The journey so far – making sense of the question of definition (and recognising the value of Bob Hoskins)

Part of my preparation for embarking on the PhD journey has been my Wednesday morning research sessions with colleagues from across the university. We meet to discuss the various challenges we’re facing and understand more about the processes that lie in wait further down the line.

“It’s good to talk” (Hoskins, B. 1995)

A few weeks ago, the research diary of art scholar Jacqueline Taylor (which was more like a piece of art than a diary – I did attempt to acquire it for my hallway at home!) really made sense in a way I didn’t expect it to. My knowledge of fine art is pretty non-existant, and while I don’t pretend to get it, the session – and diary – certainly showed me the value of inter-disciplinary discussions.

That’s been one of the most unexpected benefits of these sessions. Heading into them, the links between my journalism background and those from music, dance and a myriad of other areas weren’t obvious. But from listening to their research interests and thoughts around methods, I’ve been able to steal borrow, understand and appreciate ways that my own research ideas might be formulated going forward

A case in point was Jacqueline’s spectacular three-dimension text-based map, created to link her ideas. It really resonated and is a pretty accurate portrayal of the jumble inside my own head right now – so it’s been pretty pleasing that the follow up sessions have examined ways to define ideas and research interests.

Last week was about identifying topics, issues of debate and early research questions. I’m still trying to compute the brain mess into a definitive question, but I’m getting there. This week was looking at the literature review.

The bit I’ve been dreading.

I like reading, I love reading in fact. But academic reading? Not so sure.

That was until a brief discussion resulted in Dr Oliver Carter firing over an email saying simply “read this” with a PDF attached. It was about a range of topics, although it was some of the theories around the social factory which really sparked my interst (thoughts on that will be another blog post altogether).

This ‘lightbulb moment’ has led to a frenzied thirst for material on a range of subjects, even more so following today’s session about literature reviews and drilling down to the reading that’s really relevant to my particular areas of interest.

These are obviously likely to change, but as it stands my literature focus will be on topics including:

  • Citizen journalism & creative citizens
  • Media ownership
  • Digital journalism distribution

So, I’m now armed with more printed A4 sheets than I know what to do with and a neon highlighter that matches a shade of socks I had as a child – but I’m already busy scribbling my thoughts and lifting phrases that resonate or provoke thought.

My next challenge is going to be trying to collate all this into a database I can mine as and when I need to. Rachel Ann Charles‘ talk at today’s session provided some really useful practical advice, a number of which I’m already implementing less than 12 hours later.

Three weeks have moved my ideas on beyond my own expectation. The research ideas are coming into focus and there’s a real definition beginning to appear in my own mind through listening to a range of different experiences – from an artist dealing in spinning nipples to a composer seeking inspiration from household appliances.

There’s a line I never thought I’d write – and therein lies the real benefit of my current learning. I’m finding knowledge in corners I really didn’t expect, thanks to dropping the cynicism guard and being open to new ideas.

Media theory is full of great thinkers. You probably wouldn’t put Bob Hoskins high on that list, but when he told us it was “good to talk”, my Wednesday experiences are showing that he might just have been on to something.

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