Last week, I ran the final workshop with paticipants from Designmuseum Danmark, thus completing my empirical research. Once again, I used my ’concept dominos’ to illustrate the themes in the discussion, but this time the session worked more like a focus group or group interview than an ideation workshop. Still, the workshop produced some interesting ideas as well as some great discussions, answering most, but not all of my questions, as the debate followed other paths worth pursuing instead.
I had transcribed the recordings of the last workshop almost verbatim (however only noting intonations, pregnant pauses, background affirmations etc where significant); a lengthy process but a very informative one, as it forced me to listen closely. I noted, for instance, how digital media was at times discussed in specific terms referencing technologies and services, but also often referenced with vague notions such as ’the digital’, or with the ubiquitous ’app’ standing in for any kind of mobile service. Hardly a revelation, but still it was interesting to capture how open ended our wordings and how fuzzy our concepts of media and technology often are. This is not to imply that the museum communicators did not know what they were talking about, they surely did, but only that it is hard for anyone to navigate this wide, multi-facetted, ever-changing jungle of new media, let alone to ask that museums can leverage its potential for mediation meaningfully and succesfully.
Having reproduced the whole workshop in written form also allowed me to do a first rough ’coding’, identifying some of the themes and ideas, in preparation for the final workshop. While the questions opened were manifold, still I only made minor changes to my original plans, as I mainly wanted to stick to the issues that we had not had the time to address in our first meeting.
Some of the points made inspired me however to extend my deck of dominos with new perpectives such as ’the curator’s glasses’ and the notion of fashion as the ’little sister’ within the fields of design and cultural studies. However, only a few of these came into use in the final workshop, and I actually found that as the deck had grown, I sometimes struggled to find the appropriate cards to support the discussion. Therefore, during the workshop, the tool sometimes became a distraction for me as a facilitator, and perhaps also for the participants at times when the presented images where not quite right for the questions I raised. In this way, I would say that the dominos still served their function, but functioned less well in this second iteration, perhaps surprisingly, as I had already tried them out once before. Still, as I am experimenting with methodology in this project, falibility is part of that package.
And in terms of outcome, the workshop was a success. Even though there were more topics I would ideally have liked to address, still I got what I came for and more. And although at the end of the workshop I could sense that my participants’ engagement was starting to wane, my clear impression was that they too have found our conversations useful and inspiring. Yet as was also a topic in the discussion, turning ideas and ambitions into practice is not easily done, when the day to day workload is already stretching ressources.
Half way status
With the completion of my empirical research process, I am halfway through my project. 19 months in, to be exact. I can say that now, almost without twitching, although it took me a while to embrace the fact that I am no longer ’in the beginning’ or ’a little over one year into’ my project. Half way. And the good news is that I am realising that it is not only in terms of time spent, but also that even if my research so far has been very divergent, and although I still haven’t started writing my thesis proper, I have in fact done and thought and learned a lot.
To get started on the thesis, I have gathered my writing to date into a very raw script, structured around my draft disposition. Actually I started by simply collating all my blogposts and papers into a document, and although it may sound silly, it was really encouraging to realise that in fact it added up to a whooping 70.000+ words. (And that’s not counting all my notes, 50-odd pages of transcription, abtracts submitted to PhD courses and conferences, lecture notes and slideshows, status reports and supervision updates, applications for funding, admin blah blah and all the other stuff I’ve been writing over the past 18 month). I’m making a note of it here to remind myself that I have in fact been productive, something I have a tendency to forget when in bouts of panick induced procrastination.
Of course, only a fragment of all this text might actually be usable in the final thesis, the rest is really just an extended note system, and quantity is no measure for quality of content. But still I have that, rather than 200 blank pages. What’s more, there are actually some interesting thoughts in there, which I look forward to exploring further when transforming sketch ideas into academic arguments. Which of course is where the real hard work lies.
Reading through a recently defended (but not as yet publicised, hence the omitted reference) PhD thesis within my field has also been very informative. Even though I plan to write a monographic thesis rather than an anthology, as this was, it has given me a clearer idea of the scope and level of the genre, and to my great comfort, it seems within reach, provided said hard work.
The theoretical framework used and the insights presented in the thesis and comprised articles were all familiar to me; in fact I found myself worrying whilst reading that the points I was hoping to make were all being made here, making my own contribution obsolete. Most notably, the call for a greater level of technology criticism, or questioning of the default association of digital technology with democratic museological advancements, is also a driving force in my own research. Then again, my project is also so very different in so many ways, that it shouldn’t be a problem; I trust that I can add ye another perspective to this debate.
And actually, the fact that this thesis so clearly demonstrates the effects of (Danish) cultural policies on (national) digital museology, perhaps means that I can skip lightly over making this connection in my own thesis, referring to this research (and its sources) instead, and moving on to the problem areas that are of special interest to me.