Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Journal Project: Containers for Thinking

Ten Indus characters discovered near the north...Image via Wikipedia
Douglas Harrison has an interesting piece in the Fall 2008 NEA Journal--Thought and Action.  "Scholarly Voice and Professional Identity in the Internet Age"  He blogs at  and this piece is about the issues related to being a blogging academic.  It certainly spoke to the excitement and fear that I have with this endeavor--how dare I do anything without anonymous peer review!!  How dare I communicate in new containers?

Actually, blogging exacerbates the problem of containers for thinking...but for me, it didn't start there.  It's been a long slow process.  You can think of me as a Crockpot on low.  The Blog was the moment when you lift off the top of a dish that has been simmering for 8 hours.  Before you could just smell it, but now you can taste it. 

The issue of what kind of container I will use for my thinking has emerged for me on several fronts.  It has been a crucial part of my exploration of Qualitative Data Analysis Software (QDAS or CAQDAS, which ever you prefer) and the notion of the E-Project, that little womblike electronic container that these software create for one to stow research materials in and to grow interpretation.  It is also an issue with my investigation into Arts-Based Research, which forces me to ask myself--what are other ways (containers) that I could use to express my thinking?  How are these different from ye old academic/social sicence genre?  What happens when I start using a different kind of container?

The Journal Project

These two ideas merge in the Journal Project.  Post-tenure I came down with a familiar academic malaise characterized by a sense of surprise at the positive outcome of the tenuredecision and a feeling of survivor guilt--why me?  As I cast around for answers, I wrote--I am a perpetual journal writer.  I write every morning and have done so for years. The writing has always been totally for me, a way to center myself, understand the world in which I move.  It is a place to explore the past and try to discern the future.  It's addictive.  I feel strange when I don't do it --like starting the day without a cup of tea, I can't seem to wake up properly without it.

I'm not sure now how it happened, but the use of QDAS and the interest in Arts-based research came together in the Journal Project.  I decided to enter two years of my journals--from the receiving of tenure in August 2006 to two years from that point--into my QDAS of choice--NVIVO.  I would analyze it there and see what I learned from studying myself from a distance with a tool devoted to the interpretation of qualitative research texts.  It was a mixture of autoethnography, self-study, document analysis, middle age angst, and several other approaches.  It goes slowly--like the proverbial Crock Pot--I devote about two hours a week specifically to this project.

In undertaking this study of self through documents one thing I have asked of myself is that I stretch the ways I interpret and represent what I am learning --within and beyond the confines of the alphabetic text.  As I type and code the entries (yes, I write my journals in longhand in composition books--what could be more retro), I seek out naturally occurring poems and stories that I separate out to review and work on at another time. 

No surprise to me, this being a  journal, the codes are highly emotional in nature.  It was a painful time during which I wrestled with hard personal issues.  I imagine, at some point, extracting the coding tree and working it into a piece of art.  Perhaps I should do some code weaving a la Johnny Saldana.  (Johnny Saldana in Methodspace)

But what has been most intriguing is trying to use methods of visual art to better understand the issues that are arising for me.  As a person who works with fiber and collage, mixed media, spun fiber, and felt, I have challenged myself to use the visual as I would use a memo in qualitative research....and to see what this does for me, and how it helps me to see the material.  I also ask myself to incorporate the ideas that are emerging from the journal project into different art pieces.  This has created pieces that are different from visual memos, but equally memorable in their own way. 

While I am enforcing this new method on myself, I have also been using it with students.  Each semester I try to find new ways to expand the possibilities available for data collection, interpretation, and representation using a range of arts-based methods.  

As time goes by I want to share my work in this area with the blogosphere...maybe tomorrow. 
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