Thursday, September 27, 2012


I haven't done any significant amount of work on my dissertation since I went home for a brief respite last month. Eight weeks have come and gone and my prospectus is where it was after my pathetic attempt at a defence. I look at it now and the reason why I have not touched it again is fear. I asked my supervisor, last I saw her, if I needed to read some other things to try and solve some problems. She said I should stop reading. I will not find the answer elsewhere. I will have to produce the answer myself.

It is so much easier being a natural scientist. You can easily confirm any claims of knowledge you make. If the formula works - then you know you're right. But as a social scientist? Your claim is only 'right' for as long as it is defensible. You are indoctrinated to believe that critique is part of your job. I suspect this plays a part in the deep insecurity of so many of these academics I have met. Its the realisation that really - what do I know?

Friday, September 21, 2012

My Eyeglasses

2012 marks ten years of having with me, this bit of utilitarian accessory. It has been with me as I slogged through my twenties. It fogged up when I saw my father die when I was 23 and has been put to hard use in work and graduate school in places as varied as Manila, the Gold Coast in Australia and now Singapore. In the past two years I have had to change the lenses of my eyeglasses five times. Due to some peculiar quirk of my astigmatism, I am unable to tolerate minute changes in the axis of my principal meridians, these neat little optic bits in our eyeballs that help us focus on objects.

As a social scientist, we use our eyes to observe the social world. Our eyes are our principal instrument to parse information, ‘data’ if you will. It is tempting to abandon this fundamental aspect of our work and our vocation. Especially when doing serious graduate work at the PhD level. As we wade through hundreds of books and journal articles, as we get lost in the text, we forget our primary reason for being. What must we do with these eyes? Is it to ingest tens of thousands of words, sentences and paragraphs? Is it to read and manipulate data in our mind’s eye? No. Our eyes should be used to explain or understand the social world around us. We must not forget that to produce knowledge about the social world means being immersed in it.

Just as well that I need to change my lenses every three or four months. It reminds me that I should keep my focus on what is truly important.