Thursday, May 18, 2006

Dissertation Thoughts

Texter, you asked for it. Some thoughts on my dissertation because I'm hopelessly stuck!
I have three somewhat complete chapters. Advisor has given feedback on all and I have worked extensively revising chapter one. But, here's the problem.

I'm stuck. Blocked. Not producing a damned thing. So, I'm thinking, instead of going forward as advisor suggests each time, I could go back and finish tightening up chapters one thru three. One of the members of my dissertator group (though she's not exactly that anymore because she officially received her PhD last week, yay) said, "No, Elle. You're going to have go back at the end anyway so don't waste anytime." She's a really wise woman, but I figure revision has to better than total atrophy. Opinions?

And then there is the matter of the lit review in chapter one. One of the main points of the chapter is that the poultry industry came south because the state of southern labor was so exceptionally dismal. A sample of works used in my lit review: Reports from the National Planning Association, Alan Draper's Conflict of Interest, Barbara Griffith's The Crisis of American Labor, Michelle Brattain's Politics of Whiteness, some articles from Agricultural History (esp by Nan Elizabeth Woodruff) that look specifically at labor conditions in Arkansas mid-twentieth century, a couple of works by Eric Arnesen, some Bruce Nelson, a dash of Robert Korstad, a little Dolores Janiewski, a smidge of Jack Kirby, and a few other historians. Some issues advisor has: I use Draper's works (book and another article) to back up arguments about southern workers' seeming inability to organize and work for change. Advisor's question: Is he really the main worker apathy/anti-unionism guy? Apparently not, since she asked. So, to any labor historians who stop by, feel free to offer suggestions. She was also a bit miffed that I left out W. Cash, but her other grad student and I felt the work, now well over 60 years old, may be outdated. No problem to go back and throw him in: I wrote an excellent little blurb on his Mind of the South previosuly so that will be recycled and tied in. Oh, and my big problem, since I am of the opinion that Southern labor was exceptional[ly bad], how much do I mention historians who disagree?

She also wants more labor history lit more closely related to my industry (yeah, right), sharper focus on some arguments, more about what white working class women were doing (since my diss focuses on how black working class women came to the industry), and, now that I look, a whole hell of a lot of other stuff that I'm not going to feel like coming back and doing if I set this aside for six more months.


I guess I'll leave two and three for another day.


Texter said...

Yeah! I just wanted to give you to know that people are reading, and to give you some encouragement to keep writing about it, if you want.

More later!

Quinn said...

I say revisions beat entropy. But then again, I'm getting a bit sloppy as I near the end of my chapters. I have a to-do list for each chapter, which starts with incorporating Advisor's comments, but then moves on to adding new tidbits I've found or changing the snazzy opening anecdote if it's not very snazzy. I have a list like this for each of 5 chapters. If I'm stuck on (or sick of) one, I move to another.

I feel a little ADD in this approach...

Texter said...

I'm with Quinn. Although I've had people tell me "finish one thing before moving on to another" I have a hard time working that way. I say moving forward in some way is your goal, and if for now you can do that through revising earlier work, then do it. Honestly, I think the trick is to not get too alienated and distanced from the project if you can help it (don't let it sit there for months on end without doing anything).

As for this question: "Oh, and my big problem, since I am of the opinion that Southern labor was exceptional[ly bad], how much do I mention historians who disagree?" I'll share what an advisor told me. Rather than say "so-and-so doesn't do this and all this people are dumb" frame it with, "*I* am doing this and look at what a new perspective I am offering and how it builds on so-and-so and so-and-so." It is a more collegial way of exposing the gaps in previous work. Of course you need to highlight differences in opinion, but I'd focus on them when they are central to the arguments you want to make (rather than just bringing up a disagreement for the sake of it). I'm sure there are many points of disagreement (ie: motivations for industry moving; reasons why southern labor was dismal; etc.)
One small clarification: when you say they went down there because "labor was so so exceptionally dismal" , do you mean the industry wanted to capitalize on the fact that labor was not well-organized?

Quinn said...

Texter, I'm going to steal your rephrasing as I get ready to tackle my lit review. Always good to be collegial.

Elle said...

texter: yep, that many industries moved south to capitalize on the lack of organization, lack of industry, and boosters' promises of a supply of "docile" workers

Texter said...

Quinn, glad to be of help. That was advice given by an advisor. Elle, really does sound like an interesting and eye-opening work you are doing. may be the force be with you as you write!

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...