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  • Featured Member Profile: Benjamin Lyall

    Posted on October 15, 2018

    Today’s featured member profile comes from the fabulous Benjamin Lyall. Take it away Ben!

    Member: Benjamin Lyall

    What are you researching?

    I am currently exploring the ins-and-outs of self-tracking with wearable technology – from the perspective of users. This means interviewing participants about how and why they use devices like Fitbits, Apple Watches and so forth.

    Within this, I am interested in why people start, continue and potentially stop self-tracking, as well as exploring what it means to collect and reflect on data like step counts, heart-rates or calorie consumption.

    Given these focuses, the data I collect is varied; consisting of audio interview transcripts, screenshots of visualisations from mobile apps, and also online disclosures. My analysis is currently underway and is (attempting) to establish something of a framework of ‘intimate devices’ – which draws on code/space, actor-network theory, new materialism, and a number of big data/surveillance perspectives.

    I think I feel – like many others probably – that this could all change at a moment’s notice! But that is the current trajectory of my work.

     

    What drew you to this topic?

    I noticed when wearables became widely available to consumers (perhaps about 2014), many devices were notable for their bright wristband colours – so they were quite obvious. I then became interested in them as being very conspicuous, overly co-present and therefore mediating experiences of daily life. I generally think we take on new technology without knowing how it will impact us, and the trend toward wearables and internet-of-things devices seemed to be one of these that I was able to explore in-situ.

    At the time too, the notion of “wearables” in media and marketing discourse was idealistically positioning these devices as the next evolution in technolgy (from computers to smartphones to smartwatches). As of now, I don’t think that has played out – but the current reality is probably more interesting anyway.

     

    What have been the highlights of your RhD journey?

    So far I’ve really enjoyed the binary experiences of being both deep within – as well as far removed – from my research.

    The former being the in-the-moment of interviewing participants. My interview method is fairly loosely structured, and I really enjoy teasing out interesting stories and turning over ideas with my participants. I think this reflects why I became interested in sociology in the first place – recognising difference and exploring how and why people do different things.

    The latter is the experience of listening to other students and academics, and learing about their work at conferences, symposia, and other events. The diversity of ideas and research trajectories I have had the privilege of learning about so far has been frankly staggering and thoroughly fascinating.

     

    What do you wish you had known before you started?

    Having just completed my honours year before starting a PhD, I think I had already had a taste of what was to come. What I would have liked to know in advance is that ‘iterating’ is a deeply complex skill.

    My university experience before RhD was a proccess of ticking-off short term projects. My PhD so far has been a process of constant iteration and refinement, and this is something that has (and is) taking more discipline and patience than anything else I have ever done in my life. It requires tailoring ideas to different audiences and angles, depending on the current need. This makes it futile to compare yourself to yourself – you just have to keep pushing forward.

     

    What advice would you give to others who are either just beginning, or contemplating starting postgraduate study?

    Make documents, nothing will be wasted.

    I consider myself ‘organised’, but not really a ‘planner’. As such (and given the above comment about iteration) I’ll make notes, templates or outlines for upcoming tasks well in advance. When I do return to said task, having even the most meagre skeleton of an idea already formed, is enough to comfort me that ‘I can do this’. It’s also worth noting that every word I’ve ever read or typed during my research, is searchable either on a local system or cloud storage service. So making loose notes can often be invaluable, because when I need to call back to one of those skeleton ideas, I can simply search them up from the ether.

    What do you do when you aren’t working on your research?

    Within university life, I’ve been lucky enough be able to teach younger students, work on other research projects, and form some great friendships with others researchers – and some of these spillover into life outside uni.

    Beyond uni life, my partner and I are still feel ‘new’ to our current city/state, so we enjoy exploring, with or without our two dogs, and are lucky enough to be within walking distance of public transport, cafe strips and beaches – all of which help facilitate this exploration.

     

    Thanks Ben! If you think you could answer our 6 quick questions, drop me an email at zoei.sutton@flinders.edu.au

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  • Featured Member Profile: Guy Scotton

    Posted on September 15, 2018

    Today’s featured member profile comes from the always wonderful Guy Scotton. Take it away Guy!

    Member: Guy Scotton

    What are you researching?

    My work is rooted in the unfolding “political turn” in animal ethics, combining normative political theory with sociology and moral psychology. I am exploring the public role of emotions such as love and disgust, and the rituals and narratives that shape and sustain them, in political theories of animal rights. So far, too little attention has been paid to the affective and symbolic dimensions of interspecies solidarity and community life, and I hope here to consolidate recent work in the field that highlights the importance of affect and the moral imagination for cultivating enduring norms of justice and respect for other animals.

     

    What drew you to this topic?

    Two crucial experiences drew me away from an entirely unrelated PhD project in (human-centric) political theory. First, reading Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka’s Zoopolisbefore almost any other work on animal ethics offered me a genuinely exciting glimpse of what a just interspecies community might look and feel like, combining theoretical daring with renewed attention to our differentiated and embodied relationships with nonhuman animals as individuals.

    Second, my early work on the topic was catalysed by a wonderful conference experience at the 2013 MANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory, where I first began to appreciate the vitality and diversity of the animal ethics community.

     

    What have been the highlights of your RhD journey?

    Every workshop and conference I’ve attended, whether I am presenting or not, has rewarded my work and my thinking in general in ways that are hard to anticipate or summarise. Contributing a chapter to an edited volume, and watching it develop from an idea at a conference through to part of a cohesive collection, has been a particularly rewarding publication experience.

     

    What do you wish you had known before you started?

    I wish I’d had a clearer understanding of the mechanics of the academic publication process from submission and selection through to responding to reviews, all of which helps to demystify and socialise the apparently solitary writing process. This is something I’ve been fortunate to experience from the other side thanks to my involvement in the Politics and Animalseditorial collective, and I encourage postgrads to get involved in or observe the process where possible; the experience and perspective is invaluable.

    I would also like to see more candour and awareness about the demonstrable mental health impacts of postgraduate work, and the specific challenges facing people across the spectrum of human neurodiversity—students with ADHD or autism, for example. Academic work can so often seem isolating, frustrating, and competitive, and we have a collective responsibility to build an academic culture that equitably shares the challenges, and cultivates the benefits, of neurodiversity and mental health.

     

    What advice would you give to others who are either just beginning, or contemplating starting postgraduate study?

    Attend conferences in your research area as soon as possible; focus less on presenting at this stage and more on finding “your people” and saying “yes” to opportunities to exchange ideas and collaborate beyond the conference. (However, you should also expose your work as early and as often as you can bear it!) This face-to-face energy and momentum will inspire and sustain you as you return to writing (remember to send those follow-up emails and keep the conversation going). A good abstract, like any first impression, can go a long way, and learning to write them well and early on in a project (and re-writing as necessary) will pay dividends at every stage of the writing process. Likewise, practicing writing for a broader audience (e.g. as a guest author for a relevant blog) is another process of translation that can be enormously revealing and clarifying for your work. Most generally, viewing all such forms of writing as words you’re putting into the world, on a continuum with the thinking and writing that goes into a thesis chapter or journal article, helps to further demystify the academic writing process.

     

    What do you do when you aren’t working on your research?

    Many of my extracurricular pursuits have grown out of, and feed back into, my research. I’m a member of the editorial collective for the peer-reviewed open access journal, Politics and Animals (http://politicsandanimals.org)—itself an example of the sorts of opportunities that emerge from conferences, arising after the MANCEPT 2013 conference thanks to the initiative of our managing editor, Kurt Boyer. Katherine Wayne and I have recently begun production on a documentary about new forms of interspecies community and justice.

    When I want to turn off from anything research- or advocacy-related, I spend my time making models, especially resin “garage kits” of science fiction and horror film characters, and I’m now beginning to sculpt my own.

    Thanks Guy! If you think you could answer our 6 quick questions, drop me an email at zoei.sutton@flinders.edu.au

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  • Featured Member Profile: Enqi Weng

    Posted on August 15, 2018

    Today’s featured member profile comes from the brilliant Enqi Weng. Take it away Enqi!

    Member: Enqi Weng

    What are you researching?

    My thesis (currently under examination!) studied religious changes and changing attitudes to religion in Australia through discussions on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Q&A current affairs program. It tracked these changes through a sociological application of the concept of the sacred as a non-negotiable value expressed in religious and secular forms.

     

    What drew you to this topic?

    Religion became a topic of interest for me especially because of how it is brought into, and discussed within, the media. I view media here in a collective sense—as a complex process of engagements between news, entertainment and social media. Being born and raised in Singapore where its mainstream media is controlled for purposes of social harmony, multireligious beliefs are managed by the government through media policies. When I came to Australia in 2010, I was struck by the discourses that were circulated on Islam and Christianity and the depictions of both communities in Australian media. There was a disconnect in my perception and my lived experiences with these communities back home.

    After spending some time working on my minor thesis project at the University of Melbourne then, I came to realise how understudied religion is within academia because of a dominant perspective that religion will one day disappear. Since 9/11, religion has become a topic of interest which has been approached through different disciplines, including media and communication studies.

     

    What have been the highlights of your RhD journey?

    One of the highlights is the number of opportunities I received to be introduced to amazing networks such as the Australian Association for the Study of Religion (AASR) and the International Society for Media, Religion and Culture (ISMRC). The friendships I’ve made and mentors I’ve found through these networks have been invaluable in my formation as a young media and religion scholar.

    The second highlight is my involvement with the “Religion on an Ordinary Day” project. I was introduced to it as a contributor by my supervisor Professor Peter Horsfield. This is a transnational project that examined and compared representations of religion in newspapers from across four global cities. Through this project, I was able to work more closely with the methodology I applied in my thesis. I was also given the opportunity to travel to Ottawa and present at the media workshop as part of my involvement.

     

    What do you wish you had known before you started?

    Because the PhD journey (often) stretches over several years, I’ve learnt that finding a way to manage everything else in your life is pretty crucial. This juggling act often can include the project itself (that requires adaptation to one’s attention and time depending on the stage of the project), other work commitments, finances and emotions. All these factors will vary depending on the season that one’s going through as well. I went to many workshops where presenters from the front are often sending out a singular message—that you should be doing more. But this is quite simply unrealistic. As I look back, my advice to my earlier self would be to be kind to yourself. Be aware of your limitations. Don’t make somebody else’s goals and expectations yours.

     

    What advice would you give to others who are either just beginning, or contemplating starting postgraduate study?

    There are many but here’s a few to start with! If you’re proposing your own research idea, find a supervisor who is interested. Have a conversation early with them and better yet, see if you can work out a feasible research idea together. Alternatively, find a project that you’re really interested in. It sounds like strange advice—why would you do otherwise? But if you have to stay motivated for a stretch of time, personal interest seems like a good starting point. Also think about why a PhD will benefit your career direction and why you want to invest 3-5 years doing it. Have a rough idea what the light at the end of the tunnel would look like for you.

     

    What do you do when you aren’t working on your research?

    I care deeply about environmental issues and am part of a community initiative that sets up and manages compost bins around my local suburb. I also enjoy gardening and fussing with my growing collection of succulents. Often, I find myself watching one too many crime television show (the Nordic selection on SBS is great!). On the weekends, I like to try out new recipes that remind me of home.

     

    Thanks Enqi! If you think you could answer our 6 quick questions, drop me an email at zoei.sutton@flinders.edu.au

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