…thoughts on and about my PhD journey and beyond…

Archive for the ‘Text work is identity work’ Category

Thesis is passed and published

Happy to report that my PhD thesis ‘Leadership Literacies for Professional Staff in Universities’ has now been published at http://researchbank.rmit.edu.au/view/rmit:160335.

This blog was part of my action learning approach to my research and study and my grateful thanks go to all who engaged with this work along the way.


This interpretive inquiry explored leadership approaches for professional staff working in contemporary universities. It was underpinned by an emergent methodology grounded in American Pragmatist philosophy, Critical Management Studies theory and was framed as a qualitative act of inquiry.

A framework, comprising Worldly, Sustaining, Leadingful, Relational and Leadingful Leadership Literacies was constructed. This framework emerged from reflections about, and the critical examination of, leadership studies in changing times. Influences such as complexity as a sense making frame; mindsets emanating from different eras; as well as language and power relations were explored.

The framework was empirically explored by looking for signs of these Leadership Literacies in relation to professional staff working in universities. This was undertaken, first with a thematic exploration of two published Australian university leadership research reports for signs of theoretical congruence with the Leadership Literacies. Second, a survey of professional staff eliciting lived experiences of work and leadership were analysed for signs of the Leadership Literacies in practice, using a qualitative Framework Analysis.

This research found indications of the five emergent leadership literacies identified in the framework having theoretical congruence and observed in practice of professional staff working in Australian universities. This suggests that the Leadership Literacies framework is well positioned to ground ongoing research and analysis of these emergent leadership concerns for professional staff working in universities.


Pardon, my philosophical disposition is showing…

Detail of The School of Athens

Plato and Aristotle. Image via Wikipedia

I’m concentrating on writing my research design chapter at the moment and so I am thinking about my philosophical disposition and how this notion is treated in theses.  No doubt it depends on the very things that make up the  philosophical disposition–the metatheories of epistemology, ontology and axiology– whether we 1) think about them at all, 2) understand them and claim them as our own, and 3) make these understandings explixit or keep them silent in the actual thesis.  In any event I figure if I’m doing a philosophy degree I should at least consider what this means.

While we can be plural and cross disciplinary in our theoretical frameworks, methodology and methods, I contend that it is impossible to be philosophically plural.  Our philosophical dispositions aren’t really choices in the same sense as choosing appropriate theory, methodology and methods for a particular piece of research, but rather are a statement of our understandings of  our way of knowing, our way of being and what we value.  It is therefore important to be clear and keep true to these dispositions in order to build a strong and authentic framework to make all the other decisions that need to occur in the conduct of research.

Whilst these insights about philosophy are all very well, they are not reason enough to be made explicit in the thesis.   The statements I make concerning my philosophical disposition will be included in my thesis to provide some background because I am positioning myself in the inquiry as one of the research instruments and therefore it is necessary to acknowledge “a critical self-awareness of [my] own subjectivity, vested interests, predilections and assumptions and to be conscious of how these might impact on the research process and findings” (Finlay 2008, p. 17).  They also influence the choices I have made to conduct a qualitative interpretive inquiry and so are explicated to locate my  philosophical, theoretical and methodological standpoints within the wider philosophical and research domains.

It will probably not surprise readers to learn that my philosophical disposition is one of an interpretivist epistemology, relativist ontology and values laden axiology.  Now that sounds easy enough, but it has taken me nearly three years to be able to say that out loud.  In fact, up until a month ago I thought my epistemological standpoint was constructivist!!

So how about you?  What is your philosophical disposition? Do you intend to write it in to your thesis and what are the reasons for this decision?


Finlay, L. 2008. A dance between the reduction and reflexivity: Explicating the “phenomenological psychological attitute”. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology,  39, pp. 1-32.

Social media and my PhD

Britain Going Blog Crazy - Metro Article

Image by Annie Mole via Flickr

This post was first published as a guest post on thethesiswhisperer, on 31-Aug-10 and was mentioned in this article in The Age on 9-Aug-11.

In this post I want to reflect on the value of using social media and what it might have to offer research students. As a full time PhD student investigating a messy phenomenon in real time–leadership literacies for the knowledge era–I made a conscious decision to be an active learner, to learn by doing and learn by connecting with people as well as through the literature.  I had always been a reflexive practitioner and wanted to also be a reflexive researcher.

The ‘learning by doing’ part began by mapping out conferences where I could present drafts of my work. I wrote abstracts about what I needed to develop arguments for.  I thought that there would be no better way to focus the mind than presenting on that topic in 3 or 6 months time!  Yes, it might be the ‘extreme sport’ end of PhD comportment, but it did work for me.

The risks associated with presenting work that is not ‘perfect’ and still in development have to be considered, but the benefits of receiving timely and valuable feedback really helped me with my work.  The ‘connecting with people’ part occurred at these conferences, where I met theorists in the field (yes they are human beings!) and people with aligned interests.

The ‘connecting with people’ part was also met by the interactions with the social networks I’ve built up using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and to a lesser extent Academia.net.  The sharing of ideas and resources has been a two way thing and even though most of what I’ve learned through these networks will not go into the thesis, they have been invaluable as an action learning tool to pick up on trends, test ideas and to get a feel for what is emerging or fading.  This has helped strengthen the research instrument that is ‘me’.

The reflexive researcher part was taken up with the blog where I have written a lot about my struggles with ‘text work as identity work’ (For more see Kamler and Thomson’s book “Helping Doctoral Students to Write). I started my blog in November 2008, inspired by a  Professor at RMIT,  Brian Corbitt, telling a story about Germaine Greer writing “The Female Eunuch” from her collection of vignettes.

A vignette is a small piece of writing which tries to encapsulate a story or a moment of insight in a stand- alone piece. The beauty of a vignette is you don’t have to try to connect with other ideas.  This is opposite to how one might normally think about a thesis, which is meant to be a long, densely inter-related document. The vignette approach seemed a compelling idea, and one that I reflected on for a few months as I pondered just how I was going to become a writer, specifically how I was going to write A LOT.

I thought that blogging might be the modern day equivalent of Greer’s vignette approach. Brian was quite pleased that he had inspired such endeavours and, in typical professorial fashion, suggested that there could be a paper on ‘blogging as a research method’ in it! I have yet to write that paper, mainly because I don’t feel like I am leading that charge, unlike Lila Efimova whose blog and PhD studies are well documented at Mathemagenic and widely cited.

My blogs were written when I needed to think and reflect and this seemed to be in the period leading up to the confirmation and when designing the research.  I am currently using these blogs–these placeholders of my thoughts–as I draft my thesis chapters.

I remember commenting to my supervisor at one low point that I couldn’t write anything, not even a blog posting.  I was expecting a blast for being a terrible PhD student but reassuringly Sandra mused that perhaps I didn’t have anything to write because the issues, for now, were sorted.  Instead, perhaps, this marked the shift to a new stage of the PhD–a ‘doing the research’ stage, rather than ‘thinking about the research’ stage.  That was indeed an ‘aha’ moment for me and it is true that I didn’t feel the need to write many postings while I was ‘doing the research’ but now that I am back into writing and analysing I think that the need to blog will be more frequent.

A blog can be an archive of reflections about what it means to do a PhD. It can be a placeholder for the vignettes that build to become arguments in the thesis and, unlike a personal journal, the thoughts and arguments are open for scrutiny and feedback.

Blogs about the PhD journey–like thethesiswhisperer and by individuals–remove the veils of mystique that mask the hard work.  It shows us the ‘invisible work’ which never makes it into ink in the final thesis document.  A blog does not a PhD make, but a blog can help develop the necessary confidence to become ‘writerly’ which is necessary to tackle the thesis itself.

On writing…or trying to…

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writin...

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writing. Image via Wikipedia

I’ve had another period of writer’s block, and,  as before it has preceded yet another aha moment.  This time to do with the design of my study.  No matter what the reason, or when it occurs within any writing project, it’s a difficult time.  I was prompted to write this post as a response to Ailsa’s lament on the very subject “Some writing got wrought, and I’m now right on track“.  In many ways though, it is a note to self…

>>Lovely post Ailsa. You’re not alone in this wrestling match with self to transfer the thinking we do in our heads into a written text that may or may not ever be read!!

It’s easy to become defensive in the face of expectations of others, like the examiners and those within the discourses we are writing to, as these invisible voices do take on mythic proportions at times. But I think it’s our own expectations that are at the heart of this struggle.

The struggle to write is understandable when we remind ourselves that we’re not simply transcribing, the very act of writing is an act of thinking out loud. For me, it is the ultimate sense making activity.  Because of this, the struggle for me is not reserved for the final writing stage of the thesis (where you are just now) but has been with me since the beginning. I wrote a blog post about this upon reflection of my confirmation.

One thing that helps me when I get too close to it all, is to remember the wise words from a Winter School some time ago. It was either Brian or Andy who reminded us that “It’s not about being interesting, it’s all about being interested!!”

Put another way (thanks Viv) sometimes in order to write we just need to “put down our clever and pick up our ordinary”.

As well as writing I’m also thinking about analysing my data so I’m looking at lots of ways to represent data visually at the moment.  Here is a word cloud about this blog, via Manyeyes.

word cloud

Other-Centredness and kindred mindful approaches to leadership in an emerging world

Pedagogical Creed

Image by technovore via Flickr

Please forgive me, it has been several months since my last confession–oh…I mean posting!!  There are quite a few reasons for this ranging from writer’s block, to shifting into the ‘doing’ part of my research, and as my supervisor pointed out to me–that I am moving from one stage of my research to another and perhaps I don’t have such a need for the writing-as-thinking outlet.

The blog has been instrumental to the conceptual stage of my research, both as the writing-as-thinking platform and a way to share my learnings and in many cases un-learnings with my peers.  As a practictioner-researcher, this sharing of information and the opportunity to receive feedback has been an important part of my personal research journey.

As I enter into the data collection stage this blog might be rather quiet, but no doubt when I get into the analysis stage it will re-emerge as I wrestle with and make sense of my thoughts and the data.

Today then is quite an important marker in my PhD journey as my data collection has officially begun, and I’ve just received notification that an abstract has been accepted for a conference next February, see the following abstract.

Until next time….


Connecting via the blogosphere…

This post is a reflection on two of views from cyberspace that have have resonated with me over the last week …

1. Public Displays of Humanity (PDH)

I’ve recently connected with the work of LeadCap who are striving to develop 1 million leaders in India.  LeadCap’s founder is Sangeeth Varghese who is a regular blogger with Forbes Magazine.  In his most recent blog he talks about “the magic potion of hard power mixed with soft emotion” and gives examples of what perhaps can best be described as PDHs (public displays of humanity) by American presidents…He received mix reactions to this post but it resonated very much with my own work.

Here is my comment to Sangeeth’s blog:

I really like this post and it resonates so well with my own work and research too. It seems on balance that people who appreciate that other-centredness, relationships and ‘soft’ skills are so important now are the same people who have a worldview that is relevant for the knowledge era. Those who do not are generally deriving their values and worldview from the archaic industrial era.

One of the reasons I’m calling my work and research ‘leadership literacies’ is because I’ve come to realize that language (and in particular metaphors) is an important way to surface people’s underlying (and often unexamined) values. I also think that some translation is needed between the two worldviews, just as much as translation between foreign languages. Your example is a great case in point in that the gestures you have described by these two Presidents could be construed as ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ depending on the underlying worldview.

Perhaps this is our role–that of translators between the two worldviews. I am not in favor of oppositional language because I don’t think the planet has the luxury of waiting, we need to be bringing together these worldviews and all working together on the bigger issues.

I’ve written about oppositional language etc in a paper I’m giving at the Thinking Conference in Malaysia in May. The last para of the conclusion is relevant to your post?

It was also argued that oppositional language and the pitting of one deeply held worldview against another will not lead to resolving the underlying problems of the world or the workplace. Rather, space for conversations to surface underlying assumptions is required in order to find ways of integrating our economic and social systems in every layer of society, including the workplace. Perkins’s language of peace metaphor confirms that that there are always other lenses to view the world through, not just the one that hegemony prefers and privileges.

I’ve also talked more about this particular paper for the Thinking Conference on this recent post.

2.  The Art of Elegant Writing

Becoming a writer is an ongoing struggle for me and so blogging has become a visible and public action learning strategy to help me work through both the the craft of writing and the “text work is identity work” consequences of the PhD process.   Blogging helps me to think out loud and to archive the many threads that I’ll be calling on in the formal writing of my PhD.  

I’ve got such a long way to go to my goal of writing an ‘elegant’ thesis because I can’t even write an elegant blog post yet!!  Leo Babauta’s recent post on “the elegant art of writing less” was very much appreciated even though I’ll never become a ‘blogging ninja’!

Ask Seth Godin, the master of the short post. His ideas spread widely and rapidly, because he makes a point, and then gets out. He’s a blogging ninja.

Thanks Leo for your short and elegant post recommending that we:

1. Know your core message. State it in 4-5 words before writing. It’s probably your headline.

2. Write with the reader in mind. You can be extremely minimalist by writing something with just one or two words. But how useful is that to the reader? Be sure you’re meeting the reader’s needs, not just being brief.

3. Get to the point. Don’t waste time with a lengthy introduction — readers will skip it anyway. Get to the core message, right in the first sentence. Stay on that point, and finish it.

4. Edit ruthlessly. Go back over your writing, edit out needless ideas, sentences, words. Make sentences more compact. Then do it again, until you’re sure every word counts.

The concept of ‘researcher as research instrument’ within the hinterlands of research


Hinterland by Mike the Mountain via Flickr

Piantanida & Garman (1999) present a theory to expand the notion of qualitative inquiry to present it as a method and a logic of justification for the research study.  Their theory makes explicit the notion of the ‘researcher as research instrument’ (other references to ‘researcher as research instrument’ include Guba & Lincoln, 1981 ; Shindler & Case, 1996 ; Piantanida & Garman, 1999 p. 139; Janesick, 2001 ; Meloy, 2002 p. 61; Merriam, 2002 ; Patton, 2002 p. 109; Janesick, 2003 p. 47).

…the researcher is as much a part of the inquiry as the intent of the study and the inquiry process.  In fact, the researcher’s thinking lies at the heart of the inquiry…Ill-conceived dissertation folklore…contribute[s] to “dissertation block” by diverting attention from the very wellspring of knowledge that feeds the dissertation—that is, students’ own professional experiences, personal intellectual concerns, and assumptions about knowledge (Piantanida & Garman, 1999, p. 24).

Engagement with the ‘researcher as research instrument’ notion is very much dependent on the researcher’s worldview and their own ontological, epistemological and axiological underpinnings of what constitutes acceptable research.  Just how explicit this position is ‘owned up to’ is also dependent on the underlying assumptions and within the social contexts of acceptable research practice within disciplines and theoretical schools of thought.  The continuum for making this position explicit (or not) runs from an objective (values free) stance where the notion of ‘researcher as research instrument’ may be hidden from view to the subjective (values laden) position where it may be fully declared. researcher_as_instrument1

Whether this position is indeed visible or hidden it is nevertheless in play in the everyday decision making and conduct of research, for example:

  • The patterns of reading the literature
  • Who is seen as expert, novice, practitioner and what weight is thus accorded?
  • Intuition, insight and subjectiveness
    • Are these and other ‘soft’ skills used to guide decisions about the research?
  • Researcher’s experience in the world, at work and in research?
  • How much of this is drawn upon to come up with a do-able research project?
  • How the research is written, how the researcher is positioned within the text.

The notion of ‘researcher as research instrument’, therefore takes root in the ontological, epistemological and axiological underpinnings of what constitutes acceptable research for each of us.  From here it will manifest (or be hidden) in the selection of research methods and in the research text itself.  For those of you who are undertaking research, have you thought much about the position of ‘researcher as research instrument’ ?

Your comments welcome:

How do you, see yourself (more or less depending on technique, method, philosophical framework) as part of the creation of the ‘text’ and ‘data’? (Take the poll above)

Do you see this position as being ‘not about me but through me’ in your own research work?

What resonates most strongly here?

Attached is the discussion paper and readings on this topic which were prepared for the RMIT Qualitative Inquiry Special Interest Group meeting of 5-May-09.


Guba, E. G. & Lincoln, Y. S. 1981. The evaluator as instrument, Effective evaluation, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, pp. 128 – 152.

Janesick, V. J. 2001. Intuition and Creativity: A Pas de Deux for Qualitative Researchers. Qualitative Inquiry, 7 (5), pp. 531 – 540. http://qix.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/7/5/531

Janesick, V. J. 2003. The choreography of qualitative research design: minuets, improvisations, and crystallization. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Strategies of qualitative inquiry, 2nd ed., Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 46 – 79.

Meloy, J. M. 2002. Writing the qualitative dissertation: understanding by doing.  (2nd ed.) Mahwah, N.J., Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Merriam, S. B. 2002. Qualitative research in practice: examples for discussion and analysis.  San Francisco, Calif. ; Jossey-Bass.

Patton, M. Q. 2002. Qualitative research and evaluation methods.  (3rd ed.) Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage Publications.

Piantanida, M. & Garman, N. B. 1999. The qualitative dissertation: a guide for students and faculty.  London, Sage.

Shindler, J. V. & Case, R. E. 1996. Apperception and Meaning Making in the World of Qualitative Inquiry: An Examination of Novice Qualitative Researchers, Annual AERA Meeting. New York,  AERA.


Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y. S. 2008. Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials.  (3rd ed.) Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage.

Kamler, B. & Thomson, P. 2006. Helping Doctoral Students Write: Pedagogies for Supervision.  Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, Routledge.

Law, J. 2004. After Method: Mess in Social Science Research.  London ; New York, Routledge.

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