reflection is below – a bit odd since it become reflection upon reflection upon draft upon draft. To help me understand the progress, I’ve just updated A4 comments with red text.

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%).

Additional research was carried out around the narratives of crime, death and regeneration, which sat outside the narratives covered in A4 – odd befellows in a liminal space! I also tracked down a reasonable priced copy of Rob Shield’s Places on the Margin and read that. It provided not fresh put additional impetus to existing content. What I found more personally rewarding was additional research on de-industrialisation and its impact. This generated interesting parallels with navvies and counterpoints with industrial heritage.

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%).

Not much more to add here – I’ve become very comfortable with research tools and using them to help my assimilation and analysis. This is a long way from when I first started, when I felt slightly overwhelmed by the huge amounts of disparate information on a wide range of subjects. The pain of photography being about everything! I’m also grateful for the automation this allows when creating citations and a bibliography in Word!

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 focus has been tightened and refined significantly in A5. It has evolved to link the culture in visual to the culture in geography and reflect upon the source of polysemy in images. I think doing the additional research and then letting things sit for a while helped me. I came back with fresh eyes and energy. One acid test is that my wife said she found it very interesting (being from Lancashire, being blunt rather than nice is her default mode). The second acid test comes from the Evertonian next week.

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%).

I think that the formal presentation will remain in writing. However, it is interesting to begin to think how snapshots of it might be brought into spoken communication, alongside the photography perhaps.

Assignment is in draft written form. I have yet considered how this might be formally presented – something to start thinking during A5 work.

Dissertation – and next, preparing for A5

Having received positive feedback for A4 (the dissertation 1st draft), I’ve continued reflecting on the next steps in my process, what I found challenging and what I might do differently for the next draft.

While I’m used to reporting writing and editing in a business context, the experience beyond the basic skills of written language, seems of limited use when it comes to an academic dissertation. The dissertation is a creative, messy, open process that requires synthesis of different ideas and the expression on my own voice, while substantiating what I say with references, without drowning out what I have to say.

Here’s my 10 step route map:

  1. Collect additional reference material (areas suggested worth further research in my tutorial)
  2. Update PPS&Q (problem purpose statements & research questions) – a useful technique I came across online (https://cecilebadenhorst.wordpress.com/carnegie-african-diaspora-workshops/problempurpose-statements-ppsqs/) – I’ll make a fresh mindmap based on my first draft for this.
  3. Refresh outline of essay (mind map)
  4. Work through next edit of dissertation in one sitting and avoid editing at this stage – I realise that I wasted time editing draft 1 as I went along, which interrupted my flow and also gave time to areas ultimately dropped.
  5. Leave rework of introduction until after main body – most difficult part and since it needs to sign-post direction of work, makes more sense leaving it.
  6. Let sit for a while
  7. Hard critical edit
  8. Write conclusions
  9. Hard critical edit 2
  10. Proof reading and submission (in advance of 9th June tutorial)