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Learning while prepping

During my research and writing up, I struggled with questions of ontology and epistemology – both in understanding what the terms meant and also in positioning myself. I actually avoided addressing these questions directly in writing my thesis, muttering things to myself about eclecticism and crossing disciplinary boundaries.

Yesterday, in re-reading some of the work of the person who will be my external examiner and who I reference in a number of places in the thesis, I came across the description of Tom Shakespeare’s view of disability, which recognises impairments as both a biological reality and a socio-cultural construction, as a ‘critical realist’ perspective. As I have found this view of disability, which is also espoused by several other writers coming from disability studies and sociology perspectives, much more rational than the binary of social model or medical model, I decided to explore a little further.

It was not the first time I had encountered the term ‘critical realism’ but I hadn’t knowingly read anything around it. A quick search found a number of articles linking systems thinking and critical realism – now downloaded to scan through later – and a podcast of a presentation by Roy Bhaskar in 2012. As I listened to the podcast, I found I was hearing things that made sense to me in discussion of a laminate, or multi-layered approach, to social phenomena, interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary perspectives, problems of communication between and within academic and professional groups, and much much more. Part of me wishes I had heard/read this material much earlier, part of me regrets reading it now as it makes so much sense of things I was trying to say in my thesis and may need to be included in amendments.

A phrase that sticks with me was used in a question at the end of the presentation ‘epistemological eclecticism’ – I guess that is what I am about.

So the question is, given that viva prep is supposed – I think – to focus on really understanding my thesis, being able to defend and discuss it, what use if any can I and should I be making of new insights? Should I carefully hide them in a dark corner of the closet until after the viva? Should I put them on show? Or should I be ready to refer to them should it be helpful to my argument on the day, but otherwise ignore?

As an aside, one of the things I really enjoyed during the writing up phase of my DPhil was making new discoveries that helped to make sense of what I was trying to say. During the weeks in limboland, when I have read little of substance, I have missed that, but didn’t really how much I had missed it until yesterday and stumbling across critical realism.

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