Confirmation Seminar: Should we call a place a community?

Last week I gave my confirmation seminar, which is part of the process my university uses to make sure PhD students are working on a reasonable project. Two weeks before the seminar I had to hand in some written work to my committee (the group of people overseeing my project and candidature). Instead of skimming through all of this written work, I thought my seminar could be a good opportunity to unpack some of the ways I am currently describing my project.

My project title is, ‘Port Melbourne: should we call it a community?’ The responses I have had to this project in Port Melbourne are pretty diverse. Some people think the title asks an interesting question, some people think the title contains some incorrect assumptions, and some other people probably worry how I could be doing a PhD about this. It is a relief to me that there have been wide ranging responses, after all it will be a bit boring to write 80,000 words about something on which everybody agrees. I wanted to do this project because I was frustrated about the rather narrow ways that the social interaction that happens in suburbs is dealt with in the policy literature. To hear people on the ground getting frustrated when they think their suburb is being dealt with in a shallow way suggests to me that this project is not only of interest to me.

So here are just some of the issues I think are thrown up by the second part of my title, ‘should we call it a community?’

Should: Is it the right thing to do? Is it correct, is it ethical?

We: Who does or can decide if a place can be called a community? The ‘we’ seems to include me as the speaker, but I am not a Port Melbourne person (although I am taking interpretative responsibility for this project). Is this question being asked of an audience at university or the people I meet in Port Melbourne? Is it different to be doing research in a place like Port Melbourne where many people I meet know more about doing a PhD than I do?

Calling: What does it mean to name something? Is this a process of describing, or is it prescribing what it should be?

Community: What is a community? On what basis are people included or excluded? Does a community require a shared identity?

These questions highlight just some of the multiple questions that sit behind my project. Some of these I will have to come up with answers to in order to get on with my project, some of the questions might be partly addressed through what I learn in Port Melbourne, and I am sure many others will remain unanswered long after I submit my thesis.

These words are written in Port Melbourne sand because (1) I thought it would make for more interesting powerpoint slides than simply blocks of text, and (2) this is where I am at the moment, and so it may all change by the time I come to write.

If you have any thoughts about my project and/or its title I am keen to hear from you.

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2 Responses to Confirmation Seminar: Should we call a place a community?

  1. Hi Tracey
    I’m sorry I missed the confirmation seminar – there was something else on at the time. Pat told me about it, and she mentioned that you had done your titles in Port Melbourne beach sand.
    I am really enjoying the opportunity your work presents to think harder and in a more rigorous way about the questions you are asking. It is helping me to sometimes take a step away from the immediacy of things to reflect upon them. That has to be good.

    • Tracey says:

      Thanks for your interest.
      It seems like the sorts of things I am asking about are already thought about by many people in Port Melbourne. However, sometimes when people make certain clarifying points when I am around I cannot help but wonder if it is for my benefit (or if I am just being self involved).

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