Archive for the ‘ PhD ’ Category

Finishing my PhD and I Cant See the Wood for the Trees


This final part of the PhD is really difficult. It is not about the number of words or reading more. It is about writing the final sentences and getting it just right. Or at least feeling that’s it is good enough.

But honestly, I can’t see the wood for the trees.

So I’ve taking my supervisor’s advice (as always), and I’ve decided to write a few paragraphs as if someone was quoting me. In other words, as if someone is writing about cultural entrepreneurship and including my work in their literature review. For instance,

According to Naudin (2014), cultural entrepreneurship is….

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Cultural Entrepreneurship: the role of personal agency in the cultural worker’s experience of entrepreneurship

In this blog I outline the context for my study of the role of personal agency in the cultural worker’s experience of entrepreneurship. The research draws on the academic disciplines of cultural studies, cultural policy studies and entrepreneurship studies as a context for empirical research of the lived experience of entrepreneurship in cultural work. In exploring the tensions between a celebration of entrepreneurial modes of work and critiques of entrepreneurship as a characteristic of a neo-liberal agenda, I reveal a more nuanced experience through individual narratives set within the context of a cultural industries milieu.


Oakley questions the possibility of entrepreneurial work being ‘good work’ in her chapter ‘Good Work? Rethinking Cultural Entrepreneurship’ stating that there is a ‘disconnect between the discourse of cultural entrepreneurship and the reality of it’ (Oakley, 2013). The thrust of Oakley’s argument is that the policy rhetoric encouraging entrepreneurship needs to take note of the challenges of self-employment and the precarious nature of work in the cultural sector. A better understanding of different practices and individual experiences needs to inform the ‘rethinking of cultural entrepreneurship’. This ‘disconnect’ is the context for this study which seeks to reveal the lived experience of cultural entrepreneurship in the context of Birmingham’s (UK) cultural milieu.

My investigation draws on academic disciplines such as entrepreneurship studies and cultural studies which, at first glance, have very little in common. One is driven by a tradition of critical thinking (cultural studies), shaped predominantly by Marxist theories, while the other tends to prioritise practical implications for policy makers and practitioners. However, while on the surface there is little parity, I have found common ground on several points. Firstly, as Oakley and others (See Banks,  Hesmondhalgh, Hjorth and Steyaert) have suggested there is a call for more empirical studies capturing the lived experience of cultural entrepreneurship. Secondly, there is emerging literature which seeks to re-invent entrepreneurship, including being ‘enterprising’ for counter cultural activities or for ‘good’ work (morally, ethically and practically) within a social context.

The diversity of experience and the extent to which it represents meaningful work for cultural entrepreneurs is problematized by Hesmondhalgh and Baker in their investigation of good and bad work (2011). This study compliments that research but with an emphasis on the discourse of entrepreneurship as a means of exploring cultural work. Like Hesmondhalgh and Baker, I do not assume that the individuals I interview are ‘entranced’ (p.47, 2011) by cultural entrepreneurship; I argue that they are active agents within a Bourdieusian field. The accounts I have collected for this study are taken seriously, as the lived experiences of cultural entrepreneurs within constantly changing, complex social circumstances and structures (Bourdieu, 1993).

I explore this by engaging with critical debates and by investigating the contextualised experience of individual cultural entrepreneurs. Themes such as self-management, the myth of the entrepreneur and the relevance of place will be explored as a means of investigating the role of personal agency and in order to advance our understanding of cultural entrepreneurship. The process seeks to re-imagine the cultural entrepreneur by recognising the role of reflexivity and the possibilities for agentic practice. The distinctiveness of the approach aims to reveal highly personal experiences and subjective positions set within the context of a relatively small cultural industries community in Birmingham; a community in which I have been immersed for a number of years prior to this study. I draw on my knowledge of people, networks and of local policies by exploiting my position as part of Birmingham’s cultural industries community.

This work will further enhance current academics debates specifically in two disciplines: firstly scholarly work engaged with advancing the European tradition of entrepreneurship studies which seeks to explore entrepreneurship from broader perspectives and challenge dominant notions of the entrepreneur. Secondly it will inform scholarship in cultural policy and cultural studies by further developing critical perspectives through empirical research.

Using evernote for research: making notes and organising data

After recommendations from many friends, including academics, I have started to use Evernote regularly. I wish I had started earlier.

I use Evernote in 2 ways:

  • To make notes about specific articles which I attach to the note.
  • To organise my data.

I also occasionally use it to make notes at conferences or events but I generally prefer to write and doodle with a pen and paper at events.

Making notes while you are reading a paper is a great way of connecting specific ideas and concepts to your research by tagging the note. For example, I have just read a great paper about cultural policy which relates to certain ideas but also to one of my interviews. By using tags I have connected my notes to an issue I raise in my lit review and to a quote by the interviewee. It will be really easy to find using the tags.

My research is qualitative and I have done 15 interviews which are each between 1 and 2 hours. As part of the process of analysing and organising the data, certain themes became important and I knew they would connect to the broader question. I created folders for each of the interviewees and tags for all the themes. This has enabled me to collect quotes for each interviewee creating separate notes for each person but using the same themes as tags. Now all I need to do is use one of the tags, say ‘cultural capital’, and all the quotes tagged ‘cultural capital’ are collected together.

I have not finished my research yet but so far, this has been really helpful.

Transcribing and Analysing Interviews

I have done about 12 interviews so far and will probably end up with about 15 in total.  The interviews are recorded using an app on my iphone and then I use dropbox to store the recordings. I transcribed each interview verbatim to enable a familiarity with the material by listening closely to the interviewee. As Gray states, transcription can seem an onerous task but it has the advantage of engaging the researcher in a profound way with the material. Indeed, Gray suggests that detail such as voice qualities and pauses in the conversation can be significant for the interpretation and analysis. For example, I state when someone laughs and describe the nature of that laugh as best I can.

Furthermore, Gray’s approach enables the emergence of certain themes and ideas to develop as part of the transcribing process.

In this way analysis and interpretation became part of the process of research. This is when I was able to use my imagination, being sensitive to the material and experimental in my analysis. (Gray, 2003, p. 149)

Following Gray’s methodology, I have created categories such as: control, freedom, sense of responsibility, passion, role models, key networks, precarious work, happy, work and lifestyle, and so on (about 20 so far) based partly on the entrepreneurs’ stories but also as a result of key themes arising from the literature. Sections from the transcripts are collected under each category to enable me to see each entrepreneurs’ articulation of the theme together; these can be compared and contrasted in relation to each other and to the literature. For the analysis, Gray advocates flexibility and an open mind to the potential relations between categories and for new themes to emerge. I am using simple processes with colored pens and large sheets of paper to make these connections – a bit like a mind map or a conceptual map.

But Gray also talks about the importance of not loosing the individual’s voice through this process of chopping up the text. The individual narrative or story created during the interview is unique. While the idea of a ‘true’ story is nowadays considered an anathema, it is not up to the researcher to re-describe it. The researcher needs to respect the interviewees’ story as it was told at the time of the discussion. For more information on this subject see Narratives in Social Science Research by Barbara Czarniawska.

Cultural Entrepreneurship Poster

My draft poster for the Advancing European Traditions of Entrepreneurship Studies conference taking place in Leeds in on 18 and 19th March. This is what the conference is about:

This two-day workshop builds on the concept of a ‘European’ School of entrepreneurship research, by bringing together leading scholars who represent this movement through research which are distinct from the dominant behaviourist/positivist approaches that increasingly typify leading scholarly journals. The aim of the workshop is to provide a creative meeting space to consider experimental and novel approacheswhich advance theoretical understanding of the domain of entrepreneurship andits real-life practices, contexts and impacts. Drawing on multi-disciplinary perspectives, opportunities may thereby be created to expose conceptual anomalies, while developing impactful debates in dialogue with the mainstream of entrepreneurship science.

My lit review plan


Advice for anyone going through the MPhil to PhD Upgrade

Basic guidelines

Firstly meet with your supervisor and read your handbook to make sure you have all the information about the upgrade process. Each institution, faculty and school can be slightly different. Go to sessions on the upgrade process if they have any.

Be prepared and manage you time

Make sure you have plenty of time to prepare for this. See your supervisor very early on about this to make sure you have both agreed deadlines for drafts, final papers and the upgrade date. Some supervisors can be surprisingly casual about this but you need to plan ahead. Continue reading