Category Archives: Weekly Logs

Weekly log: May 23 – May 29

I spent the last week remarkably by almost doing  nothing but coddling. It is kind of unfair to say this, but I am now too motivated to examine exactly how I failed so hard (again) on time management. Plus I am thinking about going through my painstakingly recorded paper version weekly logs sometime this week. That collection has all my printed weekly calendars with daily notes on them, since January this year. Hopeful by analysing past data I can draw a honest picture of how I actually spend my time, and how to improve my sense of control on life.

May 23 – May 24 Mon-Tue

I stayed at school till pretty late these two days, 10-ish pm or so. Another remarkable achievement is I managed to exercise two days in a row in the gym! My usual gym routine takes about 1.5 hours including travel time from my office on the 8/f to the gym on the 3/f (!) and shower time. Yesterday I did whole body workout (aiming to build muscles), and today’s were cardio exercises plus stretching. My leg muscles hurt now.

Grading assignments were the dominant tasks I did for these two days. Together with a 1.5 hour meeting with Paul and Leona (the teaching team), I spent 8 + 6.5 = 14.5 hours grading 37 six-hundred-words essays and eight presentation scripts; organize/print the comment sheet; and email students. However I did spent a couple more hours preparing for the assignment (download them from Moodle, print them, check late submission, etc.). Thus, total grading time should be 18 hours or so.

I found a trick for fair grading is to 1) first rank the essays and 2) determine the range of grades assigned (eg. 60-70) and 3) mark the essay according to their rank. The reason is that it is easier to determine relative performance, than to compare the hard-to-quantify performance to an absolute standard. I actually spent much time adjusting my grades by comparing essays to each other when I did the gradings last time, if I assigned a grade compared to absolute grading rubrics.

Writing emails to students is an enjoyable job, mainly because I know there is an audience and I have authority on them. However, to spend 0.5 hours phrasing the email might be a little bit excessive?

Talk with a friend about Occupy Central reminds me of forgotten themes in my interviews, about the discrepancy between romanticism and reality, and 1) how this influence people’s perception on political moments and 2) how this influence my job choice.

My optimal job choice keeps changing in my mind. After talking to a friend I found my pattern to change to an seemly easier route to power and fame whenever I found an obstacle. For one thing, I need to think about the characters reflected in these almost habitual behaviours, and change them if necessary. No job is easy. For another, this makes me think what I truly values in life. For example, do I really love the nature of my work (reading, writing, interviewing, teaching, doing transcript, etc.), or do I only love the things I think can be brought by this job? I am afraid the answer might be the latter, although this one is less flattering.

A point in choosing romantic partner I’ve read somewhere is – do not expect your partner to have everything, but think about what you truly wants from her/him (kinda like the job choice ha). For this, I also have the habits of 1) getting tired after sometime and dumping them; 2) but after being single for a while I desperately want a partner. So, probably I value companion and stability more than excitement and sense of achievement? I can discuss my thesis my teacher, talk about life with peers, but there will only be a handful of people who love me unconditionally and treat me well. I should cherish them and do not let go easily.

Weekly log: May 9 – May 15

This week’s main themes of work are 1) read Political Epistemics (PE afterwards) and write book forums and 2) finish theory essay three on Foucault. Themes of intellectual activities (aka. daydreaming) are 1) thinking about other career choices and 2) reflect upon my own romanticism.

May 9, Monday

A full work day.

Difficulty in reading: Morning I tried to read PE chapter 6. It was a difficult read, first because the author wrote  English in a German way, and second because I hadn’t been reading for research for a long time. When you are reading for research instead of coursework, the reading process easily becomes aimless because of 1) lack of clear intellectual goal, and 2) lack of time constraint. This again traces to the lack of structure in academia work, then one level further, trace to the uncertainty in results. Thus I have the following hypothesis –

H1: Difficulty in self reading results from its non-task-oriented nature, which results from the lack of structure in academic work, which result from the uncertainty of research results.

Take reading notes right after you read the text, or else you will forget about it. The thing is I read PE, but due to laziness and carelessness in preparing calendar (which is because I am not that serious about this notes taking principle after all). Then I tried to take notes today (Wednesday), and I forgot all about it. Thus, Take taking notes seriously! If you read it carefully, it deserves a note; if you don’t, then read it efficiently for information only.

May 10, Tuesday

I suffered from dysmenorrhoea the whole morning and half of the afternoon. Then I went to a job talk by Stevi Jackson in the late afternoon; graduate school Ethics course in the evening, and finished the assignment from 9-10pm.

Be specific in your job talk – that’s what I got from the talk. I didn’t like the talk, really, and was bored within 10 minutes of the talk. Alexa said she felt the same, and it might be because the talk was too vague. The speaker talked about 1) a non-Western sociology that respects the culture elsewhere and redefinition of the concept (she used “heterosexual” for example), and 2) her ambitious structure about the social being four dimensional: structure, interaction, meaning, and whatever I forgot about it. But my feelings are, first, the two ideas are both cliche. Second, if you are going to talk about something that general, you should at least prepare enough examples. Third, ain’t you exactly a Western sociologist talking about “non-western” sociology? Fourth, it easier to say than do. What are the practical way to implement your cliche ideas? People have been talking about them for a while, but there must be reasons they haven’t been realised.

English writing of mine is still far worse than sophisticated native speakers. In our ethics course Katie, Alexa, me, and Mike and Yudi from political science are in a group. We take turns to do group assignment. When it’s Yudi’s turn, which was yesterday, Mike took her assignment and read it in a funny way. He might was just trying to be funny, but the fact was he was making fun of Yudi’s English writing. And when I did the assignment, I took reference from Katie’s one, and saw huge gap between her writing and mine. She was a lawyer, so she has a neat way of organizing important points. And she must be efficient in reading as well.

(See a New Yorker posts for this – “And I apologize for the seventh-grade-level language“)

Two Chinese political science books: I brought two books《中国模式 for and against》by 丁学良 and 《二十一世纪中国政治》by 鄒讜. They are two generations of Chinese scholars, and Tsou’s book is better in academic critiria than Ding’s in mine opinion. But the first is more about public policy analysis and is not aimed for academic readers.

Weekly book reviews that I’ve been thinking about writing but haven’t started. This shouldn’t be too hard to do. If I take one day from weekend for this, I should have plenty of time for these. First of all, it is not academic. Secondly, it is in Chinese.

May 11, Wednesday

I had dinner with Tian Yuan in Yale law school when she came back to HK today. Two points: 1) lawyers make huge money, especially those specialised in business. This reminds me of the book Chicago Lawyers by Heinz and Laumann. 2) When reading, take care of the important points only and ignore the details for efficiency.

Go to the Job Talk I missed a job talk by Pun Ngai today because I wanted to read Foucault. I probably would learnt nothing if I went, but it became a pity if I didn’t.

In the afternoon I tried to read Foucault‘s Discipline and Punish. (In the morning I went shopping.) He was very inspiring. Sometimes even the choose of phrases carry meanings as well. This then goes back to English writing ability. I should go read more The New Yorker.

May 12 Thursday

I spent the whole morning and afternoon reading Foucault‘s Discipline and Punish. He is indeed a genius, because he can lay out sophisticated arguments clearly, and with many examples. But my morning reading attempt failed again because I read without a clear structure of the whole text in mind. Then due to laziness to use my brain, I just absorbed myself in the details of reading, without trying to figure out the logical structure of his argument. This is dreadful. I have to spent half an hour re-do all the markings on paper in the afternoon, and re-read the text.

Minimalism in underline a text forces me to think while reading, to search efficiently for the important points in text. I haven’t done this exercise for a while because I haven’t been reading for a while, and it took a second read to Prof. Mustafa Emirbayer’s “tips in reading sociology” to remind me of how to make notes. My afternoon trail works good. Basically I gave myself the following principles for minimalism underlining style –

  1. Think of Markdown language. Use # for a section, ## for a subsection, etc.
  2. Only underline the text that shows transition of ideas in the whole argument. No others because this will disturb later reading.
  3. Use a tick aside a part if I find it particularly insightful.
  4. Keep all marks small, simple, so the layout remains pleasant in reading.

May 13 Friday

Worked on Foucault essay all day. In total I spent 7 hours reading, and around 6 hours writing 3000 words. In graduate schools in the US, qualification exams take 2 days to write three 2500 words essay. I need to improve my writing and reading speed!

May 14 Saturday

Went hiking in Sai Kun Town.

May 15 Sunday

Spent the whole afternoon/evening with cc.

Weekly summary –

  • Course 3 hours
  • Work 18 hrs
  • Entertainment/relax 45 hrs (!)
  • Eating and social 13 hrs (!)

Goal next week: improve work time to 60. That is, 10 hours * 6 days, not much.

Weekly log: May 2 – May 8

A note on my absence –

Again it’s been a while since I updated this weekly log thing. There are many reasons for this, of course. The first being my lack of self-discipline and lack of motivation in writing these pieces. Nobody is reading them, and I did not see their immediate effects on my research. Secondly, I am not really working on my research. It’s hard to admit, but I was incapable to neatly deal with my personal stuff, my RA duties on Dr. Tian’s project, my course works, and my TA duties in the past three months. So sorry folks, this graduate student’s life is harder than I imagined.

Up to now I find the best predictor of writing productivity is the availability of alternative sources talk to people. I was the most productive in writing blog posts when I spent the last summer alone in my hometown, with no peers to talk to, and no one to share my grief at a failed relationship. But now I’ve absorbed myself in aimless chatting with friends in bars, hanging outs with the same group of people that I do not really enjoy talking to, for too long. I crave for some serious thinkings.


May 2, 2016 and May 3, 2016

Puzzle: For these two days (and the past week) I’ve been trying to write down my thoughts for Dr. Tian’s interaction project. But I do not know how to do this, because when I starts writing I realise I should go to read literature; then I get lost in the literature, and lose my thread of argument. This is basically the same case with my MPhil research. I have put them aside for too long, that I do not remember what I am supposed to do.

Then I go back to Methods of Discovery, in which Abbott has the following comments –

A good idea will make you feel secure while you do the grunt work that takes up the majority of research time: cleaning quantitative data, spending lonely time in ethnographic settings, slogging through archival documents. When you do these things with a good idea in your head, you know why you are doing them… When you don’t have a guiding idea, you feel desperate; you hope that somehow an ideas will emerge magically from the next page of coefficients, the next in comprehensible document or conversation. Indeed. students often throw themselves into the detail work to hide from their feeling that there isn’t a big idea. Don’t. Work at the idea, and the grunt work will become much more bearable. (p. 221)

I forget that for all the literature I read, what’s most important in them and in my own research is a puzzle and an idea. They are simple, and I do not need to spend so much time thinking about trivial details.

This reminds me of Xiang Biao’s comments in his last anthropological course. He also thinks some anthropological theories are useless. They are too trivial. People read only to borrow the big names and establish their professional profile. (This empirical case is interesting in its own sense, though. How the profession of academic, the profession about procession of knowledge, is operating.)

But my lesson is, keep a sharp mind, and search for puzzles and ideas in my research. Really work on them, despite the fear that they can not be solved. I have experienced the fear in the past eight months.

Also, a puzzle might lead to another puzzle. And by keeping asking questions, we can find what is really at stake. For Abbott. this is the question “what is a good puzzle?” I will only use an empirical example here to explain –

  1. Puzzle one: Why do mainland students hang out with themselves but not local students?
  2. Puzzle two: Is is true that people always interact with those only of their ethnicity? (generalisation and abstraction). If so, why and how?
  3. Puzzle three:  On mechanisms. Is it because people like to make friends with those who are similar with them, or is it because people have more chance to make friends with those who are similar with them? For example, do mainland students actually prefer conversation with other mainland students (homophily), or because they tend to stay in the library as other mainland students do, but local students don’t?

A final word on this project – I decided to give up. First because a lack of time, second because unsupportive response from the other side. I had better work on my MPhil project ASAP.

May 4 – May 5

I don’t remember what happened for those days: academic work or life errands? I spent two mornings and an afternoon preparing for my driver’s road test, but I failed it a second time. On Friday we went to a Japenese Buffet (with CC and Wu Teng). I prepared students’ papers for grading. I did go to gym twice.

What did I read for these days? I don’t remember. Really. Probably not much. Before I decided to quit the interaction project, I must spent some time reading for that. Mostly like culture theory of what people are using culture for… Ann Swilder “Tool Kit Theory’, or pragmatic theory. I got those threads of argument from Vaisey’s AJS paper “Motivation and Justification”, a dual process theory basically saying “let’s consider both!”. Of course, if you use both, that must be better than using only one.

One more word on adding other explanation variable – do sociologists even study “degree of freedom?” If you have an omniscient explanation by adding all variables into your model, then you explained nothing. But then the question comes: What is an explanation? And for that we have to revisit Abbott Methods of Discovery Chapter 2.

TV show fanship I remembered wanted to study, why do people become obsessed with TV shows? This is totally irrational. What are the elements of TV shows that are particular attractive? Can we compare this to literature, politics?

The thought of working on this came from a dinner conversation with my friends on the TV show 欢乐颂. I guess cultural sociology might again offer some answers.

May 6 Friday

  1. How professors think is a book by Harvard sociology Michele Lamont on how panelists work and the evaluation culture in academia. I have the following reading notes in Endnotes-
    1. This book studies peer review and evaluative culture of panelists. Six disciplinaries: Philosophy, economics, political science, English, anthropology, history. It describes how panels work (p. 6).Evaluations are done by panelists, in the mechanics of peer review. Panelists take a pragmatic approach in reviewing, comparing proposals to each other. Different disciplines have different evaluative culture. But there are certain common rules: 1. respecting the sovereignty of other disciplines. 2. deferring the the expertise of colleagues.

      In Michele Lamont’s view, evaluation process is emotional and interactional. (p. 8) But she also thinks social actors making sense of their lives pragmatically, driving by problem-solving concerns. (p. 6)

  2. I chatted with Huang Kun and Zhang Yiming about religion. My question was, (Q1) Why do people feel the need to identify themselves with certain religion? This question is different from another (Q2) Why do people believe in certain religious principles? And it supplements a third question – or the other way around – (Q3) What do people mean when they say “I believe” in a religion? Part of these thoughts are write down in the puzzle thread of MPhil writing in Ulysses.

May 7 Saturday

These days I get up really late, usually finished breakfast at 10-ish am. Then others who are diligent will have three working hours ahead of me! On Saturday I started work only at 10:30 am. I wrote down my thoughts for the MPhil thesis. Read one chapter of Political Epistemics.

May 8 Sunday

Morning: Read one chapter of Political Epistemics. Afternoon: Finished reading, took a nap (2 hrs). Night: A friend visiting. I’ve been much less productive these days.

Started a book forum on Glaeser’s book. See “Book Forum one” in this blog.

Weekly log Feb 1 – Feb 7

Feb 1

  • Read three papers on narrative / contingency by 孙立平,卢晖临 and 黄宗智 respectively. Now finished reading all reference papers Dr. Tian gave me, but haven’t sort out a clue yet. Need to do some “deep reading” tomorrow.
  • Bought several books on Chinese history / Hong Kong. There are several pairs that might be interested to read together
    • 王绍光 《超凡领袖的挫败》 VS 裴宜理《安源 發掘中國革命之傳統》The two are both on “revolution”. Wang discusses Mao’s failure in Cultural Revolution and rejects- at least partly – Weber’s theory of charismatic leader. In his discussion, people joined the revolution not because of Mao’s charisma, but because their rational calculation. [Haven’t read through for supporting details.] I haven’t read Perry’s book, but she seems to discuss around culture elements in mobilisation during CCP’s early years.
    • 刘兆佳《一国两制》VS 阎小骏《香港治与乱》The political reality of  HK is more complicated and less romantic than I thought, especially after I learnt how HKUSU had treated 叶璐珊. Student Union disturbed council meeting again and posted mean posters  all over campus, exhausting my last sympathy towards then. 我几乎要被逼为自干五了。
  • Talked to Tian about my project. She suggested me 1) write a reflection journal and 2) conduct survey.
  • Methods – I still haven’t understand what “narrative” means in an epistemological sense, and how to conduct research if I take this standing. Should re-read Tian’s ICS paper.
  • On reading: project based and learn by doing. If you just read broadly this is not very efficient.
  • On managing long-term project: be organized and create order to yourself! — Very Important Point
  • Afternoon – David Shambaugh delivered an one hour lecture in 11/F Social Science Chamber. Basically he restated his “China might crash if no political reform happens” argument as in this WSJ article –  He has a new book coming, in which he discusses four possible pathways for reforming China. See reading notes on OneNotes.
  • Modernization literature. I came to a glimpse to this part of literature twice today. First was when hanging out in University Bookshop, scholars are trying to discuss liberalism and Chinese modernization. This is a conference paper collection published by CUHK press. Second was when David Shambaugh mentioned Samuel Huntington, and I found an ASR review article by Ronald Inglehart –  Previously in Dr. Sida Liu’s memoir-like article 《芝大留学往事》he talked his interest in modernisation problem when he graduated from PKU. Now I had a thread to go on…

Feb 2

  • Edgework Katie presented on postgraduate seminar today. Key (theoretical) word: edgework, cocaine use, white collar boxing. She proposed a concept of “edgework capital” and I commented this is a class thing (I asked: who contracted the pleasure in taking risk? Katie didn’t agree and said in fables risk taking was also admired and this is a universal thing). But there might be more sociological potential in it. Say, “sense of control” and “alienation” (someone said this already? See OneNote for notes and reference). Then you’ll have (the classical) modernisation argument. (Reminds me of Pun Ngai’s imaginary chapter on body, time and alienation in her book Made in China. )
  • State, law and economy is a class led by Richard Wong in HKU’s economics department. Bi Ran recommended this course to me. Some of the lectures cover modernization literature in political economy and use comparative-historical method. (See methodological notes today) Syllabus here –
  • Charisma Dr. Paul Joose presented on his 2014 paper on the dynamics of co-construction of charisma by leader and her disciples. It is a three stage rather dull model.
  • Agency is the word of the day! I read later in From Max Weber (Gerth and Mills) about the reason Weber used charisma is to account for discontinuities in history. Frame it another way this would be agency, discrepancy, or contingency. Come back to the introduction of Social Theory Twenty Lecture by Hans Joas, in which he said the three most important questions in classical social theories are 1) what is social action? 2) 3) how is social change possible? It is in this third question that the problem of agency come out.
  • Narrative and history I continued to dig along this line from what Dr. Tian has gave me. The debate in 1994 around historical narratives wanted also to account for agency.
  • Positivism as an ideology is the origin of “the problem” of agency. For if it was not because positivism wants a coherent and generalizable theory, agency and arbitrariness (thus, uniqueness, space and temporality) will not become an issue! See Philip C. C. Huang’s excellent comment on empirical research and theory.
  • How to read theory? Dr. Wang Liping: learn how Weber posted questions and approached them. Tacit knowledge again here. You learnt the styles, the feel of their writing. But what is style and what is feel has not been codified yet. That’s why you can’t teach theorizing but only the content of theory. Week one reading (Richard Swedberg 2012 Theory and Society) denies this but it says nothing actually! It’s like you need to mimic classical calligraphy, or read fictions to learn how to write.

Weekly log Jan 25-31

I was reading through several pieces on Talcott Parsons’s theory of action when I thought of this idea to start a series of weekly log to write down what I have read and how things are connected. Again sorry for those of my readers who are not so into sociological stuff. You might as well enjoy the pleasure of leering at a graduate student’s wasted intellectual life.

Jan 26 Tue

  • Wrote a review on Andrew Abbott’s Methods of Discovery. Think about (and tried to write a Chinese blog post on) my journey in reading sociological methodologies. From superficial stuff like qualitative/quantitative issues, to Zhao Dingxin’s two by two table (structure/agency * formal/empirical) in 政治与社会运动讲义, to Michael Burawoy “extended case method” and finally to Abbott. The journey goes on.
  • Went to a lecture by Taiwanese scholar 徐斯俭 on Sunflower Movement, NGO and the public. He presented two papers on NGO’s attitude and the public’s attitude in mobilization process respectively. Interesting facts: distrust in Ma Ying-jeou’s (I was about to say Ma Yinjiu before Bi Ran corrected me) government is the most important reason for people to support the movement.
  • Read pieces on Talcott Parson’s theory of action, including Dr. Wang Liping’s assigned reading for Modern Social Theory course and Hans Joas’s Social Theory book. They are interconnected. Should write a summary after tomorrow’s lecture.

Jan 27 Wed

  • Today’s main intellectual reflections are on Parson’s ideas about 1) the model of social action and  2) critique on utilitarianism. Haven’t finished reading and summarise this part of knowledge.

Jan 28 Thu

  • Found some literature on narrative methods but haven’t read them thoroughly. The task again is left for weekend, as the task of a 4000 word literature review on this. The debate happened somewhat 20 years ago when sociologists (methodologists) were trying to upgrade narrative method. After reading Abbott’s method book the map of methodological debates seemed to be much clearer.
  • Read a chapter of Exemplary Society. I don’t think this book has a neat theoretical agenda in mind. Some of the possible main themes –
    • Exemplars in Chinese tradition is both educational and disciplinary. It is a form of social control.
    • The Foucauldian approach to social control is insufficient as it ignore the resistance strategies.
    • The Chinese project of modernization is an attempt of controlled social change.
    • Chinese and the West have different meanings of “norm”. The Chinese ‘norm’ is an exemplary one, in which everyone can achieve the exemplary form through education (and discipline?). Values are given as a priori. But the Western ‘norm’ is about average men, values are defined through comparison.

Jan 29 Fri

  • Talked to Dr. Denise Tang about coming out to parents and loneness in academic. She gave me the following tips –
    • “Coming out” is a process that will never end. You will come out again and again whenever you meet new people in the future. For parents, the journey is longer so be prepared.
    • Seek support friends and don’t give up.
    • There will surely be unfriendly people in your life. Just remember it’s not your fault and don’t take this personally.