17 December 2012

As it happened

Yoko and the girls have fallen asleep: Mei is doing much better now. We have been praising her for getting better, for avoiding sweets, and for not scratching herself. She glows when you praise her--so proud, so confident. How can you express your love for your own children. You pick them up and squeeze them and tell them again and again how much you love them. I told this anecdote today about Naomi and the wishing bone:
We both took either end, and I said, 'Naomi what do you wish for.' She said, after thinking, I want to be rich. I laughed: we pulled and I won. She was, you could see, upset by losing, so I said, 'Do you know what I wished for?' She shook her head. 'For you to be rich.' She smiled and ran off. 
The person I told this story then turned to Naomi and asked, 'What do you want to do with your money?' I want to buy mummy and daddy presents, she said.

I told this story to someone who was at a small party for me in the second floor of the Stuart Hall Building. I was sipping champagne while my daughters ran up and down the open plan office hallway, shouting and laughing. Someone commented, there used to be always kids here and dogs. Kids and dogs, I laughed. At the OU? Certainly not.

The second floor Stuart Hall Building is where I began my work as a student at the OU and where, today, I ended it. I waited all morning for the viva panic to set in, the feeling that I was actually going to have to finally stand up, stand behind my thesis and say, Yes, this is what I did, what I believed. I received an email when I arrived at work, hilariously announcing that a book I had ordered by one of my 'spiritual' guides (a Scottish writing instructor), had arrived. The book, 'How to Survive Your Viva', was one I was meant to read, but never got around to. At 11, after having responded to student emails, I thought, well, I'll take a look at it and marched off to the library. I thumbed through it on the long walk back to my desk, thinking about how none of this mattered any more: I couldn't do what Rowena suggests you do a month before the viva. What do you do two hours before? Don't read anything new. Great, I've blown it.

At 1:45, I went to the room adjacent the exam. The department secretary came in to check on me: was I okay? We chatted about how I would go about turning things in after I made the corrections, sometime in the new year. The external examiner walked by looking for the room, but smiled when he saw me and introduced himself. We had met before, talked for about ten minutes at a seminar once, but I was happy to see he was in a good mood: he went off to the room and they called me in.

I had made a report of the typos I'd found in the thesis and added the new articles that had been accepted or under review. Perhaps we have spotted some of the same, one of them said.

The questioning was not hard, but it was clearly set up to get me to talk about my work and find the weaknesses. The first real important hurdle was talking about how I had built my dataset, which the external had questions about, but I think I managed to explain why YouTube is a unique environment and why my method was the best for looking at what I did. The first question, 'How did you become interested in this topic?' was the same one from my mock viva, so I was able to tweak my answer and go with it.

The second big question was also methodological, about my use of ethnography, which I also talked at length about. I talked a lot, as I think about it. Talked fast too, probably. This was when things really turned in my favour: the internal asked why I had used community of practice theory and what I was offering to the theoretical understanding of community. I had that section annotated so I was able to point to the part in the thesis where I had unpacked and rejected one popular notion of online 'community' and explained why I used 'community of practice' instead. It was all there, in bullet points, and I could talk to it like you would talk to a slide, the exam panel following along in the book. I also talked at length about the role of the online researcher, not as 'lurker', but as 'viewer', a legitimate position in the YouTube community of practice. This also seemed to put me in good graces with the internal, who is more interested in these issues than external appeared to be. This was to be expected, though, as they both do very, very different sorts of work.

The third big question was theoretical, with important methodological implications: about how I built my semantic groupings of metaphors. This question bled into another big theoretical question which was that I more or less rejected the user perspective on metaphor and marked as metaphorical things that the users might not have intended to be metaphorical. Answering this question required covering the main positions that people have on 'intentional' metaphor, the strengths and weaknesses of those positions, and where I positioned myself. I answered this question by describing what I felt were my three options in approaching metaphor in the study, each one coming from a different theoretical background, and why I chose the one that I did. The external's comments, however, were sounding a bit like he might want either another table in the chapter or a much bigger reworking, where I reshuffled all my groupings. I basically said that although I could do that, I didn't think it would get me much further in answering my research questions and, even if I did do it again, we would end up with the same questions that we started with, something he seemed to agree with.

The fourth big question was about how I saw my methods interacting with each other and why I had chosen the ones that I had. I talked, again, at length about this, mentioning earlier research (both my own and others) that suggested why I would go the way that I had. This was probably the longest answer because it took setting up all four of the methods in terms of the theoretical background for them and my adaptation of them and my description of how I saw them interacting with one another.

There was another small question about categorisation that was quite minor.

The last question was about a postscript where I had said, basically, that all the people that argued with each other could and did sometimes get along. I talked about going to New York and talking with Joshua Stanton about the Ground Zero Mosque and how our conversation had affected me, led me to think about categorisation in a new way.

This all took about 90 minutes. Then they said, 'Okay' and looked at me, and I said, 'Don't I get to ask some questions?' and the chair said, 'Yes, yes, of course, of course.' So I asked about how it read, what changes they would make to publish it as a monograph, a question that was genuine but also strategic: the implication being that it's publishable as a monograph.

They had me leave the room and my second supervisor was outside with another colleague. How did it go? It went well, I said, I don't know — there's some chance I could have passed without corrections... They looked at me a bit shocked, Really? Yeah, I said, I don't know though: I had another friend who went through the viva, left thinking it was more-or-less wrapped up, and came back to them asking for major corrections. So, I said, who knows. We chatted a bit more and could hear everyone in the room laughing, and then my supervisor came bursting out, looking like I had never seen her before and headed to the room I was supposed to be waiting in. I went back and sat down and the chair said, 'Well, unfortunately... We've found some typos that you haven't corrected... I am surprised to say this, but the panel recommends a straight pass.' I was shocked. Really? I said. Really. I pulled off my glasses: was I going to cry? Thank you, I said: I looked at the internal, known for being very particular, always wanting changes. There was nothing else. It was done. Does anyone have to approve of it before it's bound? No: you can't change anything but the typos. It's done. Well done.
This thesis is extremely well presented, clearly structured and convincingly argued throughout. It makes substantial contributions to the 4 main areas investigated in computer-mediated, video based discourse, i.e. the study of discourse metaphor, categorisation, impoliteness and discourse positioning as well as in general to the theory of conflict communication.
I was speechless. We all had champagne. I had to say something: what do you say? Yoko came with the kids: I passed without corrections. It's done. Yoko started crying. Really? Really.

There were a lot of things I was planning to do this week, but getting my thesis bound and turned in to the OU Library was not one of them. I am, however, going to be doing that now. I will leave the UK completely done. Nothing left to do. I am not a doctor subject to anything. I am a doctor now.

Mei and Mia and Nana ran up and down the hallway of the open plan office, chasing each other, and coming back every so often to call me 'Doctor Daddy'. These are my post-graduate children, I say: Nana's the MA, Mei's the MRes, and Mia's the PhD. We, the five of us, did this--they deserve so much more than I've been able to give them. Now, however, we have time and a little bit of money. We can do things, go places. Have fun. Let's go to the jungle, I say to them: let's go look at monkeys in Malaysian trees. As someone committed to seeing the world for its complexity, I believe everything always works out--it working out is the whole point. It's the nature of things. Still, sometimes, things work out in unexpectedly nice ways.