Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Out of Gas

So I'm struggling on my dissertation. The break that I took to "get perspective" is starting to turn into a rout. And I'm having a very hard time getting back into things. I have a lot of excuses: work is very busy (it's the economy, you know!), I've been sick, etc. But those things are just excuses. Perhaps I need to start smaller.

So why is my boring chapter important? What do I need to do with it?

Part of the mission is figuring out how the genie got into the bottle. I want to uncover some of the labour required to build these things.

Why is this revelation important? Well, these works are notable because they are taken as evidence of earlier technical practice. But their status as "factual documents" is far from certain. Another issue is that -- rightly or wrongly -- these works serve as stand-ins or exemplars for modern practice.

As books, these works have a number of limitations, including the role of rhetoric, etc. (pull from proposal). One approach to addressing these issues is to treat the works as technology. But why would I want to treat these things as technology? Because technology is about utility rather than meaning. The meanings are ascribed to the objects via various interpretive communities. They don't assign their own meanings.

So one of the goals is to unpack the problems using a model of technology. SCOT is an influential model for addressing technology.

The approach is to apply some methods of SCOT to a sequence of works and authors that are representative of the genre. The use of an expansive history is consistent with other approaches to analysis such as the longue duree and chaine operatoire.

This analysis is not, however, a microstudy. Detailed records and narrative accounts that document the creation of these works are, unfortunately, non-existent (FN: but there is some potential for more modern works such as AGS 11). What we do have, however, are the histories of the authors and the words they left both in their books of machines and in their other works.

Completing this study required several steps. The first step was to determine which authors to include for study. The second step was to compile detailed life histories of each of these authors using existing secondary and -- where available -- primary resources. In many cases, this information had to be translated from non-English sources. The third step was to conduct comparative analysis of the various machine books in order to determine how the books evolved through through time. This historical and analytical information may be of some value to a historian interested in the background of these works, it does not address the primary question of this study, namely: How did these machine books come to be? Instead, this material -- included as Appendix A -- served as input for an additional round of analysis. This round focussed on the issues posed by SCOT as an analytical method, namely the problems, groups, and technologies that evolved to stabilize these artefacts.

So, how do I get to these things? I'm not sure. What do I want to produce?

So perhaps the issue is "interpretative flexibility" and the ongoing inabilility to support objective meanings? Alder makes a big deal about objectivity. In this case, things work against it.