Gardening is one of a few things where I completely lose track of time. There’s something about being outside, pottering from one task to another, getting my hands dirty, and the satisfaction of weeding, pruning, planting. There is also something so continual, impermanent and exciting about gardening. I can weed one area but, without further care, the weeds will grow back. I can plant new plants and, as I care for them, they reward me with different colours and textures. I’m slowly learning what plants grow well in our soil and in different parts of the garden. Much of my gardening experience feels like creating space, light and nourishment for things to grow and then hoping for the best. But what keeps me going outside is not the never ending list of tasks that need doing but something else that I can’t quite put my finger on…. It’s something about why I do it.
So as I’ve been struggling to articulate the core principles of my PhD research method I’ve found this question of asking ‘why’ quite helpful. Even if I can’t articulate it for my gardening, perhaps I can with this? So here are a few things I’ve been thinking about around why I’m designing, and doing my PhD research the way I am.
The ‘measures of success’ of my research rest on reciprocal story-telling and powerful conversations. It’s about the flow of interactions that build from one person to the other. This is a space within and between, where power is not held by one individual, but passed around through webs of connection, through the conversation. This is the air that is breathed within the backbone and ribs of my research focus; motherhood and leadership. Oxygenated through a practice that “privileges contestation, deconstruction, passionate construction, webbed connections, and hope for transformation of systems and ways of seeing” (Haraway, 1988). Basically, what gets written up in my thesis at the end of my PhD, or any academic publications, will be important for the awarding of my degree, but my ‘outcomes’ are in the now, continual and ongoing.
I’ve also long advocated for a grassroots approach to organisational change. This is power and transformation through individual actors participating in webbed and collective consciousness raising. This is not about organisations designing ‘initiatives’ or even consulting their staff and boiling it down to key actions… but a making, and holding, of space. I can’t give you fact sheets from my research, I can only give you the space for powerful conversations. Personally, it’s largely unsettling for me. There is no definitive path to where I’m going with this. But I reflect that there is not a lot we can know in advance these days anyway. But, if anything, can this uncertainty open us up to something quite extraordinary?
But this extraordinary is not towards a claim of ‘knowing’. But a continual strive for understanding. I must make space for the telling of stories straight from the mouths of those who have lived them. These are stories told through your own eyes and voice. I can no sooner tell you a ‘true’ story of a Black, Maori, Pacifica mother, as I can a caesarean, vaginal birth, breastfeeding, bottle feeding mother, or a sleep deprived, body conscious leader. Even if I identify with, and connect with her. Because the beautiful and brutal nuances of her story are not mine to tell. As soon as I hear, and retell, her story through my own heart and lungs. I take that story and filter it through my own voice. It is no longer hers, it is mine. Yet, it should never be mine. Her story loses the body that makes it hers. Her story loses her eyes.
This is one of the reasons I am advocating to connect back to the lived experiences of bodies in my research. It is not only that the bodies of mothers make us mothers, and place us as ‘others’ within leadership. But also the embodied nature of our vision as a specific and situated lived experience. What do we see with our own eyes? Without the assistance of augmentation and transcendence – glasses, screens, telescopes, quantification or helicopter views of other lives. There are no generalisations or simplifications, or interchangeability of knowledge here. But partial perspectives from contextual positions.
But I still need to acknowledge the power in telling and retelling these stories. These are the powerful conversations that people connect with. Those who interact with my research come because they feel some sort of belonging to the topic, the conversation, that is part of them but not all of them. There are potentially multiple platforms or connection points for these conversations to take place. The focus groups and reading this post are two. But I’m also reflecting on how I breathe life into ongoing powerful conversations, in other ways, and what kind of space I create to do this. How do I create space for stories to be told, interpreted and retold while recognising that the life that is breathed into them will be through different lungs?
And now that I’ve articulated these thoughts in some form, I have a truckload of mulch to move so my baby native plants survive another water short summer. So it’s back into the garden for me.