Behind the Scenes: Polygamy, Women, and Higher Education

In the last post, I described the process of turning my Master’s thesis research into a successful book proposal.  In this essay, I’ll discuss the process of writing the book, Polygamy, Women, and Higher Education, beginning with the process of reanalyzing the data through a new theoretical lens, revisiting the literature to make recommendations for higher education programs, and the process of writing book.

You have may have noticed that my thesis research focused largely on readiness for adult education, yet the book published is about higher education.  Indeed, my thesis analysis framework was built around a core “theory” of adult education, andragogy. As such, andragogy was an appropriate analysis framework for a MEd in adult education. However, when I’d talked to participants in each life story interview, they and I referenced higher education settings in discussions about readiness (e.g., 4-year colleges), although some participants referenced needing adult basic education before they felt ready to enter college. The distinction between adult education and higher education can be unclear, but as I continued through my doctoral higher education coursework, I found insight in the student development literature that provided more insight into the experiences of the women who had participated in this study.  Further, being exposed to higher education literature and the theoretical frameworks used in that research continued to expand my own understanding of the different structural constraints placed on women in higher education. Part of that exposure helped me to critically evaluate my thesis research and see how I had fed into and reinforced those marginalizing systems and discourses by measuring participants against the biased ideal set by andragogy. Because of that, I felt like it was more appropriate to frame the study within the higher education literature and make recommendations for higher education instead of adult education when I returned to the data.

At first, I had been refining my thesis into a journal-length publication and submitting that for review. Altogether, the feedback I was receiving wasn’t positive (although it was, largely, said kindly). Reviewer feedback ranged from questioning whether this was a grounded theory study (it wasn’t) and if I was treating women as deficient (I was). At a certain point, and after revising and submitting to three journals and receiving similar responses, I set it aside. There was a certain set of findings that I was particularly fond of that I couldn’t let go – but those were the findings that reviewers were finding the most troubling. I wasn’t ready to let those findings go, and I didn’t know how to re-approach the data, so I put the research away. I put it away for five years, and didn’t start reconceptualizing until I starting working on the book proposal for Palgrave. It took that time to be able to return to the data and research with fresh eyes and a fresh lens.

Theoretical Framework

When I started working on the book proposal, I began from scratch. I didn’t reuse any of the text I’d written for my thesis because I knew I needed to re-approach the book through a critical feminist lens. Because the research questions let to the data collected, I could not change the questions I’d asked, the data collection methods, or the data I’d collected. However, I could approach the data collected through a new theoretical lens. I decided to use the same lens I used in my dissertation (and subsequent) research, feminist standpoint theory. Not just was standpoint theory one that I was comfortable with, I felt like it was the more appropriate theoretical lens through which to explore each woman’s experiences as they informed their readiness for higher education. I wanted to avoid any deficiency lens as I approached data collection and analysis, and standpoint theory provided a consistent place to revisit and ensure that I wasn’t adopting my own bias toward higher education as a universal good to explore their experiences and readiness.

Data Analysis

From the standpoint of women who had left Mormon fundamentalist polygamy, I thematically coded the data. Through that lens, I also revisited the literature on higher education and readiness for higher education; my expanded understanding of the literature helped me to have a broader understanding of higher education. As a result, I was able to approach my analysis with a broader understanding of how each woman viewed their lives in terms of how it related to entering higher education. While I did not seek to generalize across the experiences of polygamous women or even the experiences of Emma, Sarah, and Mary (pseudonyms; study participants), clear themes emerged across the data that were both specific to the sociohistorical context of polygamy and were related to their readiness for higher education as it related to each of the four areas that characterized readiness for higher education: experience with academic settings, perceptions of a need for education, non-academic experiences that contributed to readiness for higher education settings, and an independent self-concept. Further details (and vignettes about each woman who participated in the research) are included in the book.

Program Recommendations

After completing the data analysis and before making recommendations for higher education, I revisited student development literature to determine which theories would provide a relevant and useful framework make recommendations for higher education practice. I wanted to ensure that recommendations were framed through standpoint theory and did not reinforce a deficiency perception of women who left polygamy, and I wanted to ensure that the theories in question were also appropriate for the population (e.g., had been validated through empirical research that included women or were framed through a feminist lens). I settled on self-authorship (Baxter Magolda, 2001) as a frame to explore each women’s story and provide a perspective to support their development of an independent self-concept and Schlossberg’s (Schlossberg, 1984; 1995) transition theory to inform program recommendations. Program recommendations, discussed in full in the book, encompassed adult basic education (ABE), cultural readiness, social roles, and developing an independent self-concept.

Writing the Book

The re-analysis process took much of the Spring 2018 semester.  I reserved the summer to write the book, hoping that three months dedicated to writing would allow me to take a measured approach to finishing a book.  Unfortunately, factors outside of my control meant that I was surprised with a new administrative role at the beginning of the summer, so my available time shrunk exponentially as a result.  With a book submission deadline of July 31, I found myself at end of June with some fragmented notes and a month to write a book. Taking the July 4th holiday as an opportunity, I blocked my calendar for 9 days, locked myself in my apartment, and wrote every day for 12+ hours. The first day was rough as I got in the swing of writing, but after that, the week+ flew by. I love to write, and I especially loved writing about this research. I was embedded in the stories each woman had told about their lives, and I wrote about a chapter a day.  By the end of the week, I had a complete draft of the book. I wasn’t done by any means, because a draft is truly a draft in my writing world. This meant that I had to go back and edit, check citations, and flush out details I’d neglected or missed. But with the draft completed, I had a huge weight off of my chest. The rest of the month was still consumed by the book, but the weight of the book was gone and it was replaced with the fun of editing. The final step was learning how to index.  I’d been told that I would want to hire someone to do it for me, but I found that Microsoft Word has a super easy to use indexing tool, and I did it myself. Book complete, I submitted it by the deadline.

After submission

Of course, the book didn’t go from submission to publication. The first step was a review by my editorial manager.  She read through the book draft and responded with her comments and feedback.  This happened quickly, and her feedback was mostly content-focused and easy to address. After I revised the draft according to her feedback (about a month and a half after the original submission), the next step was to review the proofs. This was actually the hardest part of the publication process for me. The proofs came with little turnaround time to review, and after three months away from the draft, I found myself wanting to make more substantial changes to the book than just verify the editorial changes the proofing team had suggested. In another stressful week, I went through each chapter line by line to assure that the book published truly represented the research, theoretical lens, and was thoughtful and reflective. I spent another 12 hour day making each change in the online system designed for minor editorial changes. These significant changes meant that I received another round of proofs to verify – this second round resulted in fewer changes, although some of those changes were making corrections to the revisions I’d made in the first round of proofs.  Finally, though, it was done, and I sent it back for publication. A few months later, late in December, the book was published.

References

Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2001). Making Their Own Way: Narratives for Transforming Higher Education to Promote Self-Development. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Schlossberg, N. K. (1984). Counseling adults in transition: Linking Theory to Practice. New York: Springer Publishing.

Schlossberg, N. K., Waters, E. B., & Goodman, J. (1995). Counseling Adults in Transition: Linking Theory to Practice. New York: Springer Publishing.

The Book Publication Process, Part 1: From Thesis to Book

The research that resulted in my first book Polygamy, Women, and Higher Education: Life After Mormon Fundamentalism began as my Master’s thesis project in Adult Education. The project was my first experience with research, and I beyond enjoyed the process (thankfully, given that I’d spent my entire life wanting to be a professor without knowing exactly what one did). Data collection for the research that informed the book began in the fall of 2011. My MEd was completed in 2012 with my thesis completed shortly before graduation. This book was published in 2018. Six or so years passed between the completion of the thesis and the publication of the book, and while the slower nature of the publication process was certainly an element in that gap, it was only a minor factor contributing to the delay. The bigger factor was my eventual need to completely reanalyze my entire data set through a new theoretical lens, revisit and learn the higher education literature, and develop a more comprehensive understanding of student development theory.  That process began the first semester of my doctoral program and continued throughout my coursework and my first two years as a faculty member.  In many ways, the book published in 2018 bears very little resemblance to the thesis I wrote in 2012. That is, without question, a very good thing.

To explain why, I’ll start at the beginning and explain the background of the research and describe the book proposal and publication process. In a subsequent post, I’ll the evolution of the theoretical and conceptual framework, the eventual re-analysis of the data, and the not-recommended way that I met my first book submission deadline. Finally, in a third post, I’ll share how I approach each of the commonly required sections of a book proposal and share my full proposal and reviewer response memo.

Background

The original study explored the life stories of three women who had left Mormon fundamentalist polygamy to understand their readiness for adult education. Using the life story (Stuart, Lido, and Morgan, 2011) method of data collection, framed through feminist theory, three women from two major fundamentalist sects, the FLDS and and UAB, told me their life stories, beginning from their earliest memories to the then present day. As the study was for a degree in Adult Education, I defined readiness according to the contested adult learning “theory” andragogy (Knowles, as defined in Merriam & Caffarella, 1999), although I did not treat it as a learning theory but as a prescriptive list of characteristics of what adult learning settings expected from the ideal adult learner.  The five characteristics of the adult learner as defined by andragogy served as a priori codes for data analysis – in my first coding passes through the data, I searched the transcribed life story narratives to identify experiences that might suggest readiness for learning and coded those experiences as one of the five characteristics of an ideal adult learner (yes, this is deeply problematic). Andragogy, aside from being racialized, gendered, and classed, is incomplete-it does not consider the sociocultural context in which adult education takes place in. Because of this, I also coded thematically for what I described as “sociocultural factors,” which included the context of a polygamous life. Analysis followed a grounded theory approach (but, of course, because of the size of the study, the research could not be called a grounded theory study).

In part because of the theoretical and conceptual lens, especially my use of andragogy to create an “ideal” by which I measured the women who participated in this study (the very thing I sought to deconstruct in my future research), my original findings as reported in my thesis reflected a deficiency approach to the women who participated. For example, one participant explained that she was happy as a wife and mother and did not currently have a need for additional education. In my analysis and reporting, I categorized her as “not ready for adult education” because she was lacking one of the characteristics of a successful adult learner as defined by andragogy-an internal need for higher education. Additionally, my approach to the research was prescriptive and restrictive: I approached data collection and analysis assuming that education was a universal good so, therefore, I, in essence, labelled a participant who did not see a need for more education as deficient. I measured participants against an ideal that was biased not just by my own interests and research goals but rooted in a problematic view of what an adult education student should look like. This was intrinsically and deeply flawed.

As I described in the Behind the Scene piece on Gendered Student Ideals in STEM in Higher Education, an ideal is problematic when it is presented as objective and unbiased when, in reality, it is very biased because the ideal is often only truly achievable by those already in power in society (or, in the case of media portrayals of “successful” women, completely unachievable). This is also true when we think about using the characteristics of andragogy to define someone who is ready for adult education. The expectation that someone will have, say, certain background experiences that contribute to readiness to learn labels some experiences as valuable and others as not valuable simply based on whether they support the pursuit of an education. Further, the education one is being told they should pursue may not be built for them, be useful to them, and/or may even be harmful to them because it causes them to reject their own knowledge(s). This is not to say that the marginalization of women in polygamous societies was an experience that I viewed as positive, but there was knowledge that each women learned that was valid and very valuable to them. Similarly, not having the specific academic or work experiences that might more obviously translate to a specific adult education setting did not signify any sort of deficiency or even a lack of readiness for adult education.

There were other problems with my thesis research too, some as simple as the typos I kept finding in the document after I submitted it, and others that were bigger, like my failure to truly flush out my findings and make meaningful recommendations that were rooted in theory and could lead to actionable change (similarly, I still find editing errors in my dissertation that make me cringe, not just including my conflation of sex and gender). In both cases, neither was ready in the thesis/dissertation form for publication. And since this was was my first research project, it should not have been perfect. I thought, or hoped, that my thesis could be published, so as I started my doctoral program in Higher Education at the University of North Dakota, I started down the publication path. But I quickly learned that a lot of work still needed to be done.

I mentioned in my first Behind the Scenes post that my first publication was not my first article to be submitted for review. That honor belongs to the manuscript I created from my thesis findings.  It took over four years for that manuscript to be published. Don’t get discouraged by rejections, but do revisit the data, read reviewer comments, and maybe, if it is data that you really think is interesting, valuable, and a contribution to the field, be willing to start again. That’s what I had to do with this thesis data. Reviewer feedback in a rejection can be cruel and incorrect, but it is more often insightful and contains valuable feedback that can help you move forward to publication in another outlet.  Sometimes time and space between feedback readings can help me to identify which feedback is valuable and useful and which I don’t need to use in my revisions. 

Path to a Book Contract

In the first course in my doctoral program, I asked my advisor (and, later, dissertation chair), C. Casey Ozaki, if she would work with me toward publishing the results in a journal length article.  Reflecting back, I had no idea how much I didn’t know and how much I needed to develop as a writer, but Casey was willing to work with me. For the first year of my program, I worked on revising the thesis into a journal article without revisiting the research and foundation the findings were built on. We revised the manuscript into a journal length article, and I submitted it to one adult education journal. After reviews, it was rejected because, among other comments, it wasn’t a grounded theory research project (it wasn’t) and because the findings viewed participants through a deficiency lens (it did).  I revised accordingly, and I submitted to another journal.  It was rejected again.  And then, after revising again and being rejected again, I put the article and the research aside. At the time, I wondered if it was research that shouldn’t be published and, anyway, I was working as on other projects as a graduate research assistant that were moving toward publication in a meaningful way. At one point, my mentor, Cheryl Hunter, mentioned that this might be research that better belonged in a book, but I didn’t know how to approach the book publication process. I put the research away and, I thought, moved on.

The data and my thesis stayed there, put away, throughout the rest of my PhD and through my first year as a faculty member. Then, in my first year at Auburn, I asked my well-published and accomplished colleague Kamden Strunk to lunch to ask about his publication experience and the process of submitting a research project for review. He generously shared his time and book publication knowledge and then introduced me to his editor at Palgrave MacMillan. He also shared some tips on the content of the book proposal itself and one of his proposals.

Within the hour, I’d emailed his editor (now my editor!) at Palgrave to ask if she thought there might be interest in a book based on my thesis research. She responded positively within a few days and sent Palgrave’s book proposal form for me to complete. The Palgrave form lists all of the information they want in a book proposal. For my first proposal, I completed the Palgrave form (although in subsequent proposals, I have used my own format for a book proposal). While I was prepared to provide an overview of the book, chapter outline, and even a writing sample for the book proposal, I wasn’t prepared to talk about competitive volumes, the market, audience, and the structure of chapters. For that, luckily, I had Kamden’s help. I’ll spend an entire post talking about the proposal, and how I approach each section, but suffice it to say that without Kamden, I would not have known how to approach it.

Before sending the proposal back to Palgrave, I had a few of my colleagues review it and provide feedback. After a few more readings, I sent the proposal back to Palgrave and waited. One thing I like, in general, about the review process is the lack of work required when waiting for a decision. Upon submission, I feel a complete sense of relief that something has been removed from my plate and that it is now out of my hands. And so, while I wanted feedback, I also didn’t want feedback to come too soon. The wait for feedback wasn’t long. In less than three weeks, I heard back from my editor with the reviewer “critique.” The feedback was largely positive, so my editor asked me to write a response memo instead of revising my entire book proposal according to the critique. She gave me around two weeks to respond, and I finished my response memo in a week. Two weeks after that, I was sent the most exciting and simultaneously terrifying email I have ever received: “After discussing your project with our editorial board, I am delighted to offer you a contract to publish the work below in all forms throughout the world subject to our standard form of contract and on the following terms.”

And now I had to write it.

References

Merriam, S.B. and Cafarella, R. (1999). Learning in Adulthood.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Stuart, M., Lido, C., & Morgan, J.  (2011). Personal stories: How students’ social and the cultural life histories interact with the field of higher education.  International Journal of Lifelong Education, 30(4), 489-508.