How binge-watching Netflix is helping me write my dissertation
Lionel: What do you hope to do with this film?
Sam: Umm. I don't know...I guess…. I'm searching for some kind of truth.
Lionel: Mmmm. Vamping.
The above exchange, from Volume 3, Chapter 5 of the Netflix series, Dear White People felt like a personal attack on my soul. The critique of protagonist Sam White is she's stalling by gathering more material for her junior thesis; this is the same argument others have reflected back to me regarding this dissertation. I've heard "21 participants is excessive," "the best dissertation is a done dissertation," and "watching Netflix series is not doing work." Basically, my process is really just procrastination. I'd like to take a moment to reframe my vamping in a positive light.
If you are unfamiliar with the term vamp, it is "a passage of instrumental music of fixed length -- usually pretty short -- which can be played as many times as needed to create time for some purpose” (Lindsay, 2014). So vamping is done by an orchestra to allow the actresses and actors to move the story forward before the next section of music begins. This phenomenon, although repetitive, always has purpose. Trying to fit a dissertation into my life with a full-time career, pets, a partner, and parenting isn't easy, and sure, at times, I've felt that I'm avoiding "this little paper" rather than letting it marinate. But after binging through Dear White People, this process of vamping maybe is the exact way in which I’m going to get these letters after my name.
Because of my stance as a critical activist scholar, I am keenly aware of how I am constantly surrounded by Whiteness, especially in this academic pursuit of my dissertation. Whiteness takes an insipid manifestation in scholarship, as it calls itself positivism, lacking "bias" and legitimizes itself through objectivity and hypotheses to be validated. So as I begin the process of “coding my data,” I can’t help but feel that coding is just another form of Whiteness (see St. Pierre and Jackson, 2014, as additional insight into how coding is antithetical to the interpretive design that qualitative research espouses); however, rather than just throwing my hands up in the air and saying, “Too bad, so sad. Guess I’m just going to be mad,” I decided to act like every good qualitative researcher, and I got comfy with Johnny Saldaña's Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers.
Like when Maggie had her first sip of ramen and the complex flavors of the broth bloomed in her mouth, the nuances and intricacies of coding came to life as I devoured each page of Saldaña. His book is the quintessential publication for qualitative researchers, and as I consumed the word, I appreciated the accessibility of his writing. Not only did he ground why coding and the processes related to it are important for scholars, but he also provided clear guidelines regarding what coding processes traditionally align with which research methods. And with the layout of the appendices, it offered me the opportunity to really dive deep into the various options at my disposal.
No longer was coding just distilling large pieces of information into manageable chunks in whatever way seems fit to the researcher. Coding became a buffet, and the various various processes and procedures were all at my disposal. As I digested this meal, I noted which concepts resonated with me instinctively, and then looking at the different methodologies in his Appendix B, I was happy to see that my instincts aligned with the scholars.
Yet as I start to actually implement the various coding methodologies as outlined in Saldaña's publication, I cannot act without pause. By remaining authentic to the processes as outlined in his publication and the foundational scholars he notes, I struggle. hooks (1990) astute words offered in marginality as a site of resistance help explain why. In fact, I was so moved by her words when I first came upon this passage that it caused me to write this tweet:
Sure, there are ways to maintain the subjects' voices. But even when using in vivo coding, eventually, one has to distill those codes into themes, colonizing the co-researchers perspective for the researcher’s benefit.
This entire dissertation has been a continual dance between being a colonizer and the colonized. And as I continue to educate myself about this dialectic of being an activist-scholar, I am finding more scholars who have struggled with my exact issue. For example, Slovin and Semenec (2019) suggested that
In this move away from stable and knowable researcher-data relationships, scholars transform what “counts” as data. Notions about data (and all that follows it: coding, analysis, writing) are being expanded upon and re-imagined to include dreams, the elements, silence, darkness, nonhuman others (as well as not coding data) …and… and... and... (see: Rautio & Vladimirova, 2017; St. Pierre & Jackson, 2014; Andersen et al. 2017; St. Pierre & Jackson, 2014; Augustine, 2014). (p. 23)
So by decolonizing and destabilizing the dissertation process, I have the ability to imagine my own future, one where, even though it sounds heretical, perhaps I don’t even code the data at all.
It’s scary to forge one’s own path, especially as a junior scholar. But as I was reminded when I left an empty relationship years ago,
If traditional coding procedures will not support my learning, then I need to do something else. What is that something? How am I going to get there? Thank you Netflix for reminding me that I can continue to vamp until I know the next step to finding power in the new.
Does any of this resonate with you? Comment below how you work through these tensions.