PhD Thesis Visualising ESL

Visualising the PhD journey: once you start looking for metaphors…

A little heads up on a current (soon to be revealed) WIP: I’m visualising the PhD journey using digital paintings, maps and interactive story-telling. It’s an exciting project and I can’t wait to share it when it goes live. This means that I’ve been thinking about metaphors and ways of storytelling. And it turns out that once you start looking for visual metaphors, they turn up everywhere.

My own personal metaphor for undertaking the PhD was pretty mainstream, despite being invaluable. For those who don’t know, I’ve been climbing a mountain whilst doing the PhD. Passing the viva was effectively reaching the summit, but on the way were a whole bunch of added extras, from being caught in an avalanche (loss or illness), so taking shelter in a cave while storms raged (fighting my university for access and not feeling able to go on), to getting stuck in a swamp and totally lost (doubting that my work was valuable, relevant, or particularly insightful).

Whatever was happening in my life at the time, there was a convenient metaphor for it, and one that helped me put my problems into a tangible frame where I could appraise their significance (objectively), figure out a plan, and then refocus on my goals. I think this is why I found the metaphor so helpful, and why it was it one of the keys to me completing the PhD after 8 years of hard slog. Having that mountain in the distance meant that, regardless of what happened along the way, I never lost sight of my goals and was able to appreciate the storms for what they were; temporary blips that would not permanently interrupt my progress.

Sky: Children of the Light

While my forthcoming project is designed, painted and written by me as a visual representation of my metaphorical journey, I stumbled upon a different version of the metaphor… scrolling through the latest games on Apple’s App Store, I came across a game called “Sky: Children of the Light”. Here are some screen grabs from the App Store, mainly so that you get an idea of the beautiful artwork in this game.

The aim of the game is to get to the top of the dangerous and dark mountain (sound familiar?) and this is best achieved by working altruistically and making friendships (also familiar – no one ever finishes a PhD by working alone). The graphics are undeniably beautiful, and the challenges include decoding glyphs and meeting ancestors to gain their knowledge as you go along (also, very relevant for a PhD journey, although less literal when those ancestors are in book form in a library).

The blurb about the game states that “with your trusty candle, you’ll illuminate the world bit by bit, pushing back the darkness and igniting beacons to open doors to new areas”. This might be a little poetic, but is a comforting thought to those of us trying to develop new knowledge that might just make the world a better place, one day.

“You’ll meet dozens of ancestors who will teach you new expressions – like setting off a dazzling fireworks show – or offer items like capes, hairstyles and musical instruments”. While no one offered me a hairstyle throughout the PhD, learning from ancestors, mentors and peers is a central part of the process. Despite the journey being solitary and even lonely at times, the most valuable resources are the people around you – your cheerleaders.

“Although you can play Sky alone, the experience truly comes to life when you connect with friends, family or strangers. Can’t reach a hidden cliff? Signal to a passer-by who has a more powerful cape and perhaps they’ll take your hand and escort you up. The desire to help others is woven throughout the game’s fabric.” There have been many occasions when I’ve benefitted from the generosity of others in my field. Progress doesn’t happen through sheer slog in the library, but from friendships, kindness, and solidarity. And some beautiful metaphorical scenery.

economics Procreate Research Visualising ESL

Visualising interactions using Procreate on the iPad: an update

I’ve recently started using ProCreate on the iPad to explore visual representations of econo-socio-legal interactions. My portfolio has always relied on the good, old-fashioned pen and paper approach, so it’s been really exciting trying out different technologies. I’ve been updating my portfolio and recreating the pieces digitally, which I’ll discuss in this post – with pictures!

I’ve found the app to be really responsive and a fun and easy way to get creative. The Apple Pencil can be a bit frustrating to use as it has that “drawing on glass” feel, and runs out of battery at crucial moments. But the feedback and pressure sensitivity works really well and makes drawing on the iPad a really enjoyable experience.

But on to the content! Here is a first attempt using Procreate at recreating the social fabric of interactions, weaving together three layers. Here, they are legal, economic, and “other” aspects of social interactions. This recalls the goals of Economic Sociology of Law-based approaches that want to recombine legal, economic and social phenomena, as well as recognising the importance of others aspects of interactions. In this, we can refer back to Max Weber’s four interaction ideal-types (instrumental, affective, belief-based, and a traditional); all of which fit into the “other” layer here.

In case there’s any doubt about the three layers, we can add some colour. For me, law is best represented in red, economics in yellow, and social otherness in green.

Then, adding in economic aspects of interactions…

And then, the social “other”, completing the woven fabric of interactions as seen through an econo-socio-legal lens…

The really cool thing about Procreate is that is can record everything you do on a particular canvas, and can reply the progress of the piece as a time lapse video. If you want to see the steps involved in creating this piece, it’s on my YouTube channel here.

I’ve also started redrawing representations of orthodox economics, economic sociology, and economic sociology of law. The idea is that the main stream, orthodox economic theory relies on assumptions and models that provide a straight jacket and that sociological and econo-socio-legal framers can moderate this and make the approach more flexible and more reflective of real life.

So, in the first image, neoclassical economics is drawn as straight lines, with little flexibility outside of the predetermined categories built into the models. In this sense, it fails to capture the complexity and unpredictability of real world interactions.

By incorporating more insights from sociology and from focusing on interactions rather than actors, we can capture the full extent of how complex, dynamic, and unpredictable real world interactions can be, and what this might look like…

All that’s needed now is a roadmap from the orthodox to the heterodox… a visualisation of which I’ll post as an update!