Thursday, October 30, 2014

First Paper.

I've managed to get my first conference paper through the peer-review process and I'll be speaking at the Australian Sociological Associations annual conference hosted at the University of Adelaide this  November in the sociology of education stream. The paper is a condensed and sharpened version of my honours thesis.  The abstract is as follows: 

"Sociologists often view the authority of knowledge as a reflection of social power.  Educational research mirrors with theories that treat knowledge as primarily “knowledge of the powerful” (Young 2009:13).  This study employed conceptual tools from Legitimation Code Theory (Maton 2014) and Systemic Functional Linguistics (Eggins 1994; Martin 1993) to explore university student’s perceptions of knowledge claims and if knowledge is deemed to be shaped both by social relations and epistemic relations.  Sixteen semi-structured interviews were conducted in 2012 for an honours research project with participants from four Sydney based Universities.  Results indicated that students perceive knowledge to have its own organizing principles, its legitimacy and power not reducible to who has the social power to claim knowledge." 

The citation will end up being something like this:

Toll, M. (2014), “Discerning Knowers: Exploring University Students’ Perceptions of Knowledge Claims”, The Australian Sociological Association Conference Proceedings, University of Adelaide, November 24- 27.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Is there no alternative?

                    From The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and  Quentin Fiore.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sociology as Disembodiment.

A view from my desk, notice spatial disorganization and inspirational quotes. 
Fellow PhD candidate, Alexander Page, over at his new blog ‘Sociology as Self-Defence’ has written a blog post on sociology as embodiment and elaborated for us what he thinks constitutes a good sociologist and how he endeavours to embody that normative standard.  I thought I’d write a parallel post on what I think about the practice of sociology and how I employ my time as a first year PhD candidate.

Throughout my undergraduate degree I’d too receive the same snide remarks about the economic value of doing a B.A. and majoring in sociology (all my sibling went into the physical and medical sciences, and I cop the periodic jibes about who is going to be the real doctor).  I didn’t respond that I wanted to be a professional activist, which, even though I’m aware of thesis eleven, sounds a little too vanguardist, as if you should prioritize political ideals over the pursuit of an unclouded understanding; rather, I responded that I wanted to be an academic and researcher and struggled to list alternative career plans.  The normative idea of a good sociologist I hold is someone who is motivated by a desire to understand the social and cultural formations and unravel the infinity of threads that inform our current situation.  I’m not naïve enough to imagine that social scientists maintain a perfectly disinterested search for truth and aren’t, at least sub-consciously, guided by extra-scientific and normative considerations.     

Early sociologists of knowledge, particularly Karl Mannheim, had examined how social location influenced the formation of peoples’ understandings and ideologies and demonstrated that individuals cannot be ‘unbiased’, thought is always thought from a particular social standpoint. Though Karl Popper argued that when sociologists of knowledge applied this approach to science they fundamentally misunderstand their object of study because they failed to recognize that science is an inter-subjective project of an epistemic community and not the project of lone scientists.  In effect, Popper argued sociologists failed to understand the sociality of science and how this helps knowledge building.

Now, personally, I’m well aware that my choice of research topic stems from deeply personal concerns. Yet, I believe that objectivity and progression within an intellectual discipline is not achieved by individual participants crafting a view from nowhere, but a relative objectivity is achieved through mutual criticism and a desire to kick the ball forward and put together a better understanding of an object of study.  The sociologist might try to embody sociology, but sociology is a disembodied project irreducible to the sociologist.

As I haven’t been published academically, I haven’t been subjected to a formal peer-review or PhD review board for that matter.  I’m still in the process of refining my research question and rationale, reading as much of the research and theoretical literature that has been written on the discourse around climate change and the internet as possible. But I look forward to being able to contribute something to our collective understanding (and, perhaps, help deal with an important social problem).   My view right now would seem to undermine the ‘epistemic community’, inter-subjective, disembodied ideal of sociology I've been pushing:
Desk in post-grad centre, Fisher Library.

But than, this is the start of the process, gathering up the previous sociological accounts of the object of study to identify a gap and formulate a new conjecture that might help us gain more explanatory power. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

‘Haruki Murakami: In Search of this Elusive Writer’.

A couple of weeks ago I read Murakami's 'Norwegian wood'  which centers around a young student Toru Watanabe dealing with social isolation in Tokyo, the loss of a close fiend and his connections with two young women.  It's a very beautiful novel. I especially enjoyed all the little humorous, emotional or salacious side stories told by Midori and Reiko that pepper the novel alongside the main plot line. It's easy to see how this novel, which is supposedly unlike his others, captured the imagination of Japanese youth in the 'lost decade'.  Anyways, I found this BBC documentary about the author and I thought I would share it here. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Corrective Rape of black lesbian women in Post-Apartheid South Africa.

Muholi,Z. 2004, ‘Aftermath’. (Appendix 1)
The following article is a guest post by Fadi Baghdadi (contactable: here) , a PhD candidate at The University of Sydney’s Department of Sociology and Social Policy.  Baghdadi’s honours thesis explored the meanings Muslims women attribute to Islamic dress and Islamic gender relations in an Australian context. His current research is concerned with Islamic culture and sexuality.  The article bellow is an analysis of the social imaginaries that collide in the practice of  'corrective' rape in South Africa and related issues of symbolic power and violence.

Symbolic violence and power coincide within the evolving structures of social imaginaries. This paper will explore various incidences of ‘corrective’ rape in post-apartheid South Africa. The manifestation of violence that is enacted will be shown to embody symbolic power in a homophobic form. The misappropriation of symbolic power will be investigated in order to explore how it acts to both police and protect current social orders. These orders will be shown to incorporate the imaginaries that encapsulate ideas of race, gender and sexuality in post-apartheid South Africa. The deviance from the path these orders set will be understood in terms of their connection to the colonial past of South Africa and the current identity it propagates. Variance in the forms of rape, specifically its location in a public space and the collective nature of gang rape, will be examined. Furthermore, the classification of corrective rape as an abject form of violence will be shown to have merit. This theoretical framework will be further utilised to elucidate a photographic interpretation of the consequent trauma. Concurrently, this trauma facilitates the construction of a new social imaginary. The subsequent clash of imaginaries that proceeds will be explored. Thus, the nexus that exists between imaginaries will be understood within the misappropriation of symbolic power that ensues. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

'The Medium is the Message'

Marshall Mcluhan on an Australian television program discussing the affect of different forms of communication (television, radio and print) on the structure of human awareness.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Discerning Knowers On The Eternal Cloud.

I’ve previously mentioned the existence of my honours thesis (here, here and here) and the possibility that I might place it in the eternal cloud known as the internet. Well I've finally gotten around to doing just that and you can find Discerning Knowers: An Exploratory Study of University Students’ Perceptions of Knowledge Claims: here.  To get an idea of what it's all about, the abstract is as follows:
The thesis is centred on how University students perceive the legitimacy of knowledge claims.  Contemporary sociological theory is often concerned with the transformations associated with the emergent “knowledge economy” and “knowledge society”. In view of this, University students’ perception of knowledge claims is of practical concern due to their future role as knowledge-workers and potential members of the power elite.  To address these issues, elements of Social Realism, Legitimation Code Theory and Systemic Functional Linguistics have been drawn on to conceptualize language, knowledge claims and the organizing principles of their contextual use.  The main conclusion drawn in this research is that University students have a nuanced understanding of the forms knowledge claims that can be legitimately employed in divergent contexts; thereby positioning themselves with respect to the context and negatively evaluating types of knowledge claims inappropriately employed.
The citation for the thesis in a bibliography should look something like this:

Toll, M.,  (2012), Discerning Knowers: An exploratory study of university students’ perceptions of knowledge claims, Honours thesis, Dept of Sociology & Social Policy, University of Sydney, Australia.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Focus Groups: Research Design, Limitations and Potential.

Robert K. Merton
The focus group has been employed extensively in market research since the late 1940s, from the 1990s it has been increasingly readopted in social science research as an important qualitative research method (Wilkinson, 1998).  Hyden and Bulow (2003, p. 306), in a database search of ‘Psychinfo’,  found nine hundred articles using the keyword ‘focus group’ and almost a third of the articles were published after 1998 indicating a rapid growth of research utilizing the method.  The increased use of focus groups has been accompanied by the elaboration of methodological concerns unique to focus groups and the proliferation of focus group designs based on the research objective of a specific project.   Focus groups are a qualitative research method, and therefore subject to methodological issues that affect qualitative methodologies in general, however focus groups entail further issues of project level design, group level design and unit of analysis not encountered by other research methods (Morgan, 1996; Hyden and Bulow, 2003).  The limitations of focus group research has been both derided,  on the basis that the data obtained has little external validity or reproduces normative discourses, and valorised for providing new insight into social interaction and opinion formation amongst groups of individuals, thus redefining apparent methodological limitations as potential strengths   (Folch-Lyon and Trost, 1981; Smithson, 2000).  Discussion of focus group methods benefits from defining its relation to qualitative methodology more broadly, and qualitative methodology counterpoised with quantitative methodology to highlight points of contradistinction that inform focus groups alongside other qualitative methods.   Once this has been outlined, the distinctive features of focus groups can be more adequately dealt with and the questions of project-level design, group-level design and unit of analysis can be evaluated for its impact on data collection through to data analysis.
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