reconnecting and looking ahead

(research notebook)

The only downside of returning after three weeks’ complete break (and I’m honestly not complaining) is the mountain of work demanding your immediate attention. Which is why, after a truly brilliant time in Canada and with January rapidly slipping away, all I’ve managed to blog so far is this update and outlook. But there’s plenty on the way now that the desk is at last a (tiny) bit clearer. 

german election year

It’s going to be a busy year in German politics. Elections to three regional parliaments, all of them in western states, will be held in March and May. And while regional elections are important in their own right, they’ll naturally be seen as litmus tests for September’s General Election. Will Angela Merkel win a fourth term as Chancellor? What kind of coalition will emerge? Which parties will take seats in the Bundestag? Needless to say, for all four elections I’ll be paying particularly close attention to the Left Party: the candidates, the campaigns and of course the results. Last year was a difficult one for the Left, as it struggled to frame migration in terms of social justice and also lost core voters to the right-wing populist AfD. The party will be especially keen to perform well in the western states; simple demographics means it has to clear the five per cent threshold both in the east and west of the country; meanwhile, even though the majority of Left Party membership is western, failure to (re-)enter western parliaments would cement the stubbornly fixed perception of the Left as an eastern party — and of course wouldn’t bode well for the General Election. Without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges will be to win (back) the support of unemployed and working class voters. 

With all this in mind, I’m going to be posting a series of blogs offering my thoughts and analysis of the elections, and especially the fortunes of the Left Party in this important year. 

pen-and-diary

research

2017 is also going to be an exciting year for my research. First, this is the year I publish. Yes, that’s a bold statement, but I figure that by saying it publicly, I’ll have to make good on it. Second, the focus of my current paper is Left Party policy and campaigning strategy, so as you can imagine, there’s considerable overlap with the election events. But one of the dangers of researching a topic that’s unfolding before your very eyes is becoming too tangled up in the day-to-day events and analysis. Yes, it’s a fascinating time, but you need to draw a clear line between what’s interesting (most of it — well, you live in hope) and what’s actually relevant to your research (considerably less). And with so many other demands on your time, you can’t afford to be distracted by every opinion poll, comment and soundbite.

Inevitably, after a busy time focusing on work (punctuated by that break), it isn’t so easy to pick up the threads of the research. Not a new problem, of course; it was an all too regular battle during the PhD. Luckily, technology came to the rescue: Scrivener soon became an indispensable tool for writing and (re)structuring text, while Scapple was great for quickly mapping out and visualising relationships between ideas — I’m using both for the current paper too. But if it’s a case of ‘reconnecting’ with a project or working through a particularly tricky idea, there’s only one thing for it: picking up a pen (it needs to be fountain pen) and starting to write longhand. Maybe it’s attributable to not being a digital native, but I do think there’s something special about the physical process of writing. And it turns out I’m in good company. In his brilliant memoir The Pigeon Tunnel, John Le Carré reveals he has written every one of his books by hand(!) and actually enjoys ‘drawing the words’. I love that idea of drawing words, even if my own ‘drawings’ tend to resemble scribbles. Still, I can see the words taking shape —  which is what counts if I’m to keep that publishing promise.

Back soon…

writing
tools of the trade: fountain pen, notes, aged but trusty laptop, scrivener… and tea in favourite mug
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