Joss Greene's Dissertation Diary: Second Entry

Joss Greene, PhD Candidate in Sociology, recipient of the inaugural Devon T. Wade Mentorship and Service Award and a Center for Engaged Scholarship dissertation fellowship, shares his dissertation journey as he works on “Gender Bound: Regulating Femininity in Prisons for Men,” an examination of prison regulation of gender deviance between 1940 and 2018. Over the course of this year, Greene reveals the ups and downs of his dissertation-writing process. In his first diary entry, he described his topic and methodology and his secret trick for maintaining work/life balance: his dog, Milo. In this entry, Greene reflects on the transition from research to writing and working on his book proposal — and shares Milo’s latest milestone. 

January 10, 2020
Joss Greene

Moving on from the research phase

Conducting dissertation research was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. Whether conducting oral history interviews with formerly incarcerated people and activists, or looking through archival materials, the research process meant continually being in suspense. What new thing am I going to learn today? How will this conversation or document complicate what I thought I knew? My fourth oral history interview was with a trans woman who was incarcerated in California men’s prisons from the early 1970’s through the 1980’s. Because she and other trans women organized, the California Department of Corrections began providing transgender prisoners with bras and hormones in 1976. She told me this story casually over tea as we sat in a San Francisco café, but it’s an incredible historic moment that has previously never been documented. It was an honor to listen to her story, and others’ stories, and a big responsibility to be entrusted with them. 

Now I’m in the writing stage, which can feel less concrete. With research, it was clear when I’d had a productive day’s work because I added something new to my collection of information. Because writing is so iterative, I might add something today, just to delete much of it tomorrow.  I’ve been taking comfort in the routine of writing (every morning, first thing), trusting that my ideas are developing and will continue to take form if I just work away at them.  

The relationship between research and writing

One surprising similarity between research and writing is in the depth of connection I feel with the people who shared stories with me. Materially, writing is a solitary venture. I need time by myself, or at least without interruption, in order to write. But I’m spending so much time really thinking about people’s words or experiences that I feel quite close with them. Last summer, I spoke with someone whom I’d interviewed in 2015, and I referenced something she’d said in her interview. She was touched and surprised that I remembered it, because in what other context would someone reference, verbatim, something you’d said three years prior? Of course, the context was different. I had recorded the conversation and spent hours and hours thinking about it. Our relationship was deepened because of all the time I’d spent thinking about her, in her absence. It really is a funny and particular kind of relationship to have! There is a field of queer historiography that thinks about the affective relationships that queer people have to figures of the past; the literature points out that researchers of queer history oftentimes desire connection to, or reflection in, our “subjects.” As I continue to write, I’m interested in thinking more about these relational dimensions of interview-based research.

Joss Greene

The book proposal 

I am still writing my book proposal. It’s hard to write at this stage, because I have to think two steps ahead. I met with an editor who explained that a book proposal needs to explain how your book will differ from your dissertation. Sound advice, but, of course, I haven’t written the dissertation yet!  At this point, I’m thinking that I’ll save all my ethnographic research in trans prisoner advocacy organizations for the book. I have more than enough archival and interview data to write a dissertation, and this will free me up to develop those sections more fully without rushing through them to touch on all my data. I’m also imagining that the book will involve a pretty significant shift in style and tone, as I pivot from presenting my material to a specifically sociological audience towards the broader public I hope will read the book. This prefigurative type of writing is sort of like a grant application, in that you need to anticipate what you will produce and argue for its significance (while knowing that you won’t ultimately be held to every point). 

What Milo is up to 

This past week, Milo was spayed. Her veterinarian explained earnestly that for 14 days post-surgery she is not supposed to run or jump, because this can lead to complications. I’ve spent a lot of time sitting on the floor, dragging her chew toy in little circles around myself to entertain and exercise her in what I hope is a vet-approved manner. If anything, this time (in which neither she nor I are getting our three daily jaunts in the sun) have made me appreciate more than ever how important breaks and fresh air are for productivity and mental health.