One Year

Vacant Space
I started this blog a year ago this weekend, and I’m impressed that I’ve managed to keep it largely updated on a month by month basis for that amount of time. To celebrate this momentous event, I decided I wanted to head back in to the original territory of the blog, which I have sorta been tiptoeing around over 12 months; the PhD. If you have no interest in my research work, please disregard the following – I finish the piece saying I’m going to write about the PhD four times a year, just so you are aware…

“I can’t guarantee how interesting this will be, but it helps me to have a signpost somewhere I can easily access, and knowing that the description is in the public domain it also makes me a) feel accountable, even if it is to the unseen and b) think about the way in which I encapsulate a body of work that it is growing increasingly complex and distant from my initial concerns.

I realised how much things had changed when I received an email from the school’s secretary asking for students who hadn’t already updated their personal research pages to do so by a certain date. I had filled the details for mine in this time last year, and I returned to the page (which features me looking somewhat more rotund than today) to find that the description I had written for myself was now wildly out of date. It spoke of some stupid ideas I thought sounded vaguely related (urban decay, theoretical ‘projects’ for the 21st century). I decided to rewrite it describing the actual work I had undertaken and the avenue I was moving along.

The ‘About’ section of this site concluded by suggesting that things were ’embryonic, confused, exciting’. To an extent they still are, and possibly always will be, but the vague wandering I was engaged in at the time has been replaced by a focus I feel I can maintain and, more importantly, one that has provided a direction rich with insight, discussion and contention;

‘What are musicians saying about these uncertain times with their music, their sounds routed in a specific idea (a place, a memory, an imagining of further on)? What can we hold on to? Who are we? Music runs chronologically, our thoughts and experiences exist outside, beside, within.’

These questions are still of great importance. Over the last year I have provisionally completed 20-25% of the thesis, which is comprised of an introduction, designed to acquaint people not only with the variety of factors contributing to hauntology as a movement, but also to the endemic arguments and rhetoric on which the participants and practitioners thrive, followed by a literature review (the rereading of which took me on a new path) and a methodological chapter outlining tentatively the potential roads I may travel along in terms of data gathering. Following the Subcultures conference, which I wrote about on here in June sometime, I found myself frustrated at the scope of contemporary subcultural theory; those who presented papers at the conference, most of whom were excellent speakers, all shared the same basic approach – presentation over analysis. The research focus was, in almost all cases, ‘here is a subculture I’m involved in, let me describe it to you’. I didn’t want my thesis to fall in to this trap as well. I forgot this when I went about my literature review though; reading it back with my supervisors at the end of last term, it hit me; the insular world of subcultural theory was equally useless. It had potential once, but this had been squandered by theoretical in-fighting and the polarization of academics in to two camps, which can be broadly understood as subcultural and post-subcultural (see also hegemonic and post-hegemonic). Certain aspects could be drawn from it, but the vacuum existence of the discipline meant that the associated theories had become either stale, or watered down by mainstream media usage of what is a forever contested term.

My approach then changed. It would be crucial, for the creation of a useful study, to bring in a much wider range of argument, so that a narrow subject could be related to more universal themes. This, I felt, was what was missing from the conference papers. I welcomed other approaches, from the sociology of art to history and geography, from philosophers and playwrights to cartographers and planners. Whilst in discussion with my supervisors, the ‘avant-garde’ was mentioned. I had alluded to it in my introduction, the origins of technique and technologies in hauntology stemming from Musique Concrete and Minimalism despite the assertion that its unheimlich nature is ahistorical. This was an area I hadn’t considered pursuing, but once it had been brought up, the direction seemed clearer. Hauntology is, at heart, an ‘esoteric music movement’, which may influence certain aspects of the mainstream but can never become that. The literature on subcultural theory, with the exception of the more leftfield ‘outsider’ work of Becker*, who has now become a useful touchstone for me, had completely ignored the ‘avant garde’. Here then was/is my focus.

The next year will be spent refining this, before undertaking field work in summer/autumn of 2011. There are four broad areas I am interested in empirically speaking; resistance rituals, technologies, identity and networks (which itself includes notions of public/private space). I hope these will lead me toward a conclusion that is both illuminating and interesting to circles inside and outside of academia. There are specifics I am pursuing, but I’ve decided to be coy about them, mainly out of faint embarrassment if they come to nothing, but also out of the potentially misplaced idea that they are good, and I don’t want someone to steal them.”

Over the next year on TISAR, I intend to post four times about my progress on the PhD, so roughly once every three months. This is now in the public domain, enshrining the commitment for me as law. This will be combined with the usual posts on various things that have caught my interest. There will also be, in January, a repeat of the album review idea I used this year, in which a group of my close friends discuss an album they heard for the first time in 2010 (not necessarily a new album). I managed almost 1000 hits in Jan last year thanks to that, and I hope to repeat the success this year, though perhaps without the unnecessary and ill founded criticism that plagued one of the articles this year.

This post has largely been composed of variations on the theme of ‘roads’ and ‘directions’.

* He doesn’t really count as a subculturalist at all, but I am adopting him for my own purposes.

Outsider: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance by Howard S Becker – published by Free Press. Also, Art Worlds – published by the University of California Press


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