Blog: Phd musings

Blogging as a Phd journey: an experiment…

The focus of this blog is an ongoing questioning of how we know what we know and how we change ourselves and the world with what we know. In other words how knowing does or does not emancipate, transform and liberate. These questions have been meandering through my brain since I barely crawled my way through a National Christian education system during apartheid in South Africa. I was a shy and depressed child trying to contain the contradictions of living in a divided and insane society that was South Africa. The education system I was thrust into may have taught me how to count and to write but it did not teach me how to make sense of the world. In fact, it tried to perpetuate a status quo by moulding a picture of a world as authoritarian, linear, elitist and fear-driven. I did learn how to fear but I also, luckily, learnt how to rebel. Since then the questions of knowing and meaning have dominated my personal and professional life.

The current platform for this questioning is a PhD study was entitled ‘The insecurity of knowing: Investigations into the rise of trans-disciplinarity as an emancipatory response and transformative practice in the earth sciences’ (the final proposal for this study can be found under documents).  As I worked on the Phd my focus changed considerably to contemplating cognitive justice. (See the revised proposal here). It is this study that has prompted the start of this blog. There are a two reasons for this:

1. If anyone has tried to do a PhD and work full time you will know how inexplicably difficult it is to find the time to focus on the intellectual work needed for a PhD. In South Africa, and in many parts of the world, we are not lucky enough to be funded a decent wage to engage in intellectual endevours. This work is done during spare time usually after the paid work is done and it is dark (either in the early mornings or in the late evenings or, as I have chosen, on a Sunday morning).  This is  an experiment in blogging a Phd.
2. Three aspects of knowing and meaning making that I am very passionate about are

a) that knowledge needs to be accessible and,

b) that meaning is co-created.

c) everyone creates knowledge

d) systems of oppression also oppress people as knowledge creators

Blogging potentially creates the opportunity to make more academic knowledge accessible and use the Phd as a platform for dialoguing with others. Whether blogging does indeed create this oppportunity remains to be seen…

Who am I?  


Thirteen year ago I started working in the water sector on a Water Research Commission funded project in the Kat River Valley Catchment, Eastern Cape, South Africa.  Since then I have been involved in various WRC projects all with a focus on the democratic and sustainability imperatives of the South African National Water Act. My early interests were not only water but a passion for democracy and social and environmental justice. During this first WRC project I developed a deep love and fascination with systems of water, particularly rivers as central to social spaces and social relationships. Within this socio-ecological space my interests flow around issues of power and learning. My particular interest in learning is the representation of knowledge, the politics of knowing, mediation and social learning. This leads me to investigate all sorts of ways of representing and producing knowledge for change including theatre of the oppressed, creative writing techniques, responsive workshops and web-based tools for social learning and communication. I also devour social science research methodologies that enable me to view and interrogate complex socio-ecological challenges.  My hero’s are Paulo Freire,  Steve Biko and Donavan-Ross Costaras. My heroine’s are Ursula le Guin , bell hooks, my wild-women friends, my intellectual mentors and my sister.

I am also a mindfulness  and Buddhist practitioner. I believe that we all have a commitment towards doing as little harm as possible. Part of this commitment is working with the forces within us that perpetuate negative mind patterns which directly effect the way we are in the world. Doing this training with compassion for myself and others is one of the most rewarding and most challenging journeys.

2 thoughts on “Blog: Phd musings

  1. Jessica Cockburn

    Hi Jane,
    Georgina Cundill suggested I follow your blog.
    I sat down this evening to have a look and have ‘devoured’ every word 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your experience. You write beautifully and intellectually all-in-one which makes it a pleasure to read.
    I am doing a PhD with George in Environmental Science at Rhodes…it’s still early days but I have decided to also do some journalling to capture this journey.
    Maybe we can meet up sometime when next you’re in town?
    All the best for your work – it sounds like a profound task you’ve set yourself!

    1. Jane Burt Post author

      Hi Jessica, Thank you for your kind words. I’m in Grahamstown next week although it is a busy week. I’ll drop you an email and we can make a time. Journalling is a very important part of the research journey for me. It creates the space to free write and bring all those other bits of our humanity into the intellectual pot. Maybe we can blog a conversation between the two of us sometime on why we feel the need to add this different form of text work to our Phd project. : ).


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