February 04, 2018

From a Structured Plan to an Emergent Design: the Pause–Reflect Process

A complete change of Structure!

Furthering the developments noted in the previous blog post, I have now thrown out the original structure plan and have come to realise that the structure is a product of an emergent process. To recap, the original plan was for discussions of society, culture and education to be defined, characterised and discussed separately before discussing their relationship leading onto discussions specific to my research. After tangling with the likes of Macrosocieties, different types of societies and realising that society and education are embedded within cultural definitions, separation of discussions of society, culture and Education proved to be impossible.

This experience illuminates the proposition that whilst structuring, designing, organising and laying out a chapter is beneficial for guidance, sometimes a structure can only come about through an emergent process. Simply getting down to the task of writing and placing the process of writing above the need to structure can be more beneficial. With that, the structure of the first literature review chapter is still emerging; therefore, I cannot determine exactly the way the chapter shall be structured, although I do have general ideas of the topics I want to cover in that chapter.

It is through the process of reading more material, of writing and thinking about what I am writing that has enabled the structure to be viewed as emergent. This is a continuous and cyclical process, swapping between writing and reading, reading and thinking, and writing and thinking; therefore, the way the structure is now might not be the same in the future. There are no absolutes here: the structure, and the content, are adaptable and changeable through the process of reading and writing, in accordance with the chapter’s objectives and intended outcomes. I have even found this weekend, and as I was writing the first draft of this blog post, the possible ways that the chapter could change.

It has been challenging at first: the moving away from the idea of needing to structure a chapter to the idea of letting a structure emerge. But, I have a strategy that frames the way in which these changes take place so that it’s not ad hoc or on the spot emotional moment of needing to include something. It’s a strategy that emphasises the importance of pausing and reflecting.

The Pause-Reflect Process

I found a gap between what I thought I understood, the structure of the chapter, and observations and abstractions I was making from reading the literature. Identifying this gap caused a change in my conceptual understanding of the social and cultural. It’s a cognitive, mental process that requires an objective approach and an open mind, guided and framed by the research context, research problems, and research questions. An open mind is important here, because the impact of a closed mind is spending so much time trying to fit reality within your own conceptions that you miss what is really going on. Subjective biases, emotionally driven responses and personal frameworks would be placed above the truth of reality, or any sense of trying to understand what this truth is. That’s not what doing a Ph.D. is about; that’s not what writing is all about; that’s not the way our mental and psychological processes should be applied.

What did I do exactly to overcome the gap identified, and to therefore change the structure? Writing was paused, and existing knowledge of the concepts and emerging conceptual knowledge from the writing process were reflected upon. These reflections were then compared with, and further reflected upon, the research context, problem, questions, aims, goals, objectives and intended outcomes.

Essentially, it is the research context and its defined problems and questions that provide a general framework for the early literature reviews and the methodology chapter. Whatever you write, always keep the context in focus and try not to go off on a tangent that has nothing to do with the research context. It is through the reflective process that discussions within a chapter can be appropriately managed and reframed and, therefore, enables you accurately and effectively judge and measure the validity of your current understanding, knowledge and meaning. And, additionally, it is through this reflective process that you can make decisions on the path that you are on. Remember: writing is never a set, absolute process; it’s not a long, linear path. There are many twists and turns and forks that you shall come across. But using some sort of reflective, framing process, for me, is helping me to guide the directions of the discussions. It is therefore through this reflective, comparative process that I found that the chapter structure, at least with this chapter, is an emergent feature. It all started because of that element of doubt that I had with regards to the way I was trying to separate the discussions of society, culture and Education.

In general

Every word, sentence and paragraph has an interrelated existence. Every word or series of words should illuminate a subject-object relationship (though this is not always the case); every sentence must contribute towards the overall context and message of the paragraph; every paragraph must contribute towards the aims and purposes of the chapter or section in an interrelated way. Every paragraph deals with a different topic referring to the section of the chapter, and builds upon what has been said previously.

It's not a case of adding a sentence or a paragraph and not giving it any further sound, logical thought. Adding a sentence is easy: it’s the act of logically, critically reflecting upon the purpose of every word, sentence and paragraph and comparing against the context of research and the goals and purposes of a section or wider chapter that offers the challenge. But it is these challenges that shape and develop you as a thinker and as a writer.

Where am I now with the chapter?

I’m at the stage in the draft process where I have gone beyond society and culture and now onto discussing Education and learning theories; however, because of the now emergent nature of the chapter, the structure and layout will more than likely change. Therefore, because I say I have gone beyond the discussions of society and culture I do not mean this in an absolute way, never to be returned to. What I mean by this is, I have written enough to be able to progress onto the next section in draft form, with the motivation and willingness to return to the previous sections as and when is deemed necessary. I might have written enough based on my understanding and knowledge of the concepts in relation to the purpose of the chapter within the context of the research, but this does not mean that at any time what I have written reflects the totality of what I might know and understand at any time in the future.

In my more general views, you cannot write what you think you know and understand and pretend that this is the totality of all that you could know about the subject. If you start to think in an absolute way, you begin to miss the point. The point is to continuously challenge and question what you think you know and understand, and have the mind to seek answers to questions, hypotheses, thoughts and ideas that you develop as you progress with your investigations and explorations. As indicated therefore, I accept that what I have currently written about society and culture and what I am currently writing and shall write in the future shall be a continuously changing, emerging set of discussions and debates relevant to the purpose of the chapter, and the context of the research.

It’s an ongoing journey that continues…….and continues…………..and continues………….and continues…………..and continues…………..and continues…………….and continues…………

But that’s the fun of it all!

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