Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Theoretical Frameworks: The thorn in my side

So, first an update on my competition: it was lovely, my calf made it, I got third, and there were cash prizes.  Yay!

Now, onto more serious matters.  I have been trying for over a year to choose a theoretical framework for my dissertation.  I keep reading, and reading, hoping I will discover something that works.  I haven't.  Essentially the problem is that I am doing research on say, how cats wave their tails.  There are a fair number of studies on tailwaving, but they all deal with cats in North America and Europe, and the theoretical frameworks developed so far have done a pretty good job in documenting the tailwaving customs and patterns and meaning of these cats.  But, my cats are in baladelba7th, and although there are similar movements here and there, the overall effect is quite different and the cats themselves are different, and none of the frameworks fit and it's really frustrating.  Plus, you know, not everything revolves around North America and Europe.

In my meeting with my advisor today, I was expressing this frustration.  No, they don't fit, she agreed.  But that's one reason that it's so important that you're studying these cats and their tails.  Yes! I thought.  So, you may have to develop your own theoretical framework, she continued.  What! I thought--isn't writing a dissertation complicated enough without having to create and defend a whole new theoretical framework as well?

I started this project because I think a greater understanding of tailwaving can lead to improvements for all sorts of cats, and it happens to be understudied in baladelba7th.  But oh, what have I gotten myself into?


  1. Welcome to the party, Shedding. :)

  2. Yeah, something similar happened to me to, but fortunately, there are enough of Latin American theorist who engage and agree/disagree with the North American/European framework of my discipline (think Jameson and people who contested him from other regions of the world). Doesn't the same happen in your discipline. Or does it have to be country specific (how cats wave their tail in X African country)?

  3. That's actually the best kind of doctoral dissertation that exists. Taking somebody else's theory and applying it to a new set of data is a) boring and b) makes it difficult to find a job. People on search committees always raise their brows in frustration at yet another dissertation that applies Foucault (or anybody else) to yet another set of texts.

    Don't be afraid of creating your own theory. Isn't that the ultimate goal of what we do as academics, anyway? And congratulations on having such a great advisor.

  4. comparison is your friend. Say, here's this theory of tailwaving. This part works for my cats but this part doesn't. You don't need to create something new out of whole cloth. You can extend and transform existing frameworks by pointing out both where they work and don't work--ultimately moving toward a new framework derived from the old.

  5. Thanks all, for the encouragement/ideas!