PhD Diaries #2: Piloting a Methodology

Figuring out the bones of an initial methodology this week has left me with more questions than when I started! I’m putting myself at the center of my inquiry, and I am fully embracing that subjectivity. Who knows better than me my training, experiences, biases and fears? But it turns out maybe I don’t know them all that well- and if I do, am I able to be fully honest with myself about them?

My plan has always been to make this research autoethnographic. The performances I am exploring unknowingly rely on skills and understanding gained through training and experiences, subconscious intuitions, and embodied knowledge. I could compare and contrast other musicians doing similar work, but only with myself am I able to have an in-depth ongoing study without becoming invasive and with a full understanding of previous experiences. As Cohen (2018) explains, I “can never enter another person’s mind and truly understand their experiences. On the other hand, I can never escape my own mind” (p30). This PhD allows me to explore how I create performances that push boundaries, it examines and communicates a personal story, clarifying for myself what mindsets and skills I’ve picked up along the way, and opening a conversation about how we train performers. The final product is not intended to be a definitive proof of how best to perform in alternative contexts, but is a chance for others to reflect and draw meaning, a cornerstone of autoethnography (Bartleet & Ellis, 2009).

The data I am using comes from recorded rehearsals, journal entries, emails, notes on music and more. I want to make sure that I’m remaining open to new ideas that emerge, without imposing my preconceived theories on to the data. I am therefore also drawing on some techniques from Grounded Theory- which will allow me to build and suggest theories rather than test and prove them (Pace, 2012). I want to discover the hidden truths I don’t yet know, without assumptions clouding my judgement (Mirhosseini, 2017).  If I was to just look at my data set and record what I see as important, I would be bringing my own assumptions and truths to the data- as well as only having a surface level understanding. By coding the data I am able to gain a deeper understanding, allowing me to read the data from different perspectives (Charmaz, 2006). I am then able to compare the data and uncover stories and theory I might miss from a surface level reading.

But I’m still uncertain on how I’ll code, store and compare the data, how I’ll decide what data is important and what isn’t, how to code aural and visual data and much more! I have to remind myself that a PhD is a marathon not a sprint; it’s OK not to know yet, and I have this pilot project to test how these emerging methodologies work. For a recovering perfectionist- this uncertainty is a real challenge!

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