Doubtless in Seattle – Harla Sara Octarra

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On August 17th, the day of my home country’s (Indonesia) Independence Day I went to the state of Washington in the USA. I stayed in Lynwood, a city 16 miles north of Seattle. Seattle is well-known for its rain and wind. It sounds like Edinburgh, but that time Seattle was sunnier. I tasted 30°C summer 


In Seattle, I attended the Society for the Study of Social Problems Annual Meeting and presented my paper in “Methodological Innovations in Institutional Ethnography Research” session. The conference took four days, from Thursday 18th to Sunday 21st of August. I presented how I used Institutional Ethnography (IE) as the methodological approach of my doctoral research, in front of both novice and expert Institutional Ethnographers. I was so anxious before leaving, but I had to go! The experts were scholars whose works have inspired my research, and who I quote in my thesis. Therefore, the conference was a rare opportunity to test doubts and answer questions that I had.
The conference was the first avenue to present my research’s methodology. Inevitably (for me), I had the “what ifs” syndrome. What if I had missed a crucial step in using the approach? What if my presentation did not make sense? To name a few. But I made it! After 20 minutes and short Q&As, people who had never heard or read anything understood what my research was about. “So, you’re making visible policy processes,” as one professor remarked. Then after a short pause, I had this warm fuzzy feeling, “Yes, I am” came out my response. I had a mentor during the conference, and he gave me such a positive feedback. Also, Professor Dorothy E. Smith, the pioneer of Institutional Ethnography, was present in my session. When I finally had the nerve to introduce myself to her, she said she was very interested in my work. I emphasized the words to ensure myself I was not dreaming! She was even willing to read few pages of my paper. I was overjoyed.


On Monday 22nd I participated in an IE workshop. My IE ‘heroes’ were facilitating and I found learning from other novice researchers was invaluable. I discussed problems I encountered when using IE, such as arriving at themes and multiple standpoints. I asked questions and argued how I found the context of my research (i.e. policy processes in interagency work) unique for IE. I was reassured because of that ‘uniqueness’ standpoint is ‘tricky’ in my research, as one professor said. I was relieved.


My whole experience of going the distance to be in the company of experts is summed up with: a journey where questions were answered, and doubts were removed. Last but not least, I got a new (part)title for my thesis: “Making visible policy processes”. I have mentioned this to my supervisors, and they agreed it sums up my research perfectly.


I am very grateful to the University of Edinburgh Principal’s Go Abroad Fund for co-funding my amazing learning trip. Thank you.


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