It has been a long road toward my theoretical framework! This end product is the culmination of my work in ENVS 350, "Environment" is a word so embedded in environmental discourse and scholarship that it has effectively disappeared. We all know what the environment is—or do we? And what do our unexamined assumptions about environment mean for how we approach environmental issues? A careful examination of the word might lead us to... More Theory, and will be applied toward my future capstone work.
The theoretical framework is made up of a number of elements. These are major concepts, theories, or literatures that, when woven together, form the framework. The elements in my theoretical framework are environmental history, political economy, liquid modernity, precarity, and the environmentalism of the South. More detailed descriptions of each of these elements can be found in the presentation embedded at the end of this post.
It wasn’t easy to narrow my list of potential framework elements. An important realization that helped me move through this process and let go of some of the options was that none of the concepts on my list have to fall out of my work entirely. They inform my worldview, and can potentially be introduced in something like a prologue section of a thesis.
It was also helpful to work with my elements visually through concept mapping. This brought out key connections between the elements and helped me to realize which of the potential elements in my long list were doing the most work for me. My framework elements are represented by the blue bubbles. The other bubbles concepts or things that are more material.
Something that became apparent through this visual process was the high number of connections to liquid modernity and precarity. This made sense to me. Liquid modernity is a characterization of reality and precarity can be understood as a structural or experiential manifestation of liquid modernity. The many other elements and concepts in my framework are things that affect reality. Many of these effects are represented by the arrows in my concept map.
Eventually, I made the decision for labor to inhabit its own special box. This largely because inserting it into the map would more than double the connections, which would make it difficult to read. Its location off to the side can give the impression that it is not connected to the other elements and concepts, but the opposite is true!
This visual process helped me to finalize my elements and to begin to weave them together by highlighting their many connections.
Identifying key references
Another important step in the theoretical framework process was identifying key references. This was another way to put my potential elements to the test, challenging me to back them up with good scholarship. It was interesting and rewarding to find at least three references for each of my elements. I was able to reflect on my academic experience, pulling sources from syllabi of past courses and from bibliographies of projects. During this process, it occurred to me that many of the sources that I consider “key” could fit under multiple of my elements. This realization emphasized to me that my elements were highly cohesive.
I am still planning on taking a comparative approach to my capstone where I will draw on at least two situated contexts. Creating my theoretical framework encouraged me to justify my existing situated context and to identify my next. I came to the conclusion that aside from the fact that I have already done some research in this situated context, Varanasi, my first situated context, is unique in that it is touted as the oldest inhabited city in the world. This idea has important implications for labor there. My second context is still yet to be determined but may end up being a gig economy job in the global North. Whatever second situation I choose, my aim is that it can bring about insights about labor and our current moment through comparison.
Potential focus question, data sources and methods
At this point, my potential focus question is, What are mechanisms or processes inherent to neoliberal capitalism and how do these manifest in labor? This question is a more focused and answerable version of my framing question, How does neoliberalism relate jobs as diverse as street sweepers and uber drivers, and what does this say about our current moment?
Currently, I imagine my data sources to include interviews, social media, preexisting scholarship and datasets, and my methods to include roughly ethnographic methods and qualitative data analysis.
The work continues! I am motivated to read over break to familiarize myself with studies that have already been done. Perhaps someone has used a similar framework in a different context, or has studied a similar context in a different way. Hopefully, this can be sniffed out through scholarship I have access to online.
Second, I need to quickly identify a second situated context so that I can begin to with it meaningfully. Finally, while I already have some intensive data of my own, I need to find some extensive data. This will stretch my capstone to be more inclusive.
This is the google slides presentation I gave in our final class period. You can view it in full screen by clicking the “>>” icon in the upper right-hand corner and then selecting “presentation mode.”