Thursday, April 6, 2006

Prayer is taking place, or, Becoming together

Building on Patricia Lather's voluptuous validity and John Law's mess and method, I've been working on writing up my dissertation's "methodological framework" in a way that doesn't violate exactly what I'm talking about. The very requirement of including a chapter on methodology interferes with what I'm trying to think and say and do. It's very frustrating and I feel suffocated and anti-social while I work on this.

So I'm reading a novel about Fenlanders and I'm trying out metaphors of siltation, of flow, of reclamation. They hint at mobility. They hint at power. They hint at socio-technical obduracy as an obstacle to socio-technical change. They also hint at some sort of absurd Sisyphean situation, or a scene that ends with "'Well? Shall we go?' 'Yes, let's go.' They do not move." They also hint at the actual process of writing my dissertation. They look more like blog posts, a constant flow with the occasional one exceeding its confines--its structures and locations--by (be)coming together with others.

Chapter 6 in After Method is dedicated to non-conventional forms. Law basically claims that "method assemblages" craft otherness or create difference, precisely in their "condensing [of] particular patterns and repetitions whilst ignoring others". (Nothing new here: a boundary argument.) But then he spends several pages discussing Quaker assemblies and I get really interested. Law writes about how Quaker meetings "break down the boundaries round the person so that he or she can be 'used' by the spiritual." Saturated. Overflowed. Exceeded. As the Quakers have described: "In such an experience the brittle bounds of our selfhood seem softened, and instead of saying 'I pray' or 'He prays' it becomes better to say 'Prayer is taking place'."

(The second meaning of prayer in the OED is 'one who prays'. Pray-er. Coming together through asking rather than telling. Latour's matter-of-concern, not matter-of-fact.)

In the Quaker world, and everyday life in other Anabaptist communities, the sacred and the profane (be)come together. And after chatting with Trevor this morning, I have to wonder if this isn't also a rather lovely example of Nancy's being singular plural? So, as Law then suggests, the question*--and I think our broader challenge--is "how to live it; how to know it; and how to tell it."

I'm not any closer today to knowing how to tell it or how to write it beyond what I have just written above, but I've always admired Lucretia Mott's sense of how to live it and know it:

"In 1840, a World's Anti-slavery Convention was called in London. Women from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, were delegates to that convention. I was one of the number; but, on our arrival in England, our credentials were not accepted because we were women. We were, however, treated with great courtesy and attention, as strangers, and as women, were admitted to chosen seats as spectators and listeners, while our right of membership was denied--we were voted out. This brought the Woman question more into view, and an increase of interest in the subject has been the result. In this work, too, I have engaged heart and hand, as my labors, travels, and public discourses evince. The misrepresentation, ridicule, and abuse heaped upon this, as well as other reforms, do not, in the least, deter me from my duty. To those, whose name is cast out as evil for the truth's sake, it is a small thing to be judged of man's judgement."

*Latour more annoyingly, um, assembles this question: "What if we had to imagine not an assembly of assemblies, not even an assembly of ways of assembling, but an assembly of ways of dissembling?"


Anonymous Linda said...

I'm a bit surprised you're not allowed a more flowy/fluid/messy format. Despite all the (MA) thesis writing seminars I currently attend and their talks of distinct method/methodology chapters I still have the impression that within anthropology at least you're allowed to be a bit more experimental and creative if you want to. We're basically told that as long as it's coherent, consistent with the argument and display our "anthropological craft" the choice of how to shape the text is our own. On the other hand I sometimes get the impression that phD dissertations are the most strict academic format you'll ever encounter. There is more freedom in form both before and after.

Anonymous Craig said...

You're being forced to write a 'methods' chapter? How barbaric!

Blogger Anne said...

oh, no one's forcing me to do anything - but that doesn't mean there aren't people with expectations (surely you remember the dept. craig, or are you being sarcastic?)

Anonymous Craig said...

In the brave new world of graduate studies being handed down from our Lord and Father, our academic Shepherd, where seventy-page dissertations will be the norm ... certainly 'methods' and 'lit reviews' are obsolete! Afterall, they are the first chapters to be cut when transforming the dissertation into a monograph.

I imagine my own 'methods' chapter: "I had some ideas; I read some books. Some were theoretical; some were historical. I opined." I can't imagine the horror -- both of writing a 'methods' and a 'lit review' chapter, but also the amount of wasted paper and time. Fact of the matter is that 'methods', including the formalization as 'research design', just isn't relevant to many dissertations being written these days. These are also the most interesting dissertations.

Is Purvis the Trevor in question? I'd hope he'd be sympathetic to an anti-methods-chapter approach. Hunt and Curtis certainly are.

Blogger Anne said...

craig - not that trevor, and i'm not working with hunt or curtis. it's not my committee that's the issue - they rock - but i've looked at every dissertation defended in the dept. in the past five years and there is little in the realm of experimental writing...narrative structure is where i need help right now :)

Anonymous lago said...

While you're considering religious/spiritual ways of thinking about this, you might also give some thought to the idea of "self-emptying" or "kenosis." It seems appropriate to describe the creation of a dissertation as an emptying of yourself.

Blogger nokhochi said...

i'm actually writing my thesis (due this monday!) on prayer in a medieval convent and nancy's being singular plural ... you can imagine your post nearly knocked me over.

Blogger Anne said...

lago - ooohhhh, very good! thanks.

and nokhochi - your comment nearly knocked me over! can you please share your thesis? i'd love to discuss more.

Blogger Anne said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger Anne said...

Implications of Kenotic Theology:
- deny the immutability of God
- undermine the monotheistic distinctive of the Christian faith


So this is bad? Very good then! ;)


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