Wednesday, October 24, 2012

#Acwrimo: Goals

Setting goals for this November's #Acwrimo - the academic's version of the better known #NaNoWriMo is a tricky one for me this year.

The premise of #Acwrimo is to set ambitious writing targets to encourage productivity throughout the month, then to make a plan for success and commit to that plan publicly on twitter.


I hesitate to overschedule myself as I expect to be 'holding the fort' and looking after my three little people for the majority of November since my 'long suffering' husband is rather 'over committed' (how he ended up with a 4500km cycle ride to do just when I'm trying to finish my thesis, well, that's another story altogether).

So, my 'SMART' targets will not seem particularly ambitious.


  • Revise my three thematic analysis chapter for submission to supervisors on 2nd December


  • Realistically I can manage 1 hour per day every day in November from 8pm to 9pm. In addition to that I have childcare 2 days per week so I will aim for 5 hours or 10x20min pomodoros on those days.
  • I have three chapters to work on so I will spend one week on each chapter and then go back to the weakest chapter for the final week. That's up to 17 hours of work on each chapter.

Making it happen:
  • On the 30th/31st of October I will carry out a writing audit to analyse where each chapter currently stands, this will allow me to ask for any imput from my supervisors early in the month.
  • I will clear my desk/inbox etc. during the day each day so I have no distractions.
  • I will make sure to have dinner ready early and to keep the children's bedtime routine nice and tight.
  • If working at home is too distracting on daycare days I will stay on campus.
  • I will turn off the modem if I find the internet to be a distraction between 8pm and 9pm each night.
  • I will not use the time for reading, blogging or anything other than writing and editing my chapters.
  • I will update on twitter with my progress each day for motivation.
  • I will update the spreadsheet with my progress each day.
  • I will update my blog with my progress each week.

One hour of serious editing every day in November will get me to the stage where I have three revised chapters to send to my supervisors at the beginning of December and will put me back on track for submission early next year.

No excuses!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Social Media for PhD Candidates

Just to mix it up a bit, some thoughts on getting into social media for PhD candidates...

The truth is being a PhD candidate can be pretty lonely. You might be lucky enough to be working as part of a great research team, or to have on campus study space that facilitates communication and the development of friendships with others candidates, but at times, and for many of us most of the time, we spend our days working in isolation.

Social media doesn’t replace departmental seminars and morning teas, reading groups and skills sessions, but it is an alternative for those who are unable to access such things and complements them for those who can. Social media is a contested space within academia, but it deserves consideration for the advantages it offers PhD candidates and early career researchers.

I only started delving into social media forums for academic purposes a couple of months ago when I was unable to join in with a real life #shutupandwrite session held by my university due to lack of childcare. I found that a virtual #shutupandwrite with others on twitter provided great motivation for me. Social media includes many forums but blogging, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn seem the most popular amongst academics.
There are some simple rules to follow as you launch yourself into the world of social media (#socmed) in an academic capacity: 
  • ·      What you say online will live forever. Be professional
  • ·      Develop a consistent professional profile for networking
  • ·      Consider separating your ‘work’ and ‘friends & family’ personas online
  • ·      Observe a little until you understand the etiquette of #socmed.
  • ·      #Socmed is a two way street. Give and you will receive.

What might you gain from using #socmed?
  • ·      Make connections and build collaborations, learn about conferences and events
  • ·      Develop important academic skills
  • ·      Publicise your research
  • ·      Recruit research participants
  • ·      Carry out ‘netnographic’ data collection
  • ·      Obtain 24/7 support. When your lab partner has gone home for the night or your spouse is asleep #socmed is always there.

And what are the risks?
  • ·      Your thoughts are now in the public domain, be careful sharing your research
  • ·      Unprofessional conduct can come back to bite you
  • ·      Social media eats time for breakfast, lunch and dinner; before you know it it’s 2am and you want to be up at 6am to catch a live twitter chat on literature reviews
  • ·      Other academics may be wary of social media, its merit is considered unevenly between disciplines and institutions. Be aware that others may be less enthusiastic than you.

Want to start?

1) Check out a couple of blogs. There are hundreds of great blogs out there, some discipline specific, some offering advice on research techniques, writing and academic life, many of which you’ll find via twitter mentions. So as not to overload you I’m just going to suggest starting with the first couple of blogs I came across.

Thesis Whisperer (on twitter as @thesiswhisperer)
Patter (on twitter as @ThomsonPat)
PhD2Published (on twitter as @PhD2Published)

2) Sign up for Twitter. In the search box type in some of the following: #phdchat, #ecrchat, #phdadvice, if someone says something you like the sound of click on their name to check out their profile, follow them if you are interested, they may well follow you back. Search for academics in your field, check out who they follow and follow anyone who seems interesting. Then just listen for a few days until a particular topic takes your fancy and you are ready to weigh in on the conversation.

I know that there are a million resources out there, but it would be crazy to overwhelm you already with a gigantic list, just start small and each connection will lead to another, and before you know it you will be over run with information, inspiration and hopefully motivation to get on with the job.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Visualisation Technologies in Makeover Practice - Part I

This is an extract from the section of my thesis I am currently working on/editing. Three x25 minute twitter #shutupandwrite sessions have got me to this still rather rough stage, but on the basis that a done blog is better than no blog here it is.

Makeover Practice – Visual/Visualisation Technologies

Whereas the question used to be about how women were represented, in visual art, media or film for example, now we need to consider that what stands for ‘representations’ of women are virtualised, hyperreal simulations of women. They no longer re-present women, they (re)create them. These simulated bodies can be developed from scratch without taking into account any actual female bodies, they represent not what women are (passive) but what women could be (active).[1] They really are ‘dream’ women.
By allowing the simulation of women’s bodies computer imaging technologies create new expectations of womanliness and femininity as bodies are coded and recoded in the virtual arena. They enable the creation of bodies from nothing, and these bodies simulate the female body, rather than represent it, that is to say that the creator is not constrained by the actual physical dimensions of an initial image, as they would be if using Photoshop or similar technology to manipulate an image. As Balsamo discusses, the creation of virtual bodies is limited only to the imagination of the creator. “The virtual body is neither simply a surface upon which are written the dominant narratives of Western Culture, nor a representation of cultural ideals of beauty or of sexual desire. It has been transformed into the very medium of cultural expression itself, manipulated, digitalized, and technologically constructed in virtual environments”.  (Balsamo 1996, 131)[2] The simulated, or virtual woman’s body is coded female, it needs only to be read by the viewer as a female body, not to be an accurate representation of what a female body actually is.  The laws of physics need not apply to the simulated woman, thought she may seem real at first glance, we have to consider whether she would actually be able to stand up and move around if she were made of flesh and blood. Could Lara Croft (Tomb Raider), the original simulated woman, really have fought like she did with those breasts.

Makeover Context

In terms of Makeover Culture Visualisation technologies are the technologies of dreams, fantasies and futures. They range from something as simple as a mirror, to sophisticated medical imaging equipment, to visual media technologies and play a key role in creating dissatisfaction with what is and driving the desire for constant improvement that is the heart of neoliberal makeover culture. Through visual media technologies, women are bombarded not only with (heavily edited) pictures of real women but with simulations which represent what women could be, not what they are. So much so that ‘real’ women’s bodies can no longer be defined, indeed may no longer exist. Our technological ability to conform to virtualised ideals means that real bodies have been dieted, exercised, plucked and excised out of existence to comply with the expectations set by the virtualised hyperreal[3] bodies of media, film and computer games.
Visualisation technologies enable users to see what was previously unseen; in the context of this study they enable the visualisation of makeover outcomes. Through the mediation of experts, these technologies enable women to visualise the potential of their bodies. The technologies are therefore implicit in the creation of new bodies.
Even the simple mirror enables the body to be seen in ways that it cannot be seen without and a common device used in makeover television is using mirrors, photographs or video to enable the participant (and the expert) to see the body from all angles and in great detail. [Ten Years Younger – puts the participant on view in a glass box, Trinny and Susannah make participants stand in front of a full length mirror in their underwear, How to look good naked uses mirrors and video footage to get up close and personal with women’s bodies].

Visualisation Technologies and Cosmetic Surgery

The use of imaging technologies in medical situations is another important area. Many of these technologies were developed for medical reasons such as ultrasound scanning and CT scanning which enable doctors to look at what would previously have been unseen.
Cosmetic surgeons, and their sales teams, make excellent use of visualisation technologies. Starting from the before and after advertisements in the back of popular women’s magazines the visual image is critical to the cosmetic surgeon’s trade. Lo-tech methods include the use of mirrors to and tape measures to examine the body and drawing the changes directly on to the customer’s skin.
In the hi-tech arena photography and video shows the body as it is and computer based imaging is used to design, visualise and materialise the post surgical body – the after body – to help convince the customer to go through with the surgery. The technology -  its expensiveness, its modernness, its exclusiveness - contributes to the authority of the ‘expert’ surgeon, as if their authority is developed/evidenced through this technology.

[1] The move from passive to active involvement in makeover practice is key to my thesis and is developed in depth elsewhere
[2] Balsamo, Anne. Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996.

[3] This section will be developed to reference Baudrillard on simulation and hyperreality.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Writing for Readers

I'm struggling through a chapter draft this week. It needs to go to my supervisor early next week if I want any chance of staying on target. In the hope of feeling vaguely productive I thought a blog post might be in order. An interesting comment from a sewing blog I read made me think about how well blogging, as opposed to thesis/book writing fits into makeover culture as a whole, her comment that a blog is always a work in progress, much like the body in makeover culture (see Jones 2008) made me realise that my blog will never be finished, never be perfect, and will always benefit more from progress (i.e. actually writing something) than from perfection.

A while back I was set the task of translating my research for a lay audience, a 500 word summary of what I am looking at. I thought I would drag it out to have a read through this morning and here it is.

500 Words Revised for Public Audience

Over the last three decades our bodies have become increasingly important to our concept of ‘self’, so much so that it has become difficult to separate ‘body’ and ‘self’ in our minds. We see our bodies as enabling or blocking our happiness, our achievements. “I’m too fat too make friends, or get that new job”.... our bodies become an explanation and an excuse for our failure to achieve our goals and even prevent us from setting goals altogether. The thought that if only I were thinner, prettier and younger I would be a better, smarter, more successful, happier person nags in the back of our minds.
Where once to be ‘oneself’ was to be an individual today the majority of us want nothing more than to be ‘normal’. The body, as our most visible expression of ‘self’ has become a key tool of social acceptance, so it is not surprising that work to normalise the body has become critical to our perception of happiness and personal wealth. The 21st century body is not a natural thing but a man-made one. Modern technology supports us all the way as we attempt to make our ‘always already’ technologised bodies/selves over into clones of the images that we are bombarded with everyday in magazines and on TV. Make up, cosmetic surgery, expensive gym and beauty equipment are all today considered normal technologies in the creation of the beautiful self.
If the ‘me’ we want to be, is to be found through experimenting with and ‘making over’ our bodies it is not surprising that we are avid readers of women’s magazines and follow cosmetic surgery and weight loss programs with great interest on the television. The media both drives and enables conformity by dictating a modern feminine ideal and presenting us with the inspiration and encouragement we are looking for. Femininity is no longer measured through a woman’s relationship with her husband and children. Now, perceptions of a woman’s femininity are based on her body.
The increasing importance of the body in our society suggests that our body obsession will continue to increase over the next decade. As technologies such as cosmetic surgery become increasingly affordable more of us will take drastic measures to conform. Western women today may claim to be in control of their lives and their bodies. But is the pressure to conform to the feminine ideal still a result of patriarchal control as argued by the second wave feminists in the 1970s? Or is the toned, tanned and trim body genuinely the result of a self-imposed discipline? Many women see the feminisation and sexualisation of their bodies as a tool which enables them to achieve their goals. Through physical discipline they maintain control of their bodies and use them to their own advantage. But all too it often seems that the perfect body is always just out of our reach.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

500 Words: The Authority of the Expert

 This is the first in what I hope will be a series of approximately 500 word pieces that I am developing for my thesis.

Throughout the makeover narrative the lead role switches between the participant (the leading lady) and a supporting cast of experts. The surgeon-expert plays the role of advisor, supporter and critic and the makeover ‘subject/participant’ puts themselves in his hands.

The surgeon-expert, vocally supported by a team of lifestyle experts, wields authority over the body of the makeover participant in the broadest of senses. He, (the surgeon in makeover television is almost exclusively male), is both authoritative – his knowledge and skill lending him the right to make recommendations on surgical procedures to the participant whose final decision is controlled by his authority; and authoring – he is the author/(w)riter quite literally writing the changes onto the body in ink, he authors the new ‘after body’ (Jones, 2008) with the tools of his trade: marker, scalpel and anaesthesia. His authority is generated through his position as a medical professional and reinforced through the support he receives from the other experts, the recommendations of the participant’s family that she needs help, his history of successful surgeries and happy customers, his marketing materials (websites, glossy brochures, TV appearances) and, significantly, through his own aesthetic presentation and demeanour.

She, (the makeover participant is predominantly female), surrenders her body; the ‘old body’, first conscious and then unconscious, which is restrained in its ability to resist such convincing authority. This ‘surrender’ is in direct contrast to the importance given in the narration to the active role of the participant. However, once the participant has seen the possibility of the ‘new body’, as proposed by the surgeon-expert, and demonstrated through visualisation technologies, she cannot unsee it. Her authority, that is her right to write her own body future, is overwritten by that of the surgeon-expert. From the moment that she walks through his door she is expected to bow completely to his will. She is bullied/cajoled as necessary to get her to do so. If she refuses to go through with the surgery her relationship with her body is always already influenced by the memory of an ideal could-be/should-be possibility that she will now be unable to achieve.

Many of us never meet the surgeon-expert face-to-face but his authoritative vision/visualisation of the participant’s could-be/should-be body, and by extension all of our could-be/should-be bodies, as presented to us through the media frenzy of makeover culture, leaves an invisible but indelible mark. The surgeon is not only writing the participant’s body future, surgical or otherwise, but also contributing to our own, whether we accept or reject his claim to authority.