Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dissent, Power & Diversity

I've watched a few films this week in an attempt to educate myself & find media to integrate into my classes. I'm currently teaching a cultural diversity course that is a mission based course for the institution I work. This diversity course, while housed in the sociology department is very much a historical account of race & ethnicity in the United States. My education is in sociology. I have had some formal education in history but insist upon engaging in more material so that I can more comfortably teach this course. I've taught the course five times this year and will teach it three more times in the fall - I know the material now, the mission is to find material that enhance it. This week I have watched three films; "African American Lives 2", "William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe" and "The People Speak"

Series Overview African American Lives 2
Building on the widespread acclaim of African American Lives (2006) and Oprah's Roots (2007), AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES 2 again journeys deep into ancestry of an all-new group of remarkable individuals, offering an in-depth look at the African-American experience and race relations throughout U.S. history. Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. returns as series host, guiding genealogical investigations down through the 20th century, Reconstruction, slavery and early U.S. history, and presenting cutting-edge genetic analysis that locates participants' ancestors in Africa, Europe and America. Joining Professor Gates in the new broadcast are poet Maya Angelou, author Bliss Broyard, actor Don Cheadle, actor Morgan Freeman, theologian Peter Gomes, publisher Linda Johnson Rice, athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee, radio personality Tom Joyner, comedian Chris Rock, music legend Tina Turner, and college administrator Kathleen Henderson, who was selected from more than 2,000 applicants to have her family history researched and DNA tested alongside the series' well-known guests.

I found African American Lives 2 fascinating. The detail and time that is put into discovering the history of these twelve individuals is astonishing. I feel that there are clips that are appropriate for use in my course - there are a number of teaching materials available via pbs and the corresponding website for the film.

Synopsis "William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe"

In William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe filmmakers Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler explore the life of their father, the late radical civil rights lawyer. In the 1960s and 70s, Kunstler fought for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. and represented the famed “Chicago 8” activists who protested the Vietnam War. When the inmates took over Attica prison, or when the American Indian Movement stood up to the federal government at Wounded Knee, they asked Kunstler to be their lawyer.

To his daughters, it seemed that he was at the center of everything important that had ever happened. But when they were growing up, Kunstler represented some of the most reviled members of society, including rapists and assassins. This powerful film not only recounts the historic causes that Kunstler fought for; it also reveals a man that even his own daughters did not always understand, a man who risked public outrage and the safety of his family so that justice could serve all.

Synopsis: "The People Speak"

Inspired by Howard Zinn's bestseller A People's History of the United States and it's companion book Voices of a People's History of the United States this star studded documentary takes an unguarded look at our nation's decades-long struggle with the pressing issues of war, race, class, and women's rights. Viggo Mortenson, Danny Glover, Marisa Tomei, Matt Damon, and Kerry Washington, and other Hollywood stars stage impassioned readings of historical testimonies by the people who helped to shape our country's socio-political landscape, including Langston Hughes, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglas, and Bob Dylan. Additional actors assume the roles of labor leaders, civil rights demonstrators, abolitionists, and various other trailblazers who weren't afraid to speak out during some of the more turbulent periods in our nation's history. ~ Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide

More on these at another time... all were fascinating and informative.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What I Do

What is my dissertation about? Why is my research important?

As an idealistic youth I wanted to change the world. When I went to graduate school I entered with ideas and was ready to take on the task of changing the world. Now, at 30 - nearly 31, I recognize that changing the world on a massive scale cannot be the emphasis of the dissertation. Completing a meaningful dissertation that begins to answer questions and tells a story that informs & helps people is my ultimate goal.

Have I sold out? Maybe. I struggle with the meaning in my work regularly, maybe that is a symptom or possibly cause of some of my writers block. In sociology, and any other discipline for that matter we work from theories. Theory guides our research and gives a lens to view the world. Theories are testable notions of how the world, and all that is in it, works.

As a sociologist, I have a series of theories that resonate and I use to make sense of the world around me. These theories answer the questions that I have long asked and add insight to human behavior. Now, for my dissertation.

I build on classic symbolic interactionism, don't let the invention of new 'worldly' words scare you - academics often like to add -ism, -ology, and other adages to make their work fancy. I think we do it to add the appearance of classiness & intellect to our discourse. Whatever it is, theory isn't as scary as the words we use to describe it.

When I engage in interaction, I see my self. I see my self in interaction through the eyes of others. Taking our self as an object is the most fundamental assumption that underlies my research. In taking my self as an object I am able to guide my behavior according to others responses - I in essence see myself through the lens of those I am interacting with. These theories can be further explored by examining the classic works of G.H. Mead & William James. They guide the basic assumptions in my research questions.

Building on my mentor's work, R. Serpe & his mentor S.Stryker - I am integrating emotions to Structural Identity Theory.Structural  Identity theory developed out of early symbolic interaction. What is central to this theory is that we organize our identities in a salience hierarchy that is in part based upon our commitment to the identity (identities). If we think of all the identities we have we can get a closer understanding of what it is I do.

I am a mother, a daughter, a girlfriend, a student, a coach, a friend, a pet owner, a blogger... and on and on. Each of these roles I occupy come with a script for behavior and are all more-or-less salient holding  more-or-less commitment. Salience in this instance is the probability of invoking one identity over another. Salience isn't the same as importance - though I will admit they have much overlap that continues to call for others to tease out (some have tried, McCall & Simmon's Prominence Hierarchy Vs. Stryker & Serpes Salience Hierarchy - personally I feel they have more in common then they have different). At any rate - back to salience. To the extent that an identity is more salient & the commitment higher will impact role performance. Role performance is just that - our performance in our role - our act. In relation to my identity as mother, I perform the role through certain behaviors that either reinforce my ideas related to my 'self' or conflict with my notions of 'self'.  A great deal of research supports and develops these ideas.

My dissertation adds another level to Structural Identity Theory - Emotion. As we know both academically and through lived experiences, our emotions impact how we see our self in interaction with others and subsequently our mental health. My dissertation investigates how emotions impact our commitment to an identity, the salience of the identity and ultimately the impact of emotion on our mental health & psychological well-being. I examine not just the frequency of the emotion; i.e. - how often we experience happiness related to being a student, but the duration & intensity of those emotions. Duration & intensity add more dimension to emotions. Again, we know both academically and through experiences that we experience emotions on a multidimensional scale -  how often do we feel it, how long does it last and how intense was it. I look at six emotions (happy, proud, anger, sad, fear & shame) in three different role/identities (student, family member & friend).

My research integrates another component to all this - in all this interaction & emotional response - do we think it was an appropriate response? In other words, did how we respond coincide with how we feel we 'should' respond according to the social script that guides our behavior. I also add to which we feel our significant others would find our emotional response appropriate. So, we felt frequent, long lasting, intense happiness related to being a student. We believe we responded appropriately and we believe that our significant others would agree with our emotional response. These emotions, as related to the identity salience & identity commitment - all enhance or inhibit our psychological well-being (I look at depression, anxiety, aggression, self esteem & mastery).

My hope was to simplify my dissertation in this post . If you have made it to the end -- you recognize that simplification is difficult. I am not sure if I succeeded. In writing this I feel I am leaving so much out. However, it is critical that I can take what I am doing in research and present it in an understandable manner.

That idealistic child has grown up to be an idealistic adult and I still am empowered to change the world. I'm not sure my research will change the world on a large scale, but the impact of my research will enhance our understanding of commitment, salience & emotions and their relationship on well-being and mental illness.

Operation Dissertation Take 820(ish)

I woke up this morning with a revaluation... of sorts - I need to take the reigns, again on this dissertation. It isn't that I lose the reigns - I have found that it is a number of factors that have contributed and continue to contribute to my lack of substantial progress. Thus, months ago when I started this blog I thought "Hell, why not blog about the journey." Ultimately, I am a fair weather blogger and months go by with no posts and the shiny new excitement of writing a blog goes away.
Like many aspects of my life, writing has always been a love/hate relationship. It is the writing of the dissertation that is giving me such a difficult time. Writing, essentially placing the words/thoughts/ideas/images in my head to print has not always been an issue for me. Writing is communication - for those of you that have known me throughout my life know that communication is strength of mine, I can talk (often too much). Looking at my writing as merely a tool to communicate my thoughts is essential. Thus, I now - once again, turn to the blogosphere to accompany me on this journey.

I woke up this morning with an idea, what if I take what has been my tool for procrastination and make it a tool of production (sounds Marx-esque at bit). Essentially, what if I use my blogging as a motivator and instrument to write. I'm writing now, it's flowing - words are coming from my mind to the screen with relative ease. If I can flow here -- why can't I spew the academic juices onto the screen? As most of you are well aware different writing arenas are just that, different. That is part of the problem in academia. We write to each other and not the public.

I see this blog, to the extent that I can keep up with it - potentially fruitful in a number of ways.
  • It will facilitate my writing. 
  • It will take my private struggles into a public sphere for potential assistance & encouragement. 
  • It will feed my ego & narcissistic tendencies. 
  • It will engage me in a public sociology - one that requires me to speak to 'the people' rather than just 'my people'. 
  • It will keep me honest, productive & motivated.
To the extent that I can do these things requires that I keep up with it. If I want a 'following' I must first develop something to be followed. So, here I go again. With my eye on the prize... operation dissertation take 820.

It has been approximately 820 days since I successfully finished my comprehensive exams. While I have made much progress dissertating since then - I feel that it has been take after take after take of trying to get the wheels of production moving. Here I go... again.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Conferences & the Transition to Writing

This week is a regional meeting for sociology. The North Central Sociological Association and the Midwest Sociological Association team up every couple of years in Chicago and have a larger than usual conference. I'm presenting two papers this year, one on teaching & the other on my dissertation research. I'm trying to find balance in teaching and research -- something that I'm likely to be searching for my entire career (if I'm lucky and score the type of job I'm hopeful for). While balance is difficult, navigating the transition from student to professional while juggling parenthood and all the excitement that brings has been a challenge. I look forward to and welcome that challenge.

 I present on Wednesday "Using Video Montage in Introductory Sociology Classes" I have compiled a 'montage of the montages' to demonstrate the assignment.

I am hopeful that it will go over well. I plan on finishing the paper to submit later this summer for publication (if not later this summer I may try to 'stock pile' it for when I get on the tenure track). At any rate, I need to get something together and out.

The presentation on Thursday is "Integrating Affect into Structural Identity Theory: Shared Meaning & Commitment" -- it is less exciting but finding support for the theory and the propositions set forth by the originator of the theory is pretty cool -- least for me. I have compiled a hand out and script to go along with the presentation and need to work hard to transition into writing mode.

This conference offer a unique opportunity for me - to visit with my peers & professors that I've been disconnected with since the move and to explore the city in which I now live and often forget is right down the highway. I look forward to the upcoming weeks to get my head back into the game -- to explore the dissertation and really start writing.

I'm ready. I don't think I was last year. I was scared, uncertain of the opportunity in this job market and where I was with my relationship with Nick. Now, all those things seem trivial -- it's time. Nick will either be with me or not. Liam will make it no matter where we are -- I'll make sure of that. And... I know now... no matter where we end up -- I'll make it home.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Looking for my Sanctuary

I think that I need a lake house or some sanctuary to escape and write. I know that sounds strange, but honestly -- I've always found peace and focus in nature and near water. I've arranged my summer schedule to be pretty open (I'm only teaching online) so that I can focus on writing.

Now, I'm just looking for location to get it all accomplished.

Multitasking, between teaching, parenting and navigating all the other roles I play is difficult especially when it takes me hours to get into dissertation mindset. Running the data, interpreting it and everything else that goes into what I have to do takes a great deal of mental work. It is not something that I can do in pieces like some suggest because it takes so much 'thinking' to get to the 'doing' -- if I stop dissertation 'thinking' even for an hour, much of what I worked to get to -- is faded, lost or disconnected. Once I'm there in the dissertation 'zone' -- it's golden and I can proceed. It's getting to that point of mental clarity and focus. The reason I need and seek a sanctuary for the summer months.

Nick's parent's own a home on Lake Delton in the Dell's. I'm sure if I wanted to escape for a couple weeks I could muster up the courage to talk to Nick about it and begin the process. It's just weird because I'm broke as a 'doctoral student' and don't have the means to really fund an escape from reality.

I could also escape back to Kent, I'd be close to my advisor which is good -- but there isn't much water near or around the Akron/Kent metro areas! I also have to take Liam's needs into consideration -- can't just ditch my child for months.

I'll find sanctuary... if not, I'll have no other choice to find focus and inspiration where ever I am at!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Operation PhD

Fatigue has set in. Three days and three nights of manic level deconstruction of literature... pages upon pages of notes all awaiting to be pieced together into what will be my dissertation. I'm hopeful I am making progress. I'm not sure exactly what progress is anymore... a finished project at most, a few pages at least.

Nothing is enough these days, the guilt of not having a finished project is overwhelming. It is not enough that I have over 50 pages of notes or I've ran hundreds of statistical models, entered 1100 thirty page surveys worth of data, cleared the IRB hurdle and have an advisor that believes in the project. I've made progress, I have to give credit to myself for what I have accomplished.

When you are dissertating... the journey seems endless. I can say with some certainty that I know this road does end... and my eye is on the prize at the end of this long journey. All that taken in... what often feels like mini steps forward and even more frequently a few steps back... will come together.

I recently purchased a series of "Get 'er done" "How to..." books related to the dissertation. I've meditated, burned incense, cleaned, organized, shopped, walked in circles, spent hours upon endless hours preparing for classes that I am teaching... I've done just about everything to avoid what sits in the forefront of my life and my own standards of success... the dissertation.

The books have helped, sometimes you need a little direction and instruction. It's strange - ten years of college, hundreds of term papers, a 110 page Masters thesis... and I look at the dissertation feeling like I am essentially flying blind. I'm gaining some confidence in the fact that I am not flying blind, that after ten years of education in the field... I know something. After nearly five years of discussing, debating, pondering and truly living sociology and sociological social psychology -- I know something.

It is what I don't know that scares me. While I recognize that I've learned in the process of this past decade -- it is what I have not learned that inhibits my creativity, my flow... it is what I don't know that stops me in my tracks. Call it insecurities... call it thirty-something life crisis... whatever it may be... it hinders both my creative and academic production.

Time to kick the negative self talk and all this self deprecating defeating activity and... just do it. It will not be as easy as has been advised (essentially, "just write the damn thing already"). All my life I have been the impulsive one... three decades of being corrected, reprimanded and punished for not thinking before I act has translated to an overly cautious, slow and deliberate dissertation process. I'm ready to be deliberate and spend time on this.

I wrote my thesis in a semester, really in a week. I jumped through the hoops and when I finished that degree I felt a sense of accomplishment... I was proud at what I had done. I threw one line out to a doctoral program really for 'shits and giggles' -- not thinking I'd be accepted. I was given the chance, they accepted me and I thrived. That doctoral program was the first time in my life that I was accepted, praised, encouraged and truly felt a part of something.

Now, over the miles I attempt to seal the deal. I successfully navigated four years at Kent State, the coursework, the headaches, the heartaches, the brutal comprehensive exams... now here I am on the cusp of the completion of my doctorate. It's a pretty scary place to be... I've been told to watch what I wish for... I just may get it.

I proceed with an eager excitement and caution, a paradox that is Operation PhD.