Friday, 31 July 2015

Post 58: Summer reading, etc., Selections

It's always fun to have a reading list going with a number of books and articles that satisfy the curious drive to learn that many of us in grad school have, though certainly we aren't the only ones with bottomless curiosity.

My Reading List continually morphs with my moods, sense of obligation, curiosity, and interest. A recent pruning deleted Cynthia Flood short stories and replaced it with Paulo Friere "Pedagogy of the Oppressed", and I placed CP Boyko's "Psychology and Other Stories" on the list for a thorough re-read.

I am a fairly panoramic reader, and enjoy creative non-fiction, academic research papers and books, a splash of poetry, all mixed with a good dose of fiction and short stories.

This post is a short selection of passages that have stuck with me from the past few weeks, some for their wisdom, others for their insight, and other for their composition. I'll let them stand against and beside each other as is, and hope that some of them will strike you as interesting enough to follow up on.
Another beautiful evening sunset in Victoria. 
From Neil Smith's (1984) "Uneven development: Nature, capital, and the production of space:"

In the first chapter 'The ideology of nature'

"The subject of nature, real and conceptual, threads through the entire fabric of western thought. If it is a mammoth task to summarize the development of the major concepts of nature up to Kant, it would be a similarly mammoth task to do the same for the last two centuries. For during this time, social relation with nature has undergone an unprecedented transformation. Parallel to this, many old conceptions of nature have been fossilized as museum pieces while other comparatively obscure concepts have risen rapidly to prominence. It is in this short period that the dualism inherent in Kant has crystallized into the backbone of the bourgeois ideology of nature. Given the immensity of the task we cannot trace the detailed historical development of the ideology in this chapter. Instead we will simply illustrate this ideology by examining two particular modes of experiencing and conceptualizing nature: the scientific and what we shall call, for want of a better description, the poetic. No pretence is made to completeness; in each case the treatment is very selective since the point is to illustrate rather than definitely prove the bourgeois ideology of nature. Finally, we shall examine the marxist treatment of nature, the major alternative to the bourgeois conception" (pg. 13).


From Robert Boice's (1990) "Professors as writers: A self-help guide to productive writing:"

Chapter One: Why Professors Don't Write


"Traditionally, perfectionism stands as a major and separate cause of writing problems. No wonder. All of us, at one time or another, have experience the urge to keep reworking material until it seems perfect. All of us, at some level, would like to be seen as excellent writers.

"Some writers let perfectionism thoroughly block them; their ideas and papers never do reach acceptable levels of perfection, they can never do enough revising or rechecking, they even develop obsessive concerns with detail. At their worst, perfectionists are not only unproductive as writers. They are also elitists and snobs who assume that most published writing lacks merit or quality and that their writing, should they decide to finish and share it, would rise above the commonplace.

"In a way, perfectionism overlaps with fears of failure. Perfectionism practiced pathologically, as a morbid fear of making mistakes and of being exposed as mediocre, is little more than a fear of failure that inhibits writing" (pg. 10).

These have popped up on campus as does and fawns have filled the lawns. :)

From David Sedaris' (2000) book "Me talk pretty one day".

The piece:

"It was my father's dream that one day the people of the world would be connected to one another through a network of blocky, refrigerator-size computers, much like those he was helping develop at IBM. He envisioned families of the future gathered around their mammoth terminals, ordering groceries and paying their taxes from the comfort of their own homes. A person could compose music, design a dog-house, and ... something more, something even better. 'A person could... he could...'

"When predicting this utopia, he would eventually reach a point where words failed him. His eyes would widen and sparkle at the thought of this indescribable something more. 'I mean, my God,' he'd say, 'just think about it.'

"My sisters and I preferred not to. I didn't know about them, but I was hoping the people of the world might be united by something more interesting, like drugs or an armed struggle against the undead. Unfortunately, my father's team won, so computers it is. My only regret is that this had to happen during my lifetime" (pgs 142-143).


From Bruno Latour's (2005) "Reassembling the social: An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory"

From Part 1, First Source of Uncertainty: No Group, Only Group Formation

"If someone pointed out to me that words like 'group', 'grouping', and 'actor' are meaningless, I would answer, "Quite right." The word 'group' is so empty that it sets neither the size nor the content. It could be applied to a planet as well as to an individual; to Microsoft as well as to my family; to plants as well as to baboons. This is exactly why I have chosen it" (pg. 29).


From Joseph Boyden's "The Orenda"

"I stoke the fire with more wood and lift my robe to my shoulders. You would understand, dear one, what I need right now. After all, we made the promise to each other that if one were to die too young, the other, after appropriate mourning, should feel free to take care of physical needs. It's time to pay Gosling a visit.

"No light yet, and the snow blows sideways, building high against the west side of the longhouses, helping to insulate them from the lake's wind. This is the time when our people go to the dream world most deeply, and normally I'd be there too. But I awoke to Gosling's image in my head, and I knew she beckoned me. She lives alone near the southern palisades, and no one dares build a home near her. She is the only one in a community of thousands to live alone" (pg. 25).

This made me double-take: the helicopter seeds of a bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) look very much like a
 resting moth on the trunk of this tree. 
I am very aware that my current reading selections above contain all male authors; most of the time I make an effort to read literature written from women, too! It does happen that right now I am not in the middle of one of those.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Post 57: Productive Breaks, Field Trips, and Environmental Activism/Advocacy - Visitng the T'Sou-Ke First Nations' Solar Community

Being a graduate student also means choosing the right kind of breaks from thesis work. This past weekend I had the great fortune of participating in a Western Wilderness Committee organized field trip to one of the T'Sou-Ke First Nations villages out in Sooke. Their award-winning Solar Community has drawn widespread attention, and I heard the tour guide Andrew Moore present on the project several months ago when he lectured on campus. It was great to see an organized event that provided transportation (I still do not own a car), and that allowed us to visit this inspiring project. It was an event that wrapped up the Western Wilderness Committee's Salish Sea Tour.

A group of about 20 of us left downtown Victoria in the midday heat of early Sunday afternoon on the bright green Community Action Bus, pictured below. I haven't been on school bus transportation for years!
Loading into the Community Action Bus! With that bright green, we can't be missed!
Inside the bus! I'm on the left, three seats back, with glasses and one of the big smiles. (Photo credit: Torrance Coste)
Between the scrolled down windows to cut the heat, the rattling of various loose metal parts (as is so common on busses, and brought out my nostalgia!), and the loudness of the animated chatter from a dozen different conversations floating throughout the bus, it was a great ride out.

We arrived at the T'Sou-Ke village site a bit early, and after participatory songs led by the talented Luke Wallace and laughter and feeling the place out from the cover of shade, Chief Gordon Planes came to welcome us, and regale us with stories of place and people. It was beautiful! I learned a lot in about 20 minutes about how rooted to those shores and that inlet and the midden in front of us he and his people were; his observations of changing animal behaviours (deer, mostly), and landscape changes (middens and shore burial sites eroding to expose the bones of ancestors that need to be reburied with special ceremonial burials), his knowledge, his connection to neighbouring First Nations, both on Vancouver Island and his relatives on the US side of the Straight, and his generosity in sharing all of this! It was really wonderful.

Chief Gordon Planes welcoming us and telling us stories of when he was in the Boy Scouts! (Photo Credit: Torrance Coste) 
After a welcome prayer and song, Chief Planes introduced Andrew Moore, who took us on the Solar Tour, as he had to go and greet relatives that were coming up from a huge paddle into Beecher Bay, where there was going to be a very large feast held for them on Monday.

The lovely Andrew Moore in action, describing one of the solar installations behind me. 
Andrew showing us the second biggest solar panel installation, and how little maintenance they need!
One of the solar installations; the one with artwork on the right uses copper wiring to help heat hot water!
The T'Sou-Ke First Nation produces more power than they consume, and because they are linked to BC Hydro, they actually sell back their excess power production and currently make a profit with all this sunshine! In this relationship, BC Hydro essentially plays the role of a big battery, and it's my hope that this is the future of our utilities. Utilities are extremely important for making power accessible to the greatest number of people, much as we may sometimes gripe about them. (And even recognizing this basic function doesn't mean that we can't criticize utilities when we think they sometimes misstep or have problematic policies.) I absolutely, wholeheartedly, support the collective enterprise that they represent. At their root, utilities are supposed to be useful, and while I think there are some growing pains currently with shifting technologies and such, they and we will figure out what their role in the future will be.

The tour was meant to be a celebration of efforts to show what a decarbonized future could look like, and it was very fitting for that! I left with my head full of new terms (Watts and kilowatts and lead-acid batteries), a new sense of community, and encouragement for one of the numerous efforts to address climate change, develop energy sustainability, and build connections. What a great trip!

It was also a very good reminder of the hard-working people that engage in environmental activism through a variety of methods: music, presence, listening to the right people. On the bus ride a petition was passed around, and recent literature from the Western Wilderness Committee was shared. While I can't currently answer the call for solidarity and bring my body to the frontlines of the Unist'ot'en Camp right now, I can educate myself on solar energy and sign a petition. Democracy IS a muscle that needs to be exercised, and voting once every four years isn't enough. We all do our own piece, in our own way, taking care of what we can, and pushing ourselves a little bit, sometimes when others can support us to do so, or sometimes on our own. And isn't that a great thought for the journey of a thesis, as well?

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Post 56: Garrett Richard's Co-Post on Different Types of Journal Articles

Not too long ago, I read journal articles fairly indiscriminately, and didn't pay too much attention to whether or not they were argumentative theory papers or delivering empirical research results or meta-analyses. Now, however, that distinction has become a lot more important as I'm trying to wrestle with my findings chapter and finding the best way to represent the important information that's emerged from my interviews. I will also add, however, that this distinction is important to keep in mind for whatever your current project is. As I mentioned in the previous post, about the importance of reading other theses, it can be incredibly useful and rewarding to have a guidepost or a model in mind for what the end product should be.

A stormy summer evening sunset! Fantastic energy in the clouds!
With journal articles that can be even more important, because different journals have different publishing styles, content guidelines, etc., that you need to know about if you're going to pitch your own article there. And from the other perspective, you should be doing some reading to find articles that you like/find inspiring or interesting that help you to set your aim nice and high.

So with that in mind, I thought I'd revisit an email that one of my favourite colleagues Garrett Richards wrote to me not long ago, answering my question about what different kinds of journal articles there are. This is his take on that. The content of that email is reproduced below, and I've added my own comments underneath. And, pictures throughout, as usual, are mine.

From Garrett:

Here are some examples of the different types of journal articles. They're not all from the same field, but hopefully you will find the subject matter of some of them interesting (of course, it's more important to pay attention to the basic structure, in terms of understanding the different types).

Type 1: Literature Review (e.g. Chambers 2003)This type simply goes over the literature in some field. The author will do categorization and framing, and point to emerging themes and areas for further work, but they generally aren't trying to make any argumentative points broader than that (just like a lit review in a class paper or thesis). Of course, most articles of other types have at least a small section that is literature review, but this kind is wholly a review. Uncommon.

Type 2: Argumentative (e.g. Sarewitz and Pielke Jr 2007)

This type will draw upon literature throughout, but it isn't 'reviewing' the literature as much as it is 'using' the literature to make some argument (e.g. maybe it's proposing a new theoretical framework based on previous work or gaps in that work). It will often draw on a case example (or several) to make the argument, but it won't have a methods section (probably the method used is a simple document review that isn't systematic enough to warrant a section describing it, just like we don't describe the process we go through to do a literature review). A lot like an essay. Common.

Great lunch spot in front of the building! 
Type 3: Supplemented (e.g. Hamann and Acutt 2003)
This type is basically an argumentative article, but the case example it uses to make its point is more methodologically rigorous (although sometimes it can be hard to tell - footnote 1 in this article makes it clear that interviews were used for data collection, but the actual text makes no mention of any methods, quotations, or interviewees). While a standard journal article (Type 4) will be primarily about the collected data, and secondarily about literature/argument, this kind is the other way around. A combination of types 2 and 4. I might have been able to find a better example (this one is close to being a type 2 with its invisible methods) but they are uncommon.

Type 4: Standard Original Research Article (e.g. Rietig 2014)
This type follows the standard intro-review/background-methods-results-discussion format, with the results and discussion getting more emphasis than the review/background. Almost certainly has a 'methods' section. Emphasis on methods can vary (some articles, unlike this one, flag their methods in the title and really play up the research itself over the implications/argument even more). Common.

Of course, not everything falls neatly into these types (and sometimes 
it's really hard to tell what the methods were or whether there were any 'methods' at all for a type 2 or 3). I think there are some articles that, instead of separating the literature/argument and the example(s) or case(s), they interweave them throughout the whole paper (and that could happen for type 2, 3, or 4). I've also seen lit review articles that have a very systematic methodology (e.g. meta-analysis/scientometrics), so those could count as type 1 or 4. I prefer having a certain structure/formula to aim for when I write an article/paper, but it seems like pretty much any construction will be acceptable somewhere, so whatever way you think best communicates your findings/ideas is probably the way to go.

Lovely Victoria evening sunset from my apartment. 
I think these 4 are very useful types of journal articles for graduate students to know about. editageInsights classifies 6 different types as: original research, review article, clinical case study, clinical trial, perspective, opinion, and commentary, and the book review, but this broadens the categorization to different fields. 

Raynor Memorial Libraries at Marquette University breaks down different categories and generalizations here, too, though I'm mostly interested in the social sciences. Their overview provides quick notes on different types of research, characteristics of research, they provide some recommended books on research, and highlight different types of scholarly articles. 

The four above are at least a pretty good start. Due to copyright, I'm unable to post the full articles here, but I've provided the full Bibliographic information below, so you can hunt down the articles Garrett mentioned yourself. Where possible, links are also provided above, but again, you need to get around the paywall, though you can still read the abstracts! 


Chambers, S. (2003). Deliberative democratic theory. Annual Review of Political Science 6: 307-326. doi: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.6.121901.085538

Hamann, R., & Acutt, N. (2010). How should civil society (and the government) respond to 'corporate social responsibility'? A critique of business motivations and the potential for partnerships. Development Southern Africa 20(2): 255-270. doi: 10.1080/03768350302956

Rietig, K. (2014). 'Neutral' experts? How input of scientific expertise matters in international environmental negotiations. Policy Science 47: 141-160. doi: 10.1007/s11077-013-9188-8. 

Sarewitz, D., & Pielke Jr., R. (2007). The neglected heart of science policy: reconciling supply of and demand for science. Environmental Science and Policy 10(1): 5-16. doi: 10.1016/j.envsci.2006.10.001 

Friday, 10 July 2015

Post 55: The Value of Reading Others' Theses

So I'm in the fourth of five chapters of my thesis now, and I've just spent an hour going through my supervisor's previous student's thesis. SO VALUABLE! It's not the first time I've gone to others' theses as guides or models for what I would be writing next, but it's been so useful to return to these documents at various stages of the writing, and to get an idea of what I'm aiming for.

The thesis, a comparative case study of two remote mountainous parks, Mount Robson Provincial Park and the Willmore Wilderness Park and their corresponding management challenges in the face of landscape change, is well-written, is engaging, and does a really good job of bringing all of their research together (I'm talking about you, Jenna!). It's also filled with a wonderful array of photo pairs from historical landscape surveys that the Mountain Legacy Project specializes in, and their contemporary repeats that field crews with MLP undertake (and of which I was a part in 2012).

Our beautiful West Coast, from a beach walk earlier this spring!
In a monograph style thesis, each of the chapters functions very differently from the others, and I find in incredibly useful to see how the words and text align and are shaped in these different sections. And, by seeing work from previous master's students, it's possible to see what a completed thesis looks like under a certain professor. I have read through a few different theses, and the diversity of form is actually impressive. Undoubtedly there are similarities, but how various people take creative license to present different chapters, or their analysis information, or how they discuss their methods and methodologies—each of these can be quite different.

Another thesis I've been returning to is Ryan Hilperts,' also qualitative research on the Elwha River Dam Removal project in the Olympic Mountain Range of the state of Washington, USA. Her writing is particularly great, and I love the introductions and overviews she gives her chapters at the beginning, oftentimes with really great epigraphs at their beginnings as well, like this one, from John Mannon:

                "Social research is both a process and a product. Presumably, one informs the 
                 other...[and] the relationship between words and worlds is anything but easy 
                                                                    or transparent."

Ryan was the professor for the class I TAed this spring, and it was great to work with her in that capacity as well, and meet with her to ask about various aspects of qualitative research generally, too. I think it is so valuable to have that inter-graduate-generational learning happening, that I am almost sad our department doesn't have more near-finished grads/PhDs to speak with on a more regular basis.

Sometimes when I'm struggling for the right word choice, or the right set-up, it's so nice to be able to go see how someone else positioned their work, or set up their paragraph. This begins Ryan's Findings chapter: "This research was not a latitudinal or exhaustive study of all the perspectives in Port Angeles on the issue of community engagement. As such, in my findings and analysis, it is not my intention to categorize informants into “camps” of conceptual agreement." And my first thought is "Great start," and then I can constructively think about what my own limitations are, and what perspectives I do have, too.

It's hard not to have a great day's work when these guys are outside the window, giving the bushes a haircut.
There were four of them last week! This is life at the GSS!
One of the writing tips I've retained from early in the writing process is to read the folks whose writing you want to emulate, and for me that included early on Hugh Gusterson's “Nuclear rites: A weapons laboratory at the end of the cold war,” and now it's been great to go to other folks' theses, which are also much closer to the document I'm trying to write. It's also a great reminder that I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel with this document. :)

We can all use writing prompts and tips in different ways, and from one colleague who leaves her laptop alone and spends her time in a creative mess of papers, to me lugging mine to campus and back each day, unable to leave it alone for a day, we all find our own ways through making sense of our data, and learning how to write about it.

A couple of wise words of advice from Joan Bolker's "Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day," too, on prioritizing the time to write:

"Engage those who care about you, and thus, about your finishing this project, on the side of your being ruthless. For example, if you are already teaching, ask your chair to remind you not to take on any extra committee assignments' ask your parent (real or imagined) to give you permission to have a messy apartment (or to come and mow the lawn). Ask your friends to remind you that when someone asks for a chunk of your time, you are free to say no immediately; if you're tempted to answer yes, though, learn to say instead, "I'll have to think about it and get back to you." And then do think about it, hard, and then think about how much you want and need to finish your dissertation. The only reason for saying yes to others' requests for your time is that there is an overwhelming reason for doing so" (pg. 87).

It's very helpful to go back to these texts and remind myself about the conditions I need to successfully write and finish up drafts. All very good at this point.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Post 54: Smithers, Weddings, Refocusing and Goal-Setting Again

I had the better part of last week trying to settle back down in Victoria and organizing myself before taking off for a wedding in Smithers. In part I succeeded: I found a rhythm in the bird calls outside my office on campus, caught smiles in my conversation with colleagues I haven't seen or been in touch with (it's nice to be missed!), and got lost for a couple of hours of writing in my fourth chapter again.

That feeling: losing sense of time as the focus requires ignoring everything else around, is addictive. I remember it well from undergrad paper and short-story writing. It's always the first 10 or 15 minutes of fidgety, uneasy mental calming that needs to happen in order to sink into the writing that's the hardest.

So I left last week on a high note, even as I was readying myself for a short trip—my first—to Smithers, BC, for a long-time friend's wedding.

Leaving Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands; sunrise, approximately 5:35AM. 
A lot of the flight up was catching the views of the Coast Mountains and their melting glaciers. See the edges,
the height this long-tongued glacier used to have?
Smithers was incredible!!! I truly fell in love with this little northern city. It's a little bit sprawl-y, but with the wide open Bulkley Valley to inhabit, I can understand why development patterns took shape as they did. There is no pressure to condense, unlike in the steep mountain valleys of the Kootenays, where there is little flat space to build. My friend Rory and his parents Marj and John were fantastic hosts, showing me around town, and just generally making me feel very welcome. Staying with someone who really loves and knows their own city is probably the best way to quickly get a decent sense of it in such a short amount of time. I think this is why I don't make a good tourist-traveller in places I've never been to. I long for that sense of connection that's hard to find otherwise! I always feel like I'm on the outside of a museum, looking in at the colours and images and attractions, but there's a window in the way.

I went on a lovely half-day hike with a new friend, Lisa, who I'd met years ago through the bride, and it was really great to hike with someone whose pace was compatible with mine. We pushed ourselves really hard to get up into the alpine of the Babine Provincial Park, and we just made it before we had to turn around to try to meet the time constraint we were under. We snapped a few photos of alpine plants at the top, too! I was enchanted by the variety of colour and species of the Indian paintbrush (Castilleja sp.) all the way up.

Heading to the trail parking lot, we bumped into this mottled little fox that had been playing on the dirt road. Here it is scampering off as we neared it. 
I also learned about the blue alpine geranium (Geranium sp.); the friend I stayed with lent me a field guide and we pulled it out a few times to find new plants.

The Geranium (L) and a yellow aster (Aster sp.)(R) with a little fly!

I love the crinkly white flowers of the Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), the fruit of which is one of my favourite berries.
View from the alpine we'd broken into. 

 One of the pale yellow Indian paintbrushes.                                             My hiking buddy, Lisa! 

And then the wedding took place at Camp Caledonia, right on Tyhee Lake. What a gorgeous spot! It was perfectly suited for the wedding, the weather cooperated, and I made several new friends. This will not be the first-and-last time that I will have visited.

Lake Tyhee! 
Lisa and I at the wedding. 
Academically, I also got some work done between the hike and playing cribbage and the wedding; I'd committed to writing a peer-review for an undergraduate paper that was submitted to The Arbutus Review. It felt great to sink into that for a few hours, reflect on what's working well, and where the paper could be improved. It was a very well-written paper, and a pleasure to read because of that, which made my job easier. Bonne chance! to the student; publishing is very fun!

Now it's back to breaking down the different chapter sections, laying out headings, and organizing themes, and ultimately, finishing a draft of this chapter in the next few weeks!