Archive for the ‘SCOT’ Category

Comps: Rocked, locked and kicked to the curb

Monday, September 10th, 2007

I finished my second comprehensive exam last Friday: The social construction of the Internet. It went a lot smoother this time round; I wasn’t writing scared in the final hours. I learned a few things. Imagine.

About a week before this second exam, I found that my brain reached a saturation point. I managed nonetheless to read a few new texts (!) and reread some ones read 4 months ago – texts I knew were foundational. That was very helpful. The main thing I did differently was write up some stuff ahead of time. This was something TedH had recommended way back, 6 months ago or so. For whatever reason I just didn’t have it in me for the first exam. But this time, I started my exam a day earlier. That is, after thinking about it for a bit, I decided 1. what I wanted to write on; and 2. what was likely going to be on the exam. Happily these things coincided. So I began writing out Marx’s theory of technology, based on my contention that he was, in fact, a social constructivist. Seen from another light, this amounts to a defense of Marx against charges of technological determinism.

The first question (of the 5 I received) was a doozy (thanks Rick!) and it was exactly that Marx question. I took that as a good omen. The second and final question I chose happened to be the subject of a conference paper I’ve been thinking about for my panel at the Union for Democratic Communication conference this fall. So that was a great chance to write out some ideas that have been fermenting; I hope to use that answer as a starting point for my paper.

I kept up my same schedule as the first time, breaking for lunch, taking tea as I worked and heading out for a run at 6pm. I wrote the exam in Point Grey, so runs along the ocean were amazingly invigorating. Dinner at 7, then writing till too tired, around 11 both nights. I finished the first question on the first day; last time I was still writing the first question part way into the second day which, obviously, wasn’t good.

Nonetheless, by the second day I was feeling it – the pressure, the brain drain, the exhaustion was setting in. But I just kept plugging away and you know, I think things turned out ok. I even had a chance to proof read this time, so there were limited embarrassing typos. It is an exam after all, so I have to believe there’s a bit of grace.

The experience of the first exam really helped, I think. In part, just knowing what to expect is hugely valuable. Also, writing ahead – even a few hundred words of a coherent argument – is immensely advantageous. And also thinking about what it is you want to write about, and then selecting your questions and framing your answers with that in mind, is key. I mean, this is my career – my life, really – not some random hoop I’ve got to jumpt (though in truth, it is that too). I should be writing about what I’m interested in, what I’ll be researching in the near or distant future.

While I felt my first exam was was a hazing ritual with little pedagogical value (and said as much to the Grad Chair), it seemed this time that I really got something out of it. I could, at last, see the value of this process.

So now the oral defense in three weeks. But before that a few things: 1. first day of teaching CMNS 253 solo tomorrow; 2. Web of Change, where I’ll present; and then back in town for the defense. God love Rick Gruneau for calling it a chat, b/c that’s about all I’ll be in the mood for.

Philosophical duels in dreamland

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Early this morning I awoke to the rain – a heavy, steady downpour that I most associate with Vancouver. I lay in bed, windows open, deep under my covers with only my face exposed to the chill, listening to its soothing rhythm, and felt at home. Not in a geographical sense, of course, but in that way when things just feel right. And you are at ease with yourself and everything around you, if only for a moment.

In that peaceful moment I recalled a dream; in fact, I’d been woken out of it. Feenberg and Bijker were sitting at a table somewhere, talking. And Bijker, in his affable, gentle way, challenged Feenberg to a duel (that’s what he called it). Of course, this was to be a philosophical duel, a battle of the brains, a theoretical tangle. Feenberg, naturally, accepted, and the two men sat quietly, pondering this turn of events, while my dream scene changed.

This is funny because these men are in no way philosophical opponents. I suspect they might even be friends. And both seem to be mild mannered – not the least bit predisposed to dueling of any sort. In fact, when Bijker visited our lab last year, he acknowledged the debt he (and really SCOT) owed Feenberg for introducing a critical approach to the study of technology.

The thing about preparing for your comps is, you never escape it, not even in sleep. Bijker has been on my mind because I just reread his Bakelite essay, and am reading Winner, who of course, has no patience for social constructivism whatever. So I guess I’ve got SCOT on the brain, and in my dreams…