Ideological Convictions and Self-Marketing

Inasmuch as distinct doctoral education might be from other professional degrees, the question of self-marketing remains vital for students to answer as they enter the job market. Assuming that an academic position is being sought, self-marketing needs to be based on the scholarly milieu that one wants to associate and work with upon graduation, analogous to the practical specialization one wishes to pursue as a masters graduate. This in turn will depend, predominantly, on the ideological convictions implied in the student’s dissertation. After all its a doctor of “philosophy” degree, something often ignored in a rush to expound and deliberate on—using precious energies and expensive credit hours—the methodologies that will be employed and data that will be used. In fact, rightly so, because without those two aspects a research is as complete as brilliant ten page proposal. Yet, the philosophy aspect has far reaching implications in determining the academic community a PhD student will eventually and decidedly belong to, and it is worth a conscientious student’s while to reflect on this aspect of his or her dissertation. After all, as intellectuals-in-training, PhD students need to honest with themselves about what worldview they think needs to be advanced and what values they stand by in administering this advancement through their future research.

In reflecting on this, I realized that the scholarship that I tend to naturally align with as a consequence of my ideological convictions perhaps, remains staunchly opposed to perpetuating the status quo. I guess the value-laden discipline to which I belong affords me the ability to situate myself as I please and I can only imagine how rigidly directed, in terms of implied values, the process of research would be in an engineering domain. But I can only imagine.

I found the prospect of being able to effectively market myself, as unfortunate as that phrase might sound, problematic within the discipline of planning. I had written earlier, wondering why planning practice was incapable of attempting to recognize and engage in cross-scale issues that clearly have a bearing on future of cities, and I found, as I studied further and after being serendipitously pointed towards by my PI,  that the epistemological orientation in a discipline that I was seeking was not far off from the world of planning–Urban Geography. Although I say this, I do not find myself situating in either one of these disciplines purely exclusively, especially given the level of overlap and concurrence between these seemingly distinct fields. Nevertheless, an excursion in reflecting on the possibilities is nothing short of exhilarating.

There are a number of ways to distinguish between urban planning and urban geography as one might imagine, and in my mind, a good distinction can be made on the basis of corresponding epistemologies—the nature and scope of knowledges that each discipline holds. In this sense, urban planning is mainly concerned with examining the best way to organize material and immaterial aspects of ‘the urban’ that enable a good life. This leads to analyses that may be focused on design and operation of urban infrastructure services like transport to satisfy certain objectives–pertaining to economic or ecological ends for example. Some other analyses may be focused on investigating the ability of new models of governance or principles of design to be applied in analyzing and reforming urban cityscapes. In contrast, urban geography, while debatable, views the gamut of normative ideas on cities and their ontology within a broader landscape, where ‘the urban’ is considered in terms of its relationship to different critical aspects that are known to shape or guide the evolution of ‘the urban’. Of these critical aspects considered by geographers, ecology or environment has remained the dominant one, yet new tools like GIS are enabling geographers the ability to include wider aspects into their analyses like the political economy, social physics, and systemic approaches to study and gain a greater understanding of ‘the urban’.

If I downloadcan use a provocative analogy to describe this more simply; in my mind, urban planning attempts to organize and engage with aspects related to ‘the urban’ within a proverbial box, while urban geography endeavors to understand and examine the influences on the box, as well as on its insides, in reference to where the box is placed, how its placed and what forces are acting on it. It follows that the ability of urban planning research to enable a more pervasive and radical change within its boundaries (that it is incapable of navigating, i.e. across scales), can possibly be enhanced by encouragingly drawing on the views accumulated by urban geography about the box from the outside.

In conclusion, tying this contention to my initial point on marketing oneself to an intellectual milieu that one identifies with by virtue of (either implicit or explicit) ideological convictions in ones dissertation, I can only endeavor, as a PhD student, to achieve a higher level of understanding about my own research topic, as well as my convictions to make the right decision of marketing myself as honestly as I can once I graduate. I say this because I view the scope of urban planning and of urban geography as distinct from one another, which in abstract ideological terms translates to the former unwittingly embracing impositions that generate (a subset of) outcomes for the benefit of the few (imposers), as opposed to zooming out in the latter’s view, away from the incumbent frames of reference, to overcome prevailing impositions by exposing them and offering more acceptable alternatives for the greater good.

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About Ali

Ali is a PhD candidate in the Urban Planning and Public Policy program at University of Texas at Arlington. His research focuses on examining the emergence, persistence and stability of community-scale grassroots energy transitions across the US.

2 comments

  1. This was really helpful, I’ve often wondered what the differences between these two disciplines are. And I loved the proverbial box analogy! Your writing is very clear 🙂
    Best of luck in your self-marketing! Haha, sending positive vibes your way.

    Liked by 1 person

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