Thursday, 31 July 2014

Day 2 - Key Thinkers on Space and Place

This is a thick book, and probably one I could never read in a day. Thankfully I had read about half prior and had a good idea of which thinkers I need to read.

It's a useful introduction to human geography (the discipline from which most the thinkers come from) as well as a philosophers, anthropologists, religious studies scholars and political theorists (oh, and a few economists).

For each other it provides a biography overview, key ideas, their unique contributions to space/place, and a list of key works. For someone, like me, who was trying to get an understanding of a field that wasn't his own  - it was incredibly useful.

It's also a good reference book - quite often a journal or another book will reference, in passing, someone's thoughts or ideas on a particular issue in the field. Naturally, wikipedia isn't of much help here and I'm not keen on spending time trying to find their key works to get a feel of what is being referred to - as such, a quick dip into Key Thinkers on Space and Place helped contextualise whatever I was reading.

I'd really recommend it for anyone doing qualitative social science research. The emphasis in qual research often ends up on the people, the words, the actions -divorced from the setting in which it takes place. This book is a reminder that such thinking is misleading. It means we imagine the world as a blank canvas upon which social interaction 'happens'. This unspoken theory means we imagine an action can happen here, or there, with few changes. The argument many of the theorists in this book put forward is that space/place is inextricably linked to social action and agency. Not only in influencing it, but being influenced by it.

We attribute, or perhaps inherit, meaning from places and spaces. We transform them and react to them. One theorist argues the importance of space/place is in that space, is by virtue, limited. One thing can be at one place at one time. Yet the meanings attributed to place are infinite.

The books only drawback, I felt, was its size and its diverse authors. Not every author had the same skill in summarising succinctly a theorisers work. Sometimes I would leave a section feeling an author had conveyed the ideas of a key thinker well, giving me a tangible new idea or theory to take away with me. Other times I completed a section feeling empty-handed, and no better informed on a thinkers ideas or contentions.

That said - great book and one worth reading if you're trying to get a grasp of the field, as I was.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Day 1 - Rhythmanalysis

Rhythmanalysis – Time and Everyday Life
By Henri Lefebvre
Published by Continuum, London: New York - 2004
Lefebvre is a Marxist scholar, one noted for his contributions to sociological understandings of space, the everyday and cities. 

The introduction to this work, by Stuart Elden, notes it is Lefebvre’s final publication prior to his death (he was born in 1901 and died in 1991), and unites much of his prior thinking. ‘Lefebvre shows the interrelation of understandings of space and time in the comprehension of everyday life’ and the importance that the two concepts of space and time ‘need to be thought together rather than separately’ (pg vii). Space-time is already a singular concept in certain (all?) strands of physics – Lefebvre’s argument, perhaps unwittingly, picks up on this.

The author spends sometime considering the nature of rhythm itself, with sometimes difficult prose that slips jarringly into the poetic. I wonder whether it works better in the original French? Lefebvre is one of many French philosophers whose impact in the social sciences is colossal – he takes his place alongside Bourdieu and Foucault. 

The author’s key arguments on rhythm is that they are a product of repitition, and measure, they are mechanical, yet organic. Rhythms can be cyclical (cosmic) or linear (the daily grind). They dominate our lives – from our biological to the social. True to his Marxist ontology, Lefebvre maintains: -
“The commodity prevails over everything. (Social) space and (social) time, doinated by exchanges, become the time and space of market... The everyday establishes itself, creating hourly demands, systems of transport, in short, its repetitive organisation” (Pg 6).

The most valuable chapter, I found, was his description of the street. He argues one cannot appreciate the rhythm of the street while walking down it (“He who walks down the street, over there, is immersed in the multiplicity of noises, murmurs, rhythms” Pg 28) but rather by being within and without, such as standing on the balcony of house on the street, one can take the necessary distance to view and appreciate the rhythm.
Lefebvre describes how the street’s rhythm cannot be viewed simply as random, but an indication of a wider and deeper structural origin. It is here that the transcendental can meet the mundane for the author. By understanding rhythm, you can understand more fully the object of study.

The author concludes with a summary of his terminology (in some cases, borrowed from biology). There is Eurhythmia, the natural rhythms of the human body in harmony (like ‘garland’ or a ‘bouquet’ writes Lefebvre in his distinctive style) and opposite that, Arrhythmia, where the rhythms conflict. There is also Isorhythmia, where several rhythms exist in equal measure.

Rhythmanalysis is a relatively old work, and I’m keen to see how others have built upon it. It’s been on my to-read list for some time. My research is on British Mosques, and the everyday religious life of an observant Muslim is absolutely linked to rhythms - some obvious, some not so obvious. I sense Lefebvre’s writing will have considerable utility for me.  

30 books, 30 days?

I'm entering the final year of my PhD. I'm on a tight schedule to finish in three years flat. I've decided to use this August, as far as possible, to catch up on some reading that fell by the wayside during my fieldwork year.

I have a lot of reading to get done this August however. Among other things, I want to use this month to cover some old ground. I did my undergraduate degree in religious studies, and I'm currently a PhD student in the religious studies department of Cardiff University - but over the past two years I feel I've lost my moorings somewhat. As my PhD employed a particularly social scientific approach, I've spent a lot of time trying to play catch up in sociology (or anthropology... still trying to work out what the difference is to be honest). So this month, I'll be picking up some intro texts to religious studies to make sure I know my basics.

Also, I really want to make sure I make the most of the next year - my final PhD year and, provided I do things right, my final year as a student. So also on my reading list are books on writing and completing my PhD.

The crux of this blog post however? I'm going to try and read 30 books in 30 days. I'm not a bad speed reader, and I think I've developed an ability to pick up and read the most important parts of a book while skipping the non-essential (to me) parts.So each day for the next 30 days, I'll publish a blog post summarising the book I read that day.

I'm hoping that by committing myself (publicly) to reading and publishing - I'll manage to keep up the pace needed. On top of that - I'm a believer in the importance of writing as much as I read, and it's always nice to have someone read what you've written.

My reading list as it stands is below, I welcome any additions however.

1. Guide to the Study of Religion - Ed Willi Braun and Russel T McCutcheon
2. Authoring a PhD -Patrick Dunleavy
3. Critical Terms for Religious Studies - Ed Mark C Taylor
4. The Arts Good Study Guide - Chambers and Northedge
5. Approaches to the Study of Religon - Ed Peter Connolly
6. Stylish Academic Writing - Sword
7. Introduction to the Sociology of Religion - Furseth and Repstad
8. Key Thinkers on Space and Place Ed Hubbard, Kitchin and Valentine
9. Rhythmanalysis by H Lefevrbe

I welcome any suggestions on further reading. My PhD is rooted in religious studies and the social sciences, with a focus on British Muslim studies - but I'm open to reading outside of that particular field if it will be useful.

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