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"So what?" - Accretions

Fata Morgana
2005-10-15 00:12
"So what?"
Public
academics, berkeley, research
I got my project proposal for my social psychology class back today with less-than-glowing comments. I was hoping to carve off a piece of my ongoing research on photography and cameraphones, and proposed studying the ways in which people create identities (e.g. through constructed memories and self-representation) with photographs, narrowing my scope to those online for the purposes of a semester project. The professor responded with, "I don't think I buy 'online photo-sharing identities' as something of sociological interest. I'd encourage you not to do this project. If, however, you are really sold on it, come to my office hours and try to sell it to me." At first, I felt devastated. Why wasn't it interesting? I thought it was interesting ... I was even thinking of expand it into a master's thesis next semester. The fact that I'm getting some "so what" responses from both sides - technological and social - worries me and eats away at my self-esteem. And I just don't know enough about the fields of social psychology or science and technology studies to effectively justify my work to those audiences. But then I thought about the readings of the course, many of whose themes focused on various forms of racial and gender discrimination. Is that what he's expecting? What does he mean by "something of sociological interest?" So it's my plan to review the readings this weekend and try to formulate a rejoinder for office hours next week, and a few questions for him. We'll see how it goes.

In the late afternoon I practiced ballroom for a couple of hours. Practices the last couple of weeks have been really good - we have some new choreography and I feel like we're making headway on some technique issues our coaches have been mentioning for a while now. Tomorrow night we're competing in the Autumn Classic at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in SF, if anyone's interested. :~)
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Liz
stellae
2005-10-15 07:41 (UTC)
(no subject)
I think it is very hard to fall at the border between fields and sell an idea to a given field -- falling at such a border certainly made finding the right grad program difficult for me. The stuff that I want to do has the discipline of neural science in its thought patterns, but the methodology of psychology in its experiments. Which meant a lot of grad programs wanted to interview me, but most decided I wasn't a good fit, after the fact.

(Fortunately, the vision science people at Berkeley were a great fit and I liked the campus and department, so things all work out for the best).

And frankly (though I know next-to-nothing about your photosharing proposal or your class) I think online-photo-sharing and identity creation has a *lot* of sociological interest. Take the entire online dating world (which, while there are those who regard it with much suspicion, is a huge industry)... profiles with photos are much more widely read than those without, and the types of photos included tend to be used to attract a certain personality archetype and tend to reflect qualities that are ostensibly desirable to said archetype.

Good luck with "selling" the idea to your professor.
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Kris
anemone
2005-10-15 13:31 (UTC)
(no subject)
I would take his complaints seriously. More for the purpose of the class than for the research project as a whole, but still, you not only have to do good work, it has to be something you can convince others is good work.
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Gaia
temperategoddss
2005-10-15 14:37 (UTC)
(no subject)
I would have to agree. It may be that your professor is simply not tech-savvy and has no idea of the proliferation of interaction and self-definition using personal photography online these days. Nevertheless, I would take it as an opportunity to explore your idea, especially the reasons you may expand it into a thesis next semester, and appreciate that you have to defend it. If you can make your case and argument with someone who is "enh" about your idea, then you should definitely be able to do the same with people who are more sympathetic and open to it. I understand how it would injure your self-esteem, but try to not let it do that and instead learn and grown from it. You know that you have a valid idea and possible thesis, convince your professor of the same.
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Darth Absinthe: hooded woman
darthabsinthe
2005-10-15 17:20 (UTC)
(no subject)
picture_keywordhooded woman
Go temperategoddss for the uplifting advice. I've found that many of my professors obviously come from a certain theoretical orientation (most of the folks here are Marxists so I'm getting lots of info about that) and have certain ideas that interest them (like race and politics or gender). Maybe try to figure out the professor's orientation and frame your arguement in that way (for example Marxism looks at power struggles and such). A good hint to figure it out is look at how he frames his racism discussions...what does he think the causes are: political, economic, gender etc. The work you are interested in is becoming more and more relevant even if you are experiencing some of the anti-technology feelings that lots of us social scientists have. Don't let the criticisms get you down, they are an opportunity for growth and wouldn't you rather someone question you now instead when you are getting ready to defend? Oh and ditto to everything temperategoddss said.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2005-10-15 18:37 (UTC)
(no subject)
Thanks for the words of advice! The funny thing is that my advisor thinks it's a perfectly good thesis project, and she would be the one signing off on it - this other professor is in the sociology department so it's likely that I'll never see him again after this class.

For a little while yesterday I was thinking of just dropping the class, since I'm not getting that much out of it anyway (I'm getting a sense of what the field is like but no comprehensive literature overview) and I don't have time to adequately do a project that has nothing to do with my research. But I'll stay enrolled, at least for a little longer, and see if I can work something out. At least I'll go in and find out what he thinks is "sociologically interesting" and what his objections were to my proposal.
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Jeff
lbchewie
2005-10-15 20:24 (UTC)
(no subject)
Well, if you have some support for your project, that's always a beginning. I think the advice offered by most of the above people are very sound - if you're able to convince people who might have otherwise ignored your field, you'll be able to capture the attention of pretty much anyone remotely interested in sociology or technology. Talking with him to find out what he considers "sociologically interesting" is valuable information, even if you tend to disagree with him. It does help frame arguments to a diverse and possibly critical audience.
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josephhall
josephhall
2005-10-16 18:39 (UTC)
not uncommon
Hi Morgan, this actually happens quite a bit to SIMS students that try and make inroads in our (Berkeley) soc. and psych. departments. They seem to have a special uninterest in technological applications of soc. theories. Yuri and I had problems with this with our blogging work. They don't care about technological application unless it tells them something entirely new about sociological theory. I'd encourage you to talk to Yuri and to Coye Cheshire to debug this and would specifically recommend that you not take those comments as much to heart as you may have (unless you plan on publishing in a soc. journal!).
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2005-10-16 21:08 (UTC)
Re: not uncommon
Thanks for the feedback - I will! Is Coye around South Hall these days? I still haven't met him, but would love to.
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josephhall
josephhall
2005-10-16 22:15 (UTC)
Re: not uncommon
He's definitely around and actively engaged with the Phd students... I reckon he'll be especially interested in helping you since his background is sociology (and, of course, you're a great, reasonable person... that never hurts!).
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zapophenia
zapophenia
2005-10-17 21:38 (UTC)
(no subject)
So, the trick i've always used is to take a disciplinary class in terms of attending the lectures, doing the assignments but have a SIMS faculty grade it and analyze it and get your credit through SIMS as an independent study. I love the feedback of disciplinary folks, i love being pushed, but i also recognize that they will never find some of the tech stuff interesting if they have an innate bias in it.

I should show you the reviews we got from AAA for our panel on blogging. In essence, there is no culture in blogging and thus it is of no value to anthropologists. The funny thing is that the student section at AAA thought that the old folks were on crack so they put our panel in a special student-nominated section. I can't wait to attend the conference and see what happens.

But seriously, don't take attacks personally - use them as challenges that push you to think in new directions and figure out how to rearrange the pieces so you don't get penalized for someone's biases and narrow mindedness. Being in an interdisciplinary space is about coming up with fun ways of working around bullshit so that you can do what you think is best and get the best guidance from the most diverse people possible who will never agree with each other.
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