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.