March 23, 2010

Some quotes that are inspiring me as I start the writing journey:

Might it be possible to use other scholarly skills, including the ability to tell a story that both acknowledges imperial power and leaves room for possibility?
-Anna Tsing (Friction, 2005, p267)

What if we were to accept that the goal of theory is not to extend knowledge by confirming what we already know, that the world is a place of economic domination, conflict and oppression? What if we asked theory instead to help us see openings, to enable us to find happiness, to provide a space of freedom and possibility?
-J.K. Gibson-Graham, (A Postcapitalist Politics, 2006 p7)

In a time so widely understood by Hondurans to be one of desperation, it is my hope that they will have full support from one another and from those of us who cannot claim to understand Honduran habitus but who find ourselves struggling against the same agents of violence… it may be unstable but our compassion must not wither.
-Adrienne Pine (Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras, 2008, p203)


Sunday Reader

January 11, 2010

I confess.  I am a Google Reader addict.  I skim through hundreds of blog posts and articles each week, faithfully sharing those that I find interesting, challenging or simply fun.  As one of my favourite types of blog post is the linky type (I love finding new sites and blogs and can spend hours following rabbit holes across the web) I thought I would start my own regular link feature.  My web reading tastes are eclectic so this should be an interesting exercise… expect lots of social justice and development stuff, politics, culture, academia, some recipes I’ve tried and some just for fun. Enjoy the rabbit holes!

First up, Why Does the World’s Most Popular TV Show Feature a Misanthrope Who Gets Away with Everything? I’ve been watching a lot of House lately.  My excuse is that it is on every night here, nicely timed for an hour when my daughter is asleep, work is done and I am ready to curl up with a wine or hot chocolate and relax.  Quite why I find watching a character so abrasive, manipulative and insensitive to be relaxing I’m not sure… perhaps because he says and does some of the things I only wished I could in my past life as a nurse. Whatever the reason, he’s far more interesting to watch than the one-dimensional, polished characters on many other shows.

In addition to watching House, my other evening routine is Facebook, and this week I succumbed to the bra colour meme, seemingly a bit of harmless fun with friends in order to raise awareness for breast cancer.  But I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it, which I put down to the fact that I couldn’t see how it would actually help the cause in any meaningful way.  Saundra Schimmelpfennig of Good Intentions are Not Enough makes a more discomforting point, asking if charity activities can actually hurt the very people they are trying to help, pointing out that mis-guided charity events may loose sight, and unintentionally cause pain to beneficiaries.  Saundra has also written an interesting series on Guidelines for Volunteering Overseas, something I am planning to do more writing on and therefore something which you may see more about in this blog this year.

Here in Honduras, the elections are over and day to day life goes on seemingly normally. However the reality is that the crisis is not over.  Just yesterday Quotha reported a Massacre in Aguán, which the police and army argue is a “normal eviction”.  If even half of what is reported by Quotha is true, then this is a “normal” that needs to be challenged and changed.  Other ongoing concerns in Honduras include reports that Honduras is broke, and continuing repression of opposition media outlets. Incidentally, both blogs linked here (Quotha and Honduras Coup 2009) are written by academics with long-standing, close ties to Honduras and contacts within the resistance movement, and I trust them.

Of course in addition to obsessively following the news and spending hours with my google reader I am supposed to be writing my PhD thesis this year.  This image from indexed kind of sums up the year ahead of me.  Maybe I need to study more closely Lifehacker’s advice on better tools for better students.

Finally, this recipe for Chicken with Citrus Sauce is amazing! Lucky we are living in a citrus orchard.


March 18, 2009

I am confirmed! I presented my PhD research proposal at a department seminar this afternoon, answered some questions, discussed the research with a panel and am now pleased to announce that after a year of provisional registration I have met the requirements and am officially a fully confirmed PhD candidate! This is a major step in the PhD process. It means the university is confident I have the ability to do the work, and I can officially get on and do the research. Unfortunately I won’t be getting into the research work immediately, but will be doing some paid consultancy work for the next couple of weeks, just to help keep food on the table. But on that table tonight will also be a celebratory bottle of bubbly! One year complete, two to go!

Letters> emails> facebook>…?

February 12, 2009

I have just picked up the book causewired from the library, which although not an academic book, looks very interesting.  Flicking through it I was struck by how rapidly the field of charity/ fundraising/ social causes is changing.  The internet, and in particular web 2.0 applications, is having an immense impact on the way in which we “Get involved” and “Change the World”.  My own experience reflects this.

In 1996, when I was 21 and looking to use my nursing training overseas I sat down and wrote a pile of letters to various charities, missions and NGOs.  Although I was aware of the Internet I was not a regular user, did not have an email address and would not have known how to find the email addresses of organisations even if I did – or they had them!  So I typed my letters on a word processor, printed them and posted them.  I recieved a lot of replies, all letters with glossy (and not-so-glossy) brochures, and sifted through them to find which ones interested me.  
If I had wanted to do the same thing 5 years later, in 2001  I would have spent an afternoon online, searching websites and emailing those organisations that caught my eye.  In fact I did.  Searching for organisations to work with for my Master’s research took days of online searches and emailing.
Today, in 2009, it would be different again.  In addition to surfing organisational websites I could join any number of Facebook cause groups, surf the blogs (and comment or email with questions!) of those already volunteering, and sign up to any number of volunteer recruitment sites to find the latest opportunities anywhere on the globe. I don’t have to ask for “further information”, it’s already there.  I could even sign up online.
When I wrote a research pre-proposal for my current (PhD) research in 2007, the network I am working with had a static website, yahoo forums and a conference.  Over the past year it has added Facebook groups, and the website has a new semi-interactive features and an increased number of videos. I also know from my first interviews that there are plans afoot to utilise social networking applications further.
This all makes me wonder where things will be at when I finish my PhD in 2-3 years.  On the positive side, I at least know my topic is current, and will be of interest and relevance to many.  On the other hand I wonder if it will already be dated.  In the time it takes to research and write, how far will things move on?   It will certainly be interesting to see!


January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

I am doing the new year’s thing, taking a quiet few minutes to look back over my blog from the past year (sparse as it is), reflect on the year that was and think ahead to the year to come.  

From my 2008 New Year post:

So what about 2008?  I’ve not made any resolutions or non-resolutions this time. To be honest between being a mum, working and planning a PhD  I haven’t had the time or head space to think about it.  Any goals I have for them moment revolve around the PhD.  I have set myself the somewhat ambitious task of getting through the first year’s work (full proposal and literature review) before September so that we can go to Honduras to do a Spanish school and attend a conference.

This means I will be working very hard for a while.  But not at the expense of my family.  I guess my real goal for the year is to get this PhD underway while continuing to be the best mum and wife I can be.  Lets hope I can be at least as sucessful this year as I was in 2007- I can’t afford not to be.

So how did 2008 measure up?  Well I certainly didn’t complete the full years work before September (that was overly ambitious!) but I have done a fair chunk of it and was able to get to the conference, do a couple of weeks of spanish classes and even start some early interviews and data collection.  The study is very much on track.

Although I don’t think I blogged about it I was quite worried going into 2008 about how my daughter would handle the changes- moving towns, Mummy doing full time study, starting childcare and travel.  But she was amazing.  We had a few hiccups settling her into childcare (“I want Mummy to stay with me…”) but she’s now going happily 3 days per week (4 days from next week…).  I do find I need to work on the balance and make sure we have plenty of Mummy time, or she gets very clingy, but overall we seem to have found a good balance.

I’m not sure if I have found much balance with my long-suffering husband, and feel like I failed him a little this year.  Once again health problems have limited his ability to complete his studies or find regular work.  He is a wonderful Dad and I honestly don’t know if I would have made much progress on the PhD if he hadn’t been available to pick up most of the childcare and home responsibilities but thinking about that too much only makes me feel more guilty. I really hope this year is the one in which he finally is able to make some progress on his own dreams.

So what are my goals for 2009?

Obviously I want to make significant progress on the PhD- complete the confirmation procedures in February which means finishing the proposal and literature reviews, and then get into the data collection.  This will require about 6 months in Honduras, as well as significant amounts of online research.  By the end of the year I’d like to have the data collection completed, analysis underway and be thinking about some serious writing.

This means another year of hard work and travel.  It also means another year of changes and instability for my daughter and makes things tricky for my husband.  While there is not much I can do about his health except hope and pray, I approach this year more cautiously as I am much more aware now of just how messed up things can get.  I really don’t have any answers and can only keep trying to support him in the best way I can. I suspect this year may become one of investigation and planning as we think about where we want to settle and what we want to do as a family long term.

2008 was also year of spiritual exploration and contemplation as I strayed far futher from the faith I grew up in than I would ever have expected.  I am long past searching for definative answers but will be continuing the journey in 2009.  While much of my life seems set to follow I predictable plan this year this is one area which remains quite blank. Which is very exciting and a bit scary.  

Finally, this post also marks the 2-year anniversary of this blog!  While I haven’t always posted regularly (being a Mum and a PhD student doesn’t leave much spare time for writing blog posts), I like having the outlet to share the things that are on my mind. So, if there are any readers left out there, thanks for reading.  I wish you all the best for the new year, and may this year be one where you too make progress towards reaching your own castles in the sky.

Today was very enjoyable and I thought I’d post here about it- if for no other reason than to remind myself of what I like about being a PhD student on those days when I wonder why I ever started this journey.

I was up early this morning and enjoyed the sunny, clear morning air (despite the frosty cold) on my walk to the university. I left early as I had some prep to do before my first tutorial of the semester. The class is a first year (undergrad) development studies course called “Rich World Poor World”. It went well. The class was mostly already there when I arrived 10 minutes early and participated well in discussions on “what is development” and “can development be measured”. Of course after years of study I think have even less idea about what development is than I did when I was in thier place, but it’s good to get people starting to think critically about thier assumptions about the world and our place in it.

After that I spent some time answering emails, arranging meetings and trying to organise accomodation for our trip to Honduras in September, which I am starting to get quite excited about.

Then I had a meeting with a PhD reading group we are starting up- lunch, hot chocolate and nearly 2 hours discussing post-development theories and politics. Sounds dry and boring? It wasn’t. Trust me!

Then back to my desk for a couple of hours writing, trying to sort out my ideas on international volunteering and volunteer tourism, being hopeful about the potential while not ignoring the pitfalls.

And then the walk home. Not a stunningly special day, nor even particularly exciting. But it is such a priviledge to have the space to explore new ideas and to share them with others. To often at work and in daily life we get caught up in the routine and in what needs to be done. To be able to think- that to me is a joy.

Halt Graduate Fieldwork!

June 18, 2008

This humorous post on is a bit old in internet terms but it made me smile today (somewhat of an achievement as things are particularly stressful at the moment…).

“Frankly, we’re just tired of it.” stated Jason Natuktu, an Inuit Elder of Afognak, Alaska. “Look, haven’t these people heard of the internet? Just go look it up already.” His son, Atol agreed, “How many inept questions do we really have to answer over and over again?” He continued “Yes, we were oppressed, no we don’t envy people living in Florida, yes we really eat blubber. Really, this is the best and brightest?”

I particularly like this line-

“Look, we understand these kids have to do this to satisfy a bunch of grumpy old SOBs that believe you can’t be an anthropologist unless you’ve experienced nine months of dysentery.” Said Quaticatl, “but ya know, we have access to Amazon and eBay here too”.

Happy Monday

March 31, 2008

As I was getting ready to leave the house this morning I had a startling revelation.  It was Monday morning and I was happy.  I never recall in nursing actually looking forward to the work week and not being sad that the weekend/ days off were over.  I guess despite all the personal and family dramas, and general cynicism over the state of the world, I am in the right place and doing the right thing.  I am enjoying academia, getting my teeth into some really interesting reading and actually making concrete plans to get to Honduras later this year.

My advice to the world for today?  If it’s Monday morning and you are not looking forward to the week, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate.  Don’t wait for the world to get better for you. If you would rather be doing something else, try and work out how you can make the change happen.  It’s so worth it.

But enough blogging, I really should really actually be doing those readings right now!

A few woes

February 8, 2008

I’m here.  Sitting at the university contemplating my first week as a PhD student.  Earlier in the week I started mentally composing a post about how happy I was and how great it was to actually be here.  But I’m not posting that today.  Be warned, this is going to be a grumpy post.

Of course, I am happy to be here, and I’m sure the current problems are temporary, but I’m finishing the week in a cloud of frustation.  Here’s my gripes…

We have been lucky to have been allocated a family flat 10 mins walk for campus.  It’s a nice enough place, a little like a motel unit but absolutely fine for what we need.  Exceptwe feel somewhat isolated-

  • We are supposed to be able to access wireless internet but the signal seems to be pathetic and we have not yet been able to logon.
  • We get exactly 2 television channels, poorly
  • The phone line (which is toll barred) has abruptly been cut off for no discernable cause.

Luckily we have cellphones and reception for those is good!  However my list is not quite done yet.  There’s my university woes…

  • I’ve been allocated an office- temporarily.  There are Masters students using the PhD room so I’m back in the Masters room.  Not that there’s much difference and I’m certainly not an academic snob, but I really don’t want the hassle of setting up and then being moved.
  • I can’t seem to get my computer registered on the university network.  It wasn’t a problem 3 years ago but now it seems there is a couple of little problems including new staff who don’t know the procedures and a possibly new $120 charge that I might be made to pay.
  • The USB drive a bought was faulty.  No problem to exchange than goodness.  But then I went and left it at home today.  Which wouldn’t be a problem except at the moment (for the above reasons) I am working between 3 different computers and the library.
  • I can’t use my bibliographic software because it requires a download that I can’t download because I can’t access the internet from my computer and I can’t even download it from another computer onto the USB drive and then onto my computer for the above reasons…

I have some other woes to do with feeling a bit overwhelmed with the topic and wondering where to start- probably much more important in the long term, but internet and computer difficulties are making that process so much more difficult. 

On the bright side- I”M HERE!  I really needed to vent, and am feeling a bit better for doing so.  It is now nearly 6pm on Friday night, the library is about to close and I am going to go home and enjoy my weekend.  Hopefully I’ll come back refreshed and optomistic and once more excited about the fact that I am able to pursue a PhD.  After all, I really am one of the lucky ones, many many people in this world never get this sort of opportunity.

The title of this post kind of says it all.  After my deep introspection of my last post I am back to the more prosaic and mundane aspects of change.

I finally recieved confirmation of my provisional registration and enrolment in the PhD program today, the scholarship is sorted, as is accomodation and childcare for my daughter. All that remains is to finish one last week at work and to pack and move! It seems quite unreal that in just over a week I will actually be starting a PhD.

What is real is the work we need to do this week. Storage space is limited and the accomodation we are moving to is furnished so there is a lot of sorting to do before we pack- stuff to keep and take, stuff to keep but store in Wellington, stuff to give away and (a scary amount of) stuff to throw away. This task is complicated bythe fact that my darling husband has injured his knee and currently has very limited mobility (although keeping him sitting down for long enough to enable to knee to heal is proving a real challenge, especially with an active 2.5 yr old around!).

But we will get there. 3 working days, 5 packing days and 1 cleaning day to go!