The Renter

Paul Byron

Thursday 30th April, 2010, from 10am to 12noon

Presentation Room (UTS Bldg. 3, Lvl. 5, Rm. 510)

Presentation: 20mins.

Two years into my PhD and I’m still grappling with what it means to do research. My research looks at practices (sex practices, bodily practices, knowledge practices) and asks participants what they do, not what they are. I aim to avoid the ontological bias of much health promotion/research that approaches subjects through existing categories of sexual identity. This side-stepping of identity extends to my own self-practices and my reluctance to call myself a researcher. I’m more interested in maintaining an uncertain engagement with research, in which I operate as a leasee of my research data. Using Certeau’s metaphor of ‘the renter’, I embrace an impermanent residence in research roles, disciplines, and methodologies. The renter, as non-proprietor, has an awareness of space as tenuous and adaptive, and always operates under these conditions. Filling boxes with one’s belongings in order to move house is tedious and time-consuming, yet allows a process of sorting, questioning, and regeneration. Ongoing renewal and impermanence requires creative and tactical use of (always temporary) spaces. Yet, uncertainty and transience may not be so welcome in the field of social science, and may make me incomprehensible within my discipline.

This paper walks through the spaces of my research but also considers the spatial elements found in discourses of young people’s sexual health (from interviews, websites, and research papers). Throughout, I will present a visual slide show of the spaces involved in my practices of making a PhD.

Paul Byron is a postgrad student at the National Centre in HIV Social Research (UNSW), exploring contemporary, local discourses of young people’s sexual health. He is interested in how discourses of bodily practices situate the body as a site of self-knowledge, and how bodies may generate expertise. In the past he has written autobiographically in zines and blogs, perhaps making it impossible to enter the field of research as an impartial witness.

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