Interpreting 2011 – the death of Bricolage.

This year began and I was overwhelmed by the feeling that from being ahead (planning to transfer in late 2009) I was now firmly behind on my transfer paper. I had had the notion that I would do a lot of work on it over Christmas, as well as complete bits and pieces of new reading I had located. I told my supervisors that I would send them a draft In January. The reality was that it was July before they received anything from me. I consoled myself with the various reasons why I was not making the progress I wanted. I fought and remonstrated, I avoided my supervisors prodigiously. Ultimately though, when subjected to reflection there were two things that held me back (in addition to the constantly-present third element – my day job).

The first was my supreme lack of confidence – not as a thinker and reader but as someone who could then package all of that up in writing. If I had to produce a presentation this was no problem, I could do that and rather well (usually). It was committing my ideas, information and design to the edifice of writing. It felt as if once it was a draft it was immoveable. I had already read about Gadamer and Habermas’s back-and-forth heated debate, where they picked holes in one another’s argument and work. (I’ve since read a perspective that suggests this was more in the style and with the warmth that family members might niggle at one another in a good-natured fashion, rather than bitter intellectual rivals.) I lived in fear that I would be subjected to the same. Someone far cleverer and learned than I would simply decimate my thinking and my expression within a heartbeat and I would be left without the personal resources to recover from that and discover that completing a PhD was simply beyond me.

I became fearful of the draft – though I didn’t stop working on it – there was, in reality, version after version of it, each a small improvement on the last but simply not enough. No one saw it, I didn’t dare show anyone, my ‘driver’ was to have spotted all the holes in it before someone else decided to so I could defend against every criticism with a clear reason for my choices of what to include and how to convey it. By the time I went to the MGEDT conference I was in a state of blind panic but the fact that I was able to put together a logical, ordered, sensitive, meaningful and informative handling of the material for my conference presentation helped me to see that I was helping no-one. I did not seize on things soon, I was in danger of four years going by (equivalent to two years full-time) and I would achieved no discernable output to move the project on, yet in good faith you guys were sending me your stories to interpret and I was holding myself static.

The second was a feeling that something was not quite right. I had been labouring over certain ideas that were not gelling. There was something out of place; something was making me feel, literally, uncomfortable. It came to me in a flash in June when I was writing up in earnest, taking time off work to do so. Bricolage. I had been working hard to support this idea that I felt captured exactly my attitude to qualitative research and that provided the most responsive approach. Everywhere I had looked, bricolage was intrinsically associated with hermeneutic practice. It seemed to fit so ‘perfectly’ allowing me a way to design the research but with as much openness, responsivity and flexibility as possible. I had spent lots of time in 2009-10 reading about it and developing my thinking about it, so much so that I had lost my way after the mess-up the previous year and had became too enamoured with it without really questioning it.

It was an extremely sudden realisation and I didn’t even really need to go back through my notes: I didn’t need bricolage. I simply didn’t need it – it was adding an additional aspect to my research that had seemed highly appropriate and useful at one point and then I realised I was blindsiding myself. The fundamental foundation of bricolage is hermeneutic. I felt hermeneutics to be valuable and necessary to my project because everything led back to it: ‘all roads lead to interpretation’. Then here I was dressing the freedom and thoroughness of hermeneutic work on people’s texts in some other guise – desperate to find a way to legitimate my free and responsive project to others when a clear explanation of the ontology and epistemology of how I was intending to work was what was needed, not further expanded ideas that simply diluted the power of the methodology. Bam. That was it – bricolage was gone… and fuller, more considered, more explicit discussion of hermeneutics was to be written.