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December 6, 2005

busy busy

Posted by dogpossum on December 6, 2005 10:46 AM in the category academia

and because I have plenty to blog about, does that mean I'm doing any blogging...?

I have, however, been busybusy with the thesis (I've probably jinxed it now) - the first two chapters have now been re-edited (come on down draft #3!), I've written a first (craptastic) version of chapter six, and I'm now going through chapters four and five, re-editing. I'm finding it tricky keeping the whole thesis in my head - I keep losing track of what the whole thing is about. I do need to go through and make it all answer this basic question:

How do swing dancers use electronic media in their embodied practices? It's actually a pretty good question, and one I can answer. I just keep forgetting - I get caught up in the details.

chapter 2: Afro-American vernacular dance in the 1930s and before.
Electronic media isn't really used in embodied practice. I talk about embodied dance as discourse, and vernacular dance as being in every part of everyday life - so it is a medium in itself. I introduce the idea of cultural transmission in dance.

chapter 3: contemporary swing dance culture.
I take up the idea of cultural transmission in dance, positioning contemporary swing dancers as on the receiving end of transmission from the Afro-American vernacular dance tradition. I introduce the idea of the recreationist myth and its use in swing culture. I discuss the various ways swing dance today is mediated - by studios and classes; by electronic media. Then I discuss specific examples of the way certain moves and traditions in swing dance have been taken up by contemporary swing dance communities around the world, in different ways. In these moments, I take issues of gender and sexuality as case studies. So I'm introducing the idea of local difference within a global culture.

This chapter is good, and kind of important, but as you can see, it's also kind of a mess.

chapter 4: AV media.
I haven't gotten to this one yet. But I do know I'm looking at three stages in the development of the contemporary swing dancing community, defined by three types of media. This suggests that particular media forms and their use are central to and also indicative of social and cultural change within a community.
So, we have the first stage - archival film and its use in the 1980s revivalist moment. Then we have the second - 'official' videos (instructional; mementos for camps, etc) and the development of local community identity. And finally we have digital clips and the rise of a localised global community.
I also discuss gender and sexuality in this chapter, but not to a great extent.
It's easy to answer the question 'how do swing dancers use electronic media in their embodied practices?' in this chapter.

chapter 5: DJing
This is a bit of a big mess, but I have lots of things to say. I talk about the increasing complexity and diversity in cultural practice within a community as that community gets older, and develops inter-community networks. So I'm paralleling cultural diversity with global community participation, yet still emphasising the essential nature of embodied practice and (consequently) local community practice and identity. I use discussions of the SwingDJs board in this, as well as some references to Swing Talk and other discussion boards.
I talk about the professional development of individual DJs within the Melbourne scene, and parallel that with the development of the Melbourne scene as an increasingly globalised community. I also discuss the role of gender and class and other identity markers in the rise of a professional DJing role, and also in individual DJs' experiences as DJs in local and global swing culture.

Again, it's not difficult to answer the question 'how do swing dancers use electronic media in their embodied practices', it's just that the chapter is kind of busy....

chapter 6: Dance schools and other institutions
This was going to be a chapter about camps and exchanges, but I found I had very little to actually say about camps and exchanges that was actually addressing my Question, but that I did have a lot to say about the role of institutions in swing culture. I'm not sure if this chapter will stay here, at the end, or if it'll go back to the beginning somewhere. I kind of like it here, because it sums up all the other chapters, explaining the way DJing, AV media and embodied dance practice are all managed discursively by schools. I emphasise the commodification of swing dance in contemporary Melbourne swing culture, thus indicating its mediation by schools. I also discuss the role of emailed newsletters, school websites and other 'official' discourse and texts, and the ways in which they mediate embodied dance practice.
This is perhaps the most interesting chapter of all, and also the most obviously political. Here, I'm attempting to address the conflicts between profit-oriented, old-school captialism and a communitarian rhetoric. I'm also interested in the way the revivalist myth (ie the idea that swing dancees have to be revived at all) is employed by schools and other institutions as justification for their activities, particularly their business activities.
I also make a clear argument about the way a school-as-a-business employs pedagogic principles - the significance of institutional heirarchies and heirchical orderings of knowledge; the neglect of alternative teaching and learning practices; the encouragement of heirarchies within a body of students which encourages them to consume - to buy - more classes, rather than to explore experiential learning. In other words, I'm interested in why schools are bound to push classes as the most valid form of learning, and congruently neglect the learning opportunities presented by social dancing.
I'm facinated by the role of emailed newsletters and websites (where there is no dialogue) in this process (developing and securing a market for a product), and the alternative offered by Swing Talk as an institution. I do not suggest that Swing Talk is necessarily any 'better' than the schools, as institutions go, but I do argue that it employs different strategies, has a different 'dominant' ethos or ideology, and functions in different ways than the schools. It is still, however, a site where ideas about dancing are managed cooperatively and in reference to existing social and cultural heirarchies within the community.
I get so close to talking about public spheres here, it's not funny.

So the thesis is going well. It's all interesting. It's kind of a mess, but I'm working on that. I aim to get through all these chapters, then send them to my second supervisor to get her to read through it all. Then I write chapter 1 (the introduction) and the conclusion.
Then I begin rewriting all over again!

Posted by dogpossum on December 6, 2005 10:46 AM in the category academia