Category Archives: Thesis writing

Thesis writing

Thesis writing

I met with thesis advisor (or supervisor – I’m not really sure about the proper English terminology here. I think advisor sounds more precise) yesterday to discuss the outline of my thesis.

As I had figured, he agreed that it was a good idea to design each chapter as independent essays with their own argument and conclusion which I could then connect into an overall argument by writing a “meta-text” into the main text referring to points made in other chapters where appropriate.

Our main discussion this time was on how to best build up a good structure to give the reader all the necessary pieces to understand the highly technical and specialized field the thesis is about. He demanded that I didn’t take too much for granted, not about the reader’s empirical or technical knowledge of the field, nor about the reader’s grasp of the anthropological theories I plan to use.

As he said, “most anthropologists like Bruno Latour and the concept of Actor-Network Theory for completely different reasons than most other academics: We find most of his points about the social construction of technology as blindingly obvious, but we do like the succinctness and stringence of his arguments. On the other hand, we aren’t too fond of his methods which seem crude to say the least. Other academics find his basic premise of socially constructed technology mind-blowing and stick to his methods as at least some way of dealing with this (to them) new way of perceiving the world.”

As it is, the relationship between the social and the technical will at the very centre of my thesis, but he warned me not to become too overenthusiastic about Latour and use him as a basis for discussion rather than as a conclusion in its own right. I find this exceptionally clever, especially since I was leaning towards doing this anyway, and it will only make my analysis so much clearer and sharper.

The main challenge of writing such a big lump of text like this thesis – it will end up at around 30.000 words – is getting them all in the right order. Building the argument in such a way that the reader will always read whatever seems most amazingly curious and interesting at that point. When writing chapter one, I have to find out what do the reader needs to know in order to read chapter 2? What framework do I build to make it as straightforward and accessible as possible?

So far, I’ve sought to develop each chapter around specific empirical cases to make the conflicts and theoretical issues at hand as concrete as possible. My advisor has kept telling me: Use the best cases! The ones you like the best! You will be delving into these and the more exciting and curious you find them, the better analyses you will write about them in the end!

So that’s where I’m at now. I’m starting out writing a chapter (what is going to be the third of six) with a solid overall structure in mind, and hopefully it won’t change too much in the meanwhile.

Leaving Ubuntu – for a while

My thesis advisor is really a quite clever guy. I had a meeting with him this afternoon to discuss the first draft of my fieldwork report that I gave him a couple of days ago, and he really pulled it apart:
“Where’s the anthropological distance? Where’s the methodological reflections?” he demanded, and I must have looked pretty stupid just then.

“You’re just using their categories, the way that they talk about things. You don’t really write about the differences in what they say they do, and what they actually do!” he continued. And I sat there nodding, mumbling “‘spose so”, not only feeling shamed for being accused of forgetting the basic tenets of anthropology, but even more so boiling with frustrated anger: What! I’ve worked hard at this! This report is the first concrete result of 7 months of fieldwork and 3 months of preparation before that! Don’t tell me what I know about this community!

But of course, he was right. He wasn’t doubting what I know or how I came about that knowledge. He was merely pointing out that it did not seem as if I had reflected very much on this myself. To him it seemed as if there had been a point in my fieldwork when I had begun to understand the inherent rules, ideals and social structures of the Ubuntu community so well that I had begun to take them for granted. That I had basically gone native to some extent, and that it would not be enough merely to take me out of the field, but also begin to take the field out of me.

I’ve only been out of the field for a few weeks, but even so, I still bring it with me on my computer. I’m still subscribed to lots of mailing lists, I still hang out on various IRC channels, read a lot of Planets, get bug mail and mails on wiki updates. I’m basically in touch with and exposed to the community all the time, even though I’m supposed to stop gathering data and start analyzing it. And as long as I keep these ties, I will inhibit my own reflective distance as an anthropologist.

As I’ve participated in this community, I have met so many passionate people with so much enthusiasm that it has been impossible not to be smitten by it. This passion is what has helped me to contribute and become so involved with the whole project, and naturally it is also what will make it so hard to leave the Ubuntu community, and the net of on-line communications which it consists of, behind for a while.

Yet that is what I’ll have to do in order to be able to reflect on all that I have learned, seen, and participated in over the last 10 months, I will need to leave the communication channels that the Ubuntu community consists of.

Today Ive unsubscribed from all the Ubuntu mailing-lists, logged off the IRC channels, stopped the wiki page-updates, unsubscribe the Planet RSS feeds, and step down from the Launchpad. I will divert my attention capital elsewhere, to my books, my fieldwork notes and my thesis, but it does not mean that I will stop using Ubuntu or encourage others to do so. I’d like to think that I can still share a bit of the work that happens in the community by using and sharing the system itself.

It’s been really great meeting all of you Ubunteros. You are some of the sweetest, most dedicated and geekiest people I’ve ever met. And I do feel honoured to have gotten to know all of you. I will keep my blog on the Planet Ubuntu, but only posts related directly to Ubuntu will appear here. I do plan to come back to the community once my thesis is done and my university obligations no longer conflict with my newly-found interest and passion for Free Software.

See you in 6 months’ time…