‘What are you working on’…Matt Spokes

There are two answers to that question. The first relates to the research I’ve been doing over the last few months, and the three papers I’ve been working on.

The first paper operates as a quasi-response to Deborah Lupton’s work on the quantification of self, and self-tracking. This is a paper I’ve been writing with my former colleague Dr. Paul Chappell for the last 18 months, but it took until this month to reach a breakthrough with it: what the paper explores is how classificatory systems change as a result of human agency in data collection and analysis, with the case study being the overly-complicated drink-diary I kept during my PhD in which I listed every alcoholic beverage I consumed over a 5 year period.

The second paper, which is at the fieldwork stage, is a walking ethnography of state-sponsored gentrification programmes in London, specifically the 30 year rebuilding of the Woodberry Down estate. I’m conducting walking interviews of different areas of the rebuild to discuss change(s) with local residents and build a rich ethnography combining their dialogue with GiS mapping data and photographs: to what end, I’m not entirely sure, because I’ve purposely not set myself a question like that yet.

Developing some ideas I originally explored in my PhD, the third paper uses social network analysis to explore how modular synth enthusiasts develop support networks to offer advice to each other on how to build and play modular synthesizers. For this, I’m using network data collected via IssueCrawler from two modular synth festivals (Sines and Squares 2014, 2016) combined with document analysis of conference papers at the festival and online forums to unpack how different people with varying levels of involvement in modular synthesis engage with one another, drawing on Becker’s typology of ‘support personnel’ and ‘integrated professionals’ for theoretical ballast.

As has been the case throughout my admittedly fledgling academic career, I am adopting a magpie-like approach to my research, which I discuss in more detail here.

The second answer is that ‘what I’m currently working on’ is, as ever, ‘juggling many things’: part of being an early career researcher – someone up to 5-8 years out of finishing their PhD – is responding to the increasing array of expectations that the increasingly neoliberal higher education sector places on young academics by increasing your workload, which is both a tacit expectation but also a self-imposed approach. That include the preparation of new teaching materials, assessments, conference organizing and research along with the genuinely important things like not being a shit dad to my 20 month old daughter.

I should point out this is not a complaint about where I work, but about broader issues young academics experience that perhaps weren’t really a thing 10/15 years ago. The pressure placed on young academics by the REF and the upcoming TEF – whereby metrics that academic research suggests do not measure the things they set out – are used to decide whether or not we are effective researchers and educators. One way to facilitate a return to genuinely progressive and thoughtful research would be to radically rethink the ways in which quality and performance are judged.

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