Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Monthly Archives: February 2009

Thesis Completion Seminar: Update

So just a quick update that yesterday afternoon I fulfilled the requirement of holding a “successful” Thesis Completion Seminar – basically, a one-hour presentation and Q&A session which is a hurdle requirement in order to become eligible to submit the thesis for examination. So: hurdle jumped.

I wanted to thank all the folks who came to lend moral support during the presentation (you guys didn’t all have to hide in the back, though, you know 🙂 – they would have let you sit up front 🙂 – but seriously, it was really good to have you all there).

Because this is a new requirement, I hadn’t known what to expect. It didn’t help that a certain sometimes commenter around these parts led the way with an absolutely terrifying presentation of their excellent research. I had been planning to speak much less formally – and, in fact, I did speak much less formally. But I spent several hours worrying about how bad a decision that might have been, having rocked up to the event intending to ad lib a presentation, rather than giving a formal paper – because the opening formal paper was, in a word, perfect.

That said, perhaps best in that context not to do something too similar… 😉 So when it came my time, I basically stood up and ranted at everyone for half an hour. I felt like something out of a Zizek video… The questions were extremely generous, giving me an opportunity to expand on many points that by rights probably should have made their way into the original rant… The atmosphere was extremely supportive – a really nice way to bring the project publicly to a close.

Now for the actual completion – which, in true dialectical fashion, unfolds as a process that follows the presentation of its results… ;-P

Lending My Coffee Shop a Hand

So I’m not sure whether this counts as one of drew’s blurry lines or not, but this morning I found myself in my coffee shop, surrounded by an unusual amount of apparatus (even for me). I had the laptop connected to the power cable I supplied some months back, was installed in my regular table, had the laptop on, course materials scattered around the table, and was wearing headphones because I was waiting for a call on Skype… In walks someone doing a book on Melbourne coffee shop culture – who was, apparently, spending the morning visiting this coffee shop, as well as the coffee shop the reading group frequented prior to this one. They had wanted to photograph the place before it became crowded – I was the sole patron on hand… One thing led to another, and I soon found myself signing a photo release form – just in time for Lynda to walk up, hoping to catch me in my “office”, and get caught in the photo shoot herself.

The photographers asked me to “Just keep doing what you were doing”. Then they asked me to tilt my laptop (“otherwise we can’t tell what it is in the photo”), such that it was impossible to work on that. Then they circled around as Lynda and I spoke, flashing at us from different directions and occasionally leaning over to reposition coffee cups, papers – and, eventually, Lynda’s head. They were comparatively uninterested in my head. With me, it was my hands. “It looks good when you move your hands in the shots!” the photographer volunteered, seconded by the person holding the lights. Er… okay… I tried to concentrate on the conversation with Lynda (wasn’t the idea to capture us actually, you know, doing what we would normally do in the coffee shop?). The photographer started making motions with his hands in the background, willing me to move my hands more so he could get a good shot. I shifted my gaze so that I could look at Lynda without seeing him. This brought the light persons more clearly into view. He obliged the photographer by making vast hand motions at me as well, wafting the light around in great circles behind Lynda’s head.

I explained that the hands moved when I spoke: if I wasn’t speaking, the hands would be silent too. I went back to talking to Lynda – flash! snap! – the hands must have moved… They asked me to take a sip of coffee. The hands don’t move while holding a coffee cup. “It’s probably cold, too, isn’t it?” the light person asked. It was indeed.

My favourite moment was when they apologised to Lynda for interfering with the meeting. “Not at all,” she tried, “didn’t even notice.” Mmm-hmm… Completely unobtrusive, naturalistic research…


Since I am now a quasi-official (or, at least, honorary) grown-up at my university, I need a staff ID card. To obtain the card, I had to fill out a form and send it off for official approval. Once official approval was granted, I was told to present myself to security, who would check that I am who I claim to be, photograph me and, some days later, issue a card. How would security check that I am who I claim to be? By checking that I look like the picture on… my student or staff ID card. Now, as it happens, I do have a student card. However, since not all new staff members pupate into faculty, having first been students here, this can’t be the entirely accurate description of the process of obtaining a staff card. So I mentioned the issue. “Uh…” came the confused response, “You need a card…” voice rising slightly, “to get a card?” “That’s what it says,” I pointed helpfully at the form. Some rustling. Another form. “Why don’t you just use this one?” A form exists, then, that provides a means for becoming a staff member… from the outside…

But perhaps I prefer the immanent reflexivity of the former process?

The Daily Grind

I love the fact that I am so expected to work in my coffee shop, that people who are trying to reach me leave notes with the staff – and that the staff promptly give these to me, treating the matter as so urgent that they can’t even allow me to order my coffee until the message has been relayed. 🙂 (And to the person who left the note: you aren’t the first to have done this, and I will get back to you soon… 😉 )

Marx and Philosophy

Okay, so if you were me, and you had been invited to give a talk to the Marx and Philosophy Society conference in June, what would you talk about? There are a couple bits from the thesis I would consider developing, and the inertia from the thesis may well win out, but I was curious whether anyone might have any suggestions that could stir my thoughts out of the thesis rut a little bit…

Thesis Workshop: With What Must the Thesis Begin?

This coming Friday, I have to fulfil a mandatory pre-submission requirement for the thesis that basically involves presenting on the structure and the major claims of the thesis, and then taking questions from faculty and students who happen to attend the event. The faculty who attend are provided with the abstract, first chapter, and table of contents for the thesis – unless they are actual supervisors, they are unlikely to have read anything else. The students who attend are not, to my knowledge, supplied with anything. Presumably they are either friends of the presenters, and therefore know their work through that connection, or they are simply there to see what this hurdle requirement entails. The purpose of the requirement is to provide a sort of check and balance on the supervision process – making it less likely that theses will be sent out for examination (which, here, is an entirely external process) when they are likely to require major amendments or not to pass.

If any readers from my university would like to attend, the event will be held in the Research Lounge from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday 27 February. There will be four or five of us presenting and taking questions – each of us with an hour to ourselves. I don’t know as of yet which hour is mine. If this matters, send me an email, and I’ll let you know when and if I find out…

Since the introduction I recently posted to the blog was mainly a placeholder – and one that was specifically not very well-designed, I didn’t think, for people who weren’t going to read the rest of the thesis – I have rewritten it for purposes of distribution to the staff who will be attending this event. I think it’s much better than the one I posted a couple of weeks ago, so, to satisfy my archivalist impulses, I’ve posted it below the fold. As before, it still needs a lot of detail work (and footnotes have been stripped from the blog version), but as an overarching introduction it does a much better job – I think – of preparing the reader for the sort of thesis they are about to read, the terminology used in the thesis, and the style of argument the thesis makes. I think…

I belong to the first group of students to whom this presentation requirement has been applied, so the groundrules for the event – and what you have to do to “pass” – are still a bit unformed. I’m not expecting any major dramas, but who knows… I’ll let folks know next week…

[Note: To read the thesis chapters in order, check the full list under the Thesis Tab.]

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Harvey on the Stimulus – and DeLong

Just a quick pointer for those who haven’t seen the exchange: David Harvey has a new post up giving a critical appraisal of the US stimulus package. DeLong responds, invoking Reagan to say “under such a huge pile of *(@^ there must be an argument somewhere”. Not surprisingly, Harvey is less than impressed.

Apologies that the thesis has left me with no time to blog on issues of substance, but thought at least the pointer might be of interest…

Feed Reader Issues

Just a quick note that I’ve just realised there have been issues with the site’s feed for the past several days – which means that most of you won’t have been receiving updates for a little bit, and now may have a small burst of them all at once. For reasons not worth explaining, in order to get the feed to work, I had to truncate the posts (the “more” tag should already have been doing this, and at a more graceful location, but this doesn’t seem to have been working properly recently…). I’ll try turning this off again soon, and see if it stuffs up the feed again… ;-P

In the meantime, apologies for the flurry of posts all at once… Take care all…

Thesis Workshop: Introduction – Historical Materialism and Real Abstraction

It’s a bit rough and ready, but I’ll post the working introduction to the thesis here anyway. If I keep this introduction in anything like its current form, I’ll need to make some slight modifications to several of the later chapters, since the introduction currently covers some of the ground discussed in later chapters, and would make those discussions seem repetitive…

Lots of detail work still to do – but this should be the end of the thesis-related posts for now. I’ll put up a PDF of the version of the thesis that is actually submitted when that is ready to go.

[Note: To read the thesis chapters in order, check the full list under the Thesis Tab.]

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Talking to Myself

I have been editing the introductory chapter of the thesis (I’ll put this online with the others soon). This morning, editing was taking place with my son bouncing up and down all around me on the couch, chanting various things, clambering up my back, and generally doing the sorts of things kids do when adults are visibly concentrating on other things. At some point, he plonked down beside me to read the text over my shoulder – out loud. This resulted in an extended period of having the text read out to me just as I typed it in, which… had a bit of a surreal effect on the editing process. At some point, he paused, confused, and asked: “Where is the other person?”

“What other person?” I asked, confused myself.

“Who are you talking to? Is it Jessica?” he wanted to know.

I suddenly realised he thought I was chatting with someone else online, and tried to explain, “No no – I’m not chatting with anyone. I’m writing. There’s no one else there.”

He mulled over this for a while, looking increasingly puzzled, and then, in an uncertain, quavering voice, slowly asked, “So… are you? Are you talking to yourself?”

Hmm… Good question…