PhD Confirmation Milestone Reached

3d human with big positive symbolI spent most of the first half of this year working up to my PhD confirmation presentation which happened this month. I’m waiting for the bit of paper to say I’m official, and can proceed with my PhD.

The process of getting the proposal in order was challenging not only because I had to keep it exactly to 20 pages, but also because I had to become very clear about what it is I will be doing for the next few years. None of this is unique to me I know, and it did force me to do some thinking around the dreaded ontology and epistemology.  I discovered that I have been a closet social constructionist (a favourite book here is Michael Crotty, The Foundations of Social Research*). That discovery made finishing the proposal a lot easier, and some things fell into place in terms of how I see the world and my work.

Why I’m designing my work around people in my strategic foresight practice, for example, became clear – people create the future, not systems or structures or trends. Why I am going to surface the integral 4 quadrants in my work became clear – those systems and structures and trends matter little if we don’t understand the nature of diverse worldviews surrounding the future. I have been trying to find a way to include integral in my PhD, but that hasn’t worked out yet. I’ll keep trying. And perhaps importantly, the process reminded me that I love doing deep dives on topics and writing about what I’m finding in a way that makes sense academically and professionally.

I know that the whole process will shift and change as I start collecting and analysing data, and I know that it’s not going to be a straight line to the finish. At least I feel like I’m underway now, and that is a nice feeling.

*Crotty, M 1998, The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and perspective in the research process, St Leonards, Allen & Unwin.

6 thoughts on “PhD Confirmation Milestone Reached

  1. Nice work Maree. Quick comment re: your “closet social constructionist” comment. In my doctoral research I’ve seen that (based on published papers etc) this is the dominant, yet implicit, epistemology of foresight work. Checkout Thomas Chermack’s work, and papers by the current chief editor of Futures, Ted Fuller, who argues that foresight work has a weak social constructivist epistemology. I’m also not surprised to hear you say this is the way you see the world based on your views about evaluation.

    You might find this post on my blog useful, titled ‘On the value of futures work – and its ontological and epistemological dimensions’, see:


  2. Thanks Stephen. I referenced Fuller and Loogma’s work in the proposal, but not Chermack’s. And your blog post looks perfect for me, I’ll read it with interest.

  3. No worries, hope it’s a useful.

    Re-reading your blog post one sentence worries me a bit: “Why I’m designing my work around people in my strategic foresight practice, for example, became clear – people create the future, not systems or structures or trends.” To me this is too either/or. I suggest you look at some sociological theory, such as Anthony Giddens’ work. Sociologists look at the mutual influences of structure (e.g. larger systems, and social structures) and agency (people) on outcomes, rather than one or the other…

    I often use Julia Gillard as an example when discussing structure and agency. Some say she never stood a chance due to wider social structures and forces (i.e., structure); others say lost the prime ministership due to the consequences of various poor choices that she made and by not sufficiently exhibiting leadership (i.e., agency). In reality, the outcome was probably a little from column A and a little from column B.

    1. Thanks Stephen – I’m steeped in sociology, have been since my undergraduate days. The either/or nature of my comments may have been a bit blunt, and undoubtedly a result of dealing with people in change projects who only ever focus on the systems and structures – change it and they will adapt! My business redesign is around trying to increase the attention paid to the left hand integral quadrants in change processes too.

      Maree Conway Tel: 61 3 90169506 Skype: mkconway1

  4. Good to hear. I think the key is to avoid an extreme position – e.g. reducing people to fixed positions in social structures, or – at the other extreme – viewing people as highly agentic and thereby able at each moment to create and re-create society/social structures. The other key is to take a multi-level perspective: i.e. structures in organisations (micro), markets (meso), and in national political contexts and political economy (macro).

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