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.