So will your thesis have a gender perspective?


The G question, always throws me... 'where is the gender analysis in that?' ... ah... uhm.... yes of course, not problem, its just....

So it happened again tonight at the PhD roundtable, we were discussing someone's work about gender and and the 1913 lockout, interesting stuff says I - in a 'has nothing to do with what I am doing', sort of a way.

The reading was an article providing a framework for taking a gender analysis to history, not the easiest read, but ploughed through it happily enough, and if I am honest did not think about it too much.  Grand stuff, job done.

Until... so, Anna, how do you think this reading is relevant to your work?

Don't get me wrong, I am a 'feminist' (see earlier blog),  in fact I would say I am pretty clear about the gender equality case, and what it means in my life and in society more generally.  I am after all a working mother, loads of gender stuff going on there.  But could I honestly say I deeply connect with the women's movement? Probably not, though I am not sure why.  Maybe a movement of 50% of the population, is just to diverse to feel a deep sense of connection to the entire thing?  Bits of it absolutely - violence against women, abortion, childcare, employment discrimination, sharing care work - all subjects I would get out on the streets for (and likely bore the pants of an unsuspecting relative after a few drinks).  And yet still, somehow the whole gender thing, just does not seem to crop up instinctively for me.

So, what does all this have to do with my thesis... probably needs more than the back of an envelope response but here is a start:

  1. Gender informs different NGOs in different ways  - generalised women's organisations, specific issue based orgs that disproportionatley affect women, and others who do (or at least should) integrate a women's persective in their work.
  2. Who does the advocacy and on whose behalf - why is the CEO of the Irish Nurses Organisation a man? Does it matter?
  3. If the 'targets' of advocacy are by definition more mainstream, how does gender play out - often women are accused of being 'screechy' in the media, not a charge you are likley to hear against men.
  4. Another interesting though from today's roundtables: the 'Us and I' conflict. Women talk about 'the movement' or 'we', men tend to talk more about 'I did' - this was a historical take but does resonate with NGO activism today.

Just thoughts, but this is likely to play out, and I should probably get my head around it (at last?!) ... not least in the the case studies I select.
"the subordination of women pre-dates capitalism and continues under socialism"
"We can write the history of that process only if we recognise that 'man' and 'women' are at once empty and overflowing categories"
(Joan W. Scott, 1986)


Well its taken a bit longer than I anticipated, but beginning to feel like I am getting into the reading on participatory democracy. Some if it is very tough going, some of it really exciting.  The problem is now I don't know where to stop, the more I read the broader it gets. How important is the earlier theoretical stuff, should I concentrate on more recent writing?  How much do I need to know before I start to structure something? And all the while, the more I read the more it feels like I am forgetting.

Every time I go to the library I discover another immobile pile of books, each online search reveals more articles.  It always was going to be a very broad area of reading, I guess I thought I could keep it narrow, just participatory democracy says I.

With a pile of books to one side, a stash of photocopying on the shelf above me, and a drop box folder full of unread journal articles, do I keep going or stop, take stock of where I am and have a go at describing how I might write about this literature?

Recently, I lot of people have started asking 'how is the PhD going?'.... Slow, says I, but it is going.


Reading about democracy at the moment and came across this:
The first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.
- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels The Communist Manifesto
It cannot all be about participation in the sense of consultation, participation has to mean being the decision-makers not just influencing the decision-makers. Is there a risk with the focus on civil society and NGOs that the response to the democratic deficit becomes about one elite talking to another elite, rather than any substantial shift in power. Then again, how is such a shift imaginable if the conditions do not become more conducive, and maybe that where the NGOs come in?

The last three months reading have focused on participatory democracy, there are 42 references in my Zotero folder, and I have moments of beginning to think the reading is forming into something  - just fleeting senses mind you that disappear rather rapidly!  At a guess I would say I am half way to being able to write something.  That's just a stab in the dark mind you.

42 reference in 3 months that does not seem particularly speedy.

Summer time, and the living is?

I think perhaps I and every other Phd student I have met to date, has/had fantastic plans for increased summer productivity.  Well at least for me, despite the cooperative and miserable weather, the results have been disappointing.

That's not to say I have not done a bit.  I dealt with my doctoral panel, and have got a reasonable start on my literature review on participatory democracy, however I don't have a deep sense of satisfaction that that nut has been cracked... far from it.  And I do feel a bit disappointed with myself.

So what went wrong? What happened to the long endless summer days, filled with books, journal articles, and my yellow highlighter (albeit a virtual one)?

Well first, I got to May and the end of the course work and assignments, and I was really really tired.  It was a long slog between January and May, and we ended up travelling a good bit in June, so I took a very legitimate break.

July and August?  Not too sure, a few things going on there:

  1. Fell into the perennial trap of assuming these months would be blissfully long with loads of spare time, shockingly they were just as short as any other month.
  2. Monday is my core PhD day, and this may sound a bit lame, but there are a lot of bank holidays over the summer!
  3. We had a bunch of visitors - not really the done thing to slope off with the books when you are supposed to be entertaining.
  4. A very long Danish murder mystery series called 'The Killing' - 20 episodes... enough said!
  5. I was still tired.

The last week has been much better though, think I just had to reconcile myself with more realistic expectations.

Still planning on getting that draft lit review on democracy done for October though, and looking forward to getting back into the swing of term.

The living is not easy, but it is interesting, varied and satisfying... next year though I might just remind myself that there are 30 days in June, 31 in July and 31 in August.  It is the summer, not a parallel  temporal reality.

Guest Blog

Wrote a guest blog for Dochas on the arguments for global equality using material prepared for a class presentation.

Feels a bit inadequate, its a summary really, and I am not sure that each of the arguments is really for an equality based response to global injustice.

Though I am very interested in the comments, one so far, I wonder if there will be others?

Sorry I am late... I had a meeting with my doctoral panel!

I quite like the sound of that, sounds serious!

I have a doctoral panel. Four people who are charged with offering me feedback, support and constructive criticism.  Feels like a bit of a luxury to be honest, I can't remember ever having four people read something I have written and offer me thoughtful and considered feedback. I was quite excited going in, nervous in fact.  Me facing four experienced academics! I even dressed up.

Unfortunately my panel was one the the last of a full day of panel meetings, and interested and all as they may be, I think most of them were legitimately exhausted.

Still though I did get some useful feedback, particularly in terms of some of the questions which were asked.  Particularly questions about how I intend to deal with criticisms of NGOs from those who question their contribution to democratic inclusiveness from a left wing (rather than the more predictable right wing) perspective.  Criticisms I am very aware of, having faced them, but nonetheless will offer a challenge, particularly if I make any attempt to characterize the organisations I look at, which I suspect I will need to.

I did have a couple of questions myself, but we did not get that far.  Being the second last panel of the day, they were under a bit of pressure to make up the time that had been lost.

So, while perhaps not quite the experience I was hoping for, still an interesting opportunity.  I think next time I will pick a much earlier time slot, and have very specific points that I wish to discuss (unless of course I have good reason to seek a less rigorous process!).

I am very happy with who is on the panel though, and I think this could prove a useful resource over the next few years.

Why we need dedicated funded advocacy organisations.

7istooyoung is a dynamic, energetic and apparently very effective campaign, focused on protecting lone parents from the worst excesses of the austerity Budget 2012. Despite the remarkably unpopular subject area (lets face it lone parents are not sick children or puppies), the three key organisations involved have not only generated public sympathy, but also political willingness, where none had existed.  No mean feat.

And what has this got to do with dedicated publicly funded advocacy organisations?  Two of the organisations (OPEN and the NWCI), are dedicated representative bodies for lone parents and women respectively.  Their primary function is to deliver representative, effective advocacy for the individuals and groups they represent.  They are publicly funded (albeit increasingly sparsely) to do this.  The third, Barnardos, while a strong service provider, also has very credible record of influencing public policy processes.

These issues, and more specifically this campaign, proves that you need multi annual and reliable sources of core funding for this work.  Without the long history of both OPEN and NWCI, its hard to imagine they could have responded so quickly or so effectively, and indeed with very little financial capacity.  They have strong networks with the parents affected, they know their stuff, and they know who to talk to.  The have the trust and credibility of the broader NGO sector, many of whom did not hesitate to weigh in behind this campaign.  I am not saying that this core funding has to be publicly provided, but it is hard to imagine any other source which can provide the same longevity.

But why dedicated advocacy organisations?  Put simply those organisations which are primarily concerned with service provision are firstly too busy delivering more services, to more people, with less money, and secondly are too bound up in protecting a close working relationship with the statutory sector (a very necessary one from their perspective) to risk that relationship by coming out of the trenches guns blazing.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but rather the reality of the role they are playing in sorting out peoples problems, and lone parents certainly have problems.

Regardless of where you stand on the substantive issues (and to be honest from where I am siting its hard to imagine too many people defending a decision to reduce to age 7, the age at which lone parents, will be bumped off a lone parent allowance and onto the job seekers allowance), this campaign has been a sophisticated contribution to Irish democratic debate, public consciousness, and the quality of our often chaotic policy-making process.  Its hard to imagine how it could have happened without consistent and sustained funding for the specific representative function of the organisations involved. Surely the quality of that contribution is worth investing in?

And that, is why I am doing this PhD.

Virtual Paper

Shortly after I started this semester's course work, I realised that if I were to print or copy every article I was expected to read, a small forrest would be doomed, and I would quickly run out of storage space. Sooooo...

I have to read on screen, like many others this is not my natural state of affairs.  Over the past few years I have gotten much better at editing on screen, but too frequently my instinct is to press the print button.

So I pimped my school bag, invested in an iPad, downloaded iannotate and bought a stylus.  And it is brilliant. At least so far I think it is.

BUT, I am not actually doing that thing where you are supposed to make a note of the article you just read, so that you have a short record on everything.  I like to think I am warming up to that particular practice.

So far I think the advantages are:

  1. Always have a whole pile of reading with you (so that you can carry it around and not read it), but it weighs nearly nothing.
  2. Annotations in the margin which you can print and record seperately and also navigate the document with.
  3. Dropbox.
  4. Lots of people ask you how you find it, and you get to show off the nifty apps you found!
  5. Reading off the screen is surprisingly fine.
  1. Sometimes, though not always, the page does not fit perfectly on the screen and you have to scroll around a bit.
  2. Iannotate has some very minor glitches, hopefully they will resolve these in time.
  3. My shiny new iPad broke, and I had to get a replacement.
  4. Kids like iPads, and generally they have sticky fingers.
  5. Bit awkward to read with direct sunlight on the screen, but in Ireland this is not a major problem.
  6. oh ok... even though I got an 'old' reduced price ipad, it still cost 400euro, mind you don't think it would take very long to spend that on copying and ink cartridges.
I think I am getting better at reading and thinking in this way.  Still wondering if I am absorbing as much though, but I do think that's training more than anything else.  Overall I would overwhelmingly recommend hoping on 'the cloud'.

Mind you so far I have only written relatively short assignments with a few references, wonder how I will find it, when I can't lie bundles of printed articles all over the living room floor...

Is english your first language?

I submitted a draft essay last week, felt reasonably happy with it, a sense of satisfaction which was short lived.  Within moments of opening the (very constructive and thoughtful feedback) realised how way off the mark I had been.  Missed the point in a number of basic ways.  That did not feel at all nice.

Remarked to Charles that this is tough, had not expected to feel so wobbly about stuff like this.

"Anna, do you not remember what you were like in college, you always got upset about this kind of feedback!"
"Do you mean I got negative feedback?" Clearly I only remember the good stuff!
"Of course, do you not remember the time one of your lecturers asked you if English was your first language?"
Oh. Yeah.
"That does ring a bell all right, now that you say it"

Anyway, rewrote the assignment, hopefully it is better this time.

I am grateful for constructive feedback and husbands with long memories.


"Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters" - Rosa Luxemberg
Is a dissenter a dissenter if they are funded by government?

Research without Theory

So, apparently you cannot do good empirical research without theory.

I am starting to get to grips with what is theory (sort of!) and certainly all that I read about the usefulness of theory, and why it is important, makes a lot of sense, no questions there.  The idea of using a theoretical framework (when I find one!) and applying it to my research is one that has a deep appeal, and I am looking forward to it... whatever it turns out to be.

That said, the suggestion yesterday that research without theory does not make sense (or indeed theory without research), I find counterintuitive.  I can think of so many research projects, reports and analysis that I have come across in the last few years that certainly do not appear to have a theoretical framework.  Is it just that they did have an implicit theoretical approach, which was simply unacknowledged? For example, when the MRCI analyses racist profiling, is it informed by an egalitarian theory of race that fundamentally shapes this research and analysis, though it fails to explicitly acknowledge this in an analysis which is primarily presented as descriptive.  Or is theory simply not relevant to an exercise such as this... indeed theory might even be thought of as a bad thing, a bias or ideology which would undermine the 'impartiality' of the analysis and arguments being presented?  That said NGO reports do not shy away from articulating a 'value' base.

If a theoretical framework is the structure used to build knowledge, do NGO reports like these attempt to put in place building blocks without any scaffolding?  Just not sure if I buy that.

Out of my depth

Tough week for lots of reasons to do with work, family and all the other not-too-serious-but-annoying-nontheless stuff, struggled through some very long technical and complicated reading on formal theory for Friday's design and measurement class - and no, I am not going to attempt to explain what I think formal theory might be.

I get to the class and two things happen in quick succession: (1) my mobile pone rings, shame! (the lady beside me actually takes the time to tell me I should really put that on silent!) (2) I discover I have been working off the wrong version of the course outline and formal theory is no longer on the programme (apparently it was not working as a topic, something having attempted the reading I can well appreciate).  There are two immediate implications of this:  2 (a) I struggled with that reading when I was really not up for it FOR NOTHING, and 2 (b) I have not a notion what is going on in the class now because I have not done the relevant readings.

It could have been the tiredness, or all the other things this week, but for the first time in a long time, I really felt utterly and totally out of my depth.  Its been a while, I am not used to it anymore.  Normally these days in a work situation, if I am not sure how to handle a something there are likely two possible responses (1) I know enough to spoof it, or (2) nobody else knows what to do either so it does not really matter.

36 hours later and I beginning to think this is a good thing, not a nice thing, but maybe a good one.... you know something to do with comfort zones... challenges... making you stronger... all that stuff I might be able to form in a sentence when there is a bit more distance between me and the described events.

In the meantime I now have two weeks reading to catch up with.

ps. it did shut me up though!

Having your cake and eating it

Equality 101 tonight: what are the main causes of inequality and can you distinguish between them?

Tonight we considered two different schemes for analysing the causes of equality.  From Fraser the distributive v. recognition dilemma; or political-economic v. value-cultural.  Baker et al posit four sources of inequality: political, cultural, economic and effective.  Both acknowledge the overlaps and interdependencies between these categories.

However given the interconnectedness is it useful to describe the causes of inequality this way, surely everything that is economic is also cultural?

My instinct is that it serves to address the causes of inequality if we have a way of describing them.  One perhaps cannot tackle them in isolation from eachother, but unless these domains are named how can we address them at all?  If you don't know what the ingredients are how can you make a cake?

Which begs the question that Fraser asks, what is the change process we are engaged in?  Do we seek to tweak the cake, make it taste a bit better but fundamentally still the same ingredients, same cake.  Or do we want a whole new cake?  Or maybe something which does not even resemble cake?!

What is the difference between affirmative and transformative action?  Does she (Fraser) mean reform and radical change?  A small amount change or a big amount of change?

It also seems a risk that by naming basic elements there will be other factors which fall between categories: we might describe the ingredients but perhaps not the angle the bowl was held at, or exactly how long the mixture was whipped for.

But does it matter that different people describe the ingredients differently? Some add condensed milk and sugar, others suggest toffee?  The same input but categorized in different forms with different names.

I think it does matter, regardless whether we are trying to tweak Grandma's recipe or invent a hole new culinary experience, unless we share an understanding of what is or is not in the fridge how can we go forward?

Research Question(s)

For someone who does not have a research question, this week's discussions (in research design and measurement) on the criteria of a good question was very interesting, as was the discussion and testing of some of the classes questions.  I found myself jumping in quickly to comment on other people's questions (at one point was conscious of shutting up, but did find that hard!), though it was a bit disappointing there was not more discussion from the group, in particular it would have been great to get more feedback on my own idea.  I think the way I phrased it during the discussion was:
"What is the impact of state funding on NGO advocacy in a democratic context?"
Though I did do an awful lot of um-ing and ah-ing and qualifying it... this was based on 1 of the 4 sentences included in my application proposal.

Possible criteria:

  • One clear, understandable question (specific) 
  • Relate to a number of areas of research (for reference points I guess)
  • Answerable/researchable/feasible
  • Not asked before or answered differently, filling a gap... addresses a puzzle or conundrum
  • Practical/policy/social relevance
  • Not a closed or yes/no question e.g not does it, but how far does it...
  • Wider implications
  • Reflects your school of thought
  • Should be a question

Other factors which were named by the group, but I don't think are core to assessing the question but nonetheless worth thinking about are:

  • International interest
  • Fundable
  • Publishable
Not sure where that leaves my four bullet points, but food for thought...

"To what extent has state funding of NGO advocacy contributed to (participative) democracy in Ireland?"

Phd Week 1, day 4

So I picked up my student card, found the library, experienced deep insecurity and general feeling of awkwardness.  Took two attempts but did eventually remember how to use a university library.  Not that it is so much about remembering, as learning, its not really the same as it was 12 years ago.

First note to self: learn fast how to read on computer screen.

First Phd routable on Tuesday, very interesting to meet the other students.  Mixed feelings of competence and complete incompetence.  I know about the issues (some of), but the language and theories are lost on me.  Also I think I was slipping into work mode, reasonably confident and assertive without necessarily knowing what I am talking about, perhaps I should hold back?  May have accused academics of living in ivory towers, considering the company perhaps not my wisest move.

Second note to self: Watch, listen, learn, this is not a campaign meeting there is something else going on.

So far have managed the reading for this week's lectures, but I think its going to be tough to stay on top of all of this.  Mind you different people seems to have very different approaches to the readings, with some putting them at centre of discussion and others appearing to skirt around them.  Vincent Browne was in the Feminist and Egalitarian research class.

Third note to self: Vincent Browne does not know who you are just because you met him once.

I am excited though, looking forward to this phase, looking forward to figuring out the research topic, and really looking forward to training myself to read and think again.  I now know what the difference is between a census and a survey, and I got to use that information in a professional context!  Felt very informed.

Fourth note to self: Like the idea of a research journal, might try and make this it, though track record of sustaining these things is not amazing!