This post is in the Rationale category

The technicalities of how the dissertation is constructed appear in other locations in this document, How to use this website and How the Web Works, and there is discussion on the particular elements of the design and construction within the Presentation section. This post is concerned with the questions of why the medium was chosen.

For the most part music is, for the listener, a linear medium. Time passes, sonic things happen. We follow the path laid out for us by the composer. Sometimes we mnemonically re-visit themes as they re-appear, reflect upon them and compare them in our minds, but we mostly move forward in a single path. If the piece or the style is familiar, then we have a fair idea of where we are going – at least the general direction. There are of course many musics that subvert this to some degree, through aleatoric, improvised or generative methods but even these musics are non-linear in conception rather than perception – time passes, sonic things happen. The same can be said of most forms of written narrative, especially on paper, and the viewer’s perspective of film.

As a composer I create this linear experience for the listener, guide them on some sort of defined journey, define the beginning, the end and the middle. However the composition process is often not linear at all – certainly mine is not. Even as a composer who works directly with the sonic material rather than a written score, the developmental outcomes influence the early thematic statements and may change the intent. A piece develops in bits, a melody here and a harmony there. A new texture may be conceived at the end of process but ultimately heard at the beginning of the piece. I spend a lot of time on some sections that pass quickly through the ear and sometimes much less time on elements that last longer. The final piece is not created in the same order that it is heard, nor with the same temporal length, or intensity of experience.

This music-making process has been very strongly reflected in the processes of this research. There are many themes and phrases and late-begotten textures which entwine, interconnect and shape each other. As an experience over nearly five years, it has been a sound-garden to wander in, a world in a moment, allowing glimpses into places previously unknown, each little learning adding to the appreciation of the next, and urging re-visits to others in new contexts. Like composition, the learning and writing processes have been non-linear, and self-generating. The concept of the writing process itself bringing knowledge into being (Galbraith, 1999) manifests as cyclic knowledge-constitution via this internal, non-linear and self-referential dialectic.

In a study that is largely about process, it is entirely relevant to use a format that directly reflects these research and creative processes. While it is not possible to give the reader the same experience, I have chosen to write in a format that enables the reader to have input into the manner in which they engage with the material, the pathways they take and the order in which they discover its meanings and experiences. The hypertext format, the inclusion of images (which are themselves non-linear documents), sound and video and the multiple links between pages creates a more writerly text (Barthes & Heath, 1988; Barthes, de Balzac, Miller & Howard, 1974), allowing for the reader to define significant aspects of the their own experience. The writer and the the reader can make meaning together through these pathways.

Happe notes a number of anomalies in her analysis of autobiographical writings by autistic individuals. Firstly she indicates that the writers display a lack of perception that some aspects of the narrative may be unknown to the reader; an “inability to recognise the independence of other minds” (cited in Frith, 1991, pp. 216-220). This is manifested through elements appearing “out of sequence” within the longer narrative and by leaps of logic as the writer follows their own train of thought and roams freely between topics. In my own case I have become aware of my own similar behaviour, both in person through video recording and self-observation and in writing, where I find myself constantly re-sequencing paragraphs and being dissatisfied with linear, organised narratives. When I teach or converse, I frequently become distracted by a word or thought and launch into a discussion on some tangentially related topic. To me, these digressions make perfect sense because I am simply fascinated for a while – I’m stopping to smell the roses – but it can be confusing for others. I have become quite notorious with my students for these digressions. It does however present a quandary in terms of providing that “fractured” experience to the reader without losing them along the way. I am grateful to my supervisors for the many times they have pointed out where this danger has been realised.

The non-linear form enabled by the hyperlink has the effect of allowing these strands of thinking to be linked in a manner that is familiar to web-users, and it allows the reader to choose the extent of their engagement with my own mental process, how far away from the single line of narrative they wish to wander. While Happe (ibid.) also notes that comparing the published narratives of autistics to “ordinary” typical people, as opposed to trained or practiced writers is very difficult, I am not constrained to doing so. My intention is to grant the reader a view from within, an evocative voice, as well as a view from without.

The other principle reason for the use of a Website presentation medium concerns dissemination. Studies have been undertaken for some time regarding the efficiency of research dissemination via current methods. Mary Duffy (2000) discussed the problem in 2000, citing several sources to advance the claim that the internet, and particularly free access publication was becoming the preferred method for professionals and the general public to access health information. She notes that the problem of evaluating the standards of information is a significant problem in that regard, including the unscrupulous cut and pasting of work by all and sundry (p. 352) and the issues of the tracking of citations for academic accreditation. She also points out that peer reviewed journals generally do not allow their publications to be re-published via the internet, thus slowing the process of dissemination. In the ten years since the publication of this article, the situation appears to have barely changed, certainly in terms of truly public access to good quality and appropriately reviewed research. This dissertation has implications for people who are both different (aspies) and ordinary (not academic researchers). In keeping with the idea the “nothing about us without us” it seems rather pointless for a research piece that concerns people with Asperger’s and other forms of autism to be unavailable to them.

While it is accepted that the current document is only a Doctoral thesis, it is certainly my hope that it should be available to non-academic readers, especially among the ASD community. The vast majority of the literature accessed throughout this project has come from academic journals accessed via the internet through subscribed services provided by the University, such as ProQuest, SAGE, JSTOR and Springerlink. These services are not available to the general public, and it is clear from the wide range of Web based resources about ASD, or forums run by the community itself, that there is a significant gap between research and the community that research both targets and purports to serve. This gap manifests both as a time lag and a quality lag in that the recent research from the leaders in the field takes time to filter through, or is over-simplified. While the Australian Digital Thesis repository and other Open Access collections world-wide go some way towards addressing the availability of information, it is still by and for academics in developed countries. The publication on the web of a research piece that is written with the layman in mind as well as academic credence is my small contribution to allaying this problem.

In addition, the site will be open to comment directly from interested persons once the requirements of the University have been met. The blog format allows for the collection of comments and discussion on a page by page level, opening significant possibilities for post-doctoral research by myself or other parties. The site has also been set up to collect Google Analytics data that accounts for the tracking of referral, search and interaction information. Such features are important because they provide direct means of communicating and collaborating with interested people from a variety of backgrounds – academics, researchers, musicians, autistic people and (hopefully) combinations of these.

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