Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Monthly Archives: May 2006

“We’re Both PhD Students” and Other Confusions on the Road to Qualitative Data

Aside from taking pretty pictures, C. Speed and I have been conducting a number of formal interviews recently – well, formal in the sense that we sit down with a tape recorder, and in the sense that we negotiate and ask people to sign off on formal terms for the use of the recorded material. In most other respects, though, the interviews have been fairly unbounded: they’ve consistently taken far longer than we expected – we had originally tentatively asked for, and sometimes only grudgingly been granted, an hour of time. So far, the shortest interview has actually taken close to two hours, and the longest reaches past three. My fingers are already aching in anticipation of the transcription work to come… But the material – and the generosity of the people providing it – has been absolutely fantastic.

On one level, the methodology for the interviews has been quite easy to construct: we’re focussing on the development process for the region covered by the Mernda Strategy Plan, which was an unusually detailed strategy plan prepared by the local Council, when it feared that rezoning the very fragmented original landholdings would cause small parcels to be snapped up by a large number of developers, some of whom might not have the funds or the expertise to think on a regional scale when planning their individual developments. As it happened, a small number of large developers did piece together substantial land holdings – although it’s an interesting question whether this means that the local Council needn’t have placed as much effort into the planning process, or whether this means that the effort Council placed into the planning process is what ultimately attracted the major developers…

I spent some time with local Council staff last year, as well as with selected major developers. This year, I have been focussed on other stakeholders in the planning and development process: other developers, original community members (divided into two broad groups of opponents and supporters of the development process), residents of newly built estates, and social service organisations attempting to build community infrastructure for the area.

It’s been interesting to compare what we were worried about, when we were originally planning the interview strategy, with the sorts of problems we have actually encountered. Read more of this post

Things I Shouldn’t Read While Grading…

Science and Public Policy

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’d been asked to put together a very schematic course proposal, for a potential undergraduate elective in Science and Public Policy. The pro forma for the course proposal, which I’ve attached below the fold, didn’t allow for much detail – it basically just provides a brief description of the overarching course concept, and a bit of scaffolding on the structure of the course and assessment activities. I’ve just been told that the course concept has been accepted, and that a detailed course guide will need to be developed by 30 June. This requires much more work – and carries the additional wrinkle that I’m not sure whether I will be the one who actually delivers this course, so I need to design the course so that it doesn’t rely on my idiosyncratic disciplinary background…

So, with this in mind, I need to develop the detailed week-by-week course guide, complete with readings and activities, around the scaffolding provided by the pro forma. This process may require reworking or casting out some of the concepts from the course proposal. I’m personally not all that committed to the specific themes I used for the course proposal, and I’m more actively worried about the assessment tasks – whether there are too many of them, whether they assess the right skills, etc. So there is still a lot of conceptual work to be done, in addition to identifying readings and choosing activities.

As before, all suggestions are very, very welcome (and special thanks to Russ for his suggestions from the last round of discussion, some of which have already been expressed in the proposal pro forma, and still others of which will likely make their way into the more fleshed-out course guide). Read more of this post

Do Exurbs Dream of Steel Kangaroos?

My research partner C. Speed and I have been periodically photographing the development process in Whittlesea, documenting stages of development as (often marginal) farmland becomes construction site, becomes new suburb. In the Mernda-Doreen area where our research is concentrated, several of the developments are at the “model village” stage – sales offices have opened, model homes have been built, basic infrastructure is being provided for the initial land releases. It’s an interesting period for capturing attempts to communicate (and bring into being) the kind of community the developers are seeking to create on particular sites.

To illustrate some of what we’re seeing, I’ve posted some photos and commentary below the fold. Although the photos have been optimised for the web, the page may take a bit to load for those with slower connections. Read more of this post