Doing a PhD study can feel like a lonely journey. There are times when a PhD student/candidate feels lost or overwhelmed, not to mention experiencing a writer’s block. To anticipate such gloomy moments, it would be good for a research student to take daily notes of what (s)he does. The notes can help them keep on track of the progress. Here’s my progress summary that I wrote and submitted for my PhD confirmation. Hope readers find it useful.



(September 2011-August 2012)

Pratiwi Retnaningdyah


This report summarizes my progress during the first year of my PhD candidature. As stated in my thesis proposal that I submitted for my PhD application, I intended to focus on issues of gender, race, and class in Indonesian migrant literature, with particular interest in the writings produced by Indonesian Domestic Workers (IDWs) in Hong Kong. During my first consultation meeting with my supervisors, I realised that I had practically no knowledge of the background context of IDWs in relation to transnational labour migration, and surely very limited understanding of Cultural Studies. Therefore, I anticipated the following months exclusively for reading any related references to build my literature review.

September –October 2011

I spent my first two months building my understanding of key issues and researches in transnational mobility, transnational labour migration, and Cultural Studies. My previous educational backgrounds in American Studies and Literature are helpful as stepping stones to see the connection with Cultural Studies. I also made several lists of IDWs’ published works and the key issues in those works. On the basis of my readings, I began writing the outline of my introductory chapter, and consider a focus on female subjectivity and negotiation of space as reflected in IDWs’ writings.

While my thesis ideas were still quite raw, I took an opportunity to present my raw thesis ideas at Indonesian Postgraduate Students Roundtable. This event is held twice a year, and is conducted by Indonesian postgraduate students at the University of Melbourne, with the participants also coming from other neighbouring universities. I gained useful feedback from my fellow Indonesian students and began networking with those with similar interest in gender studies. My thesis topic on IDWs’ creative writing was not yet publicly known, yet attracted the audience. Later this month, I was interviewed on air by the Indonesian program of SBS radio, to talk about the relation of IDWs’ writing, their diasporic identity and their nationalism.

In the meantime, I continued and expanded my contact with prospective informants. Using a snowball technique, I was introduced by a Bonari Nabonenar, a senior writer, also a mentor for IDWs’ writing group, to IDWs’ cyber communities. Becoming a member of those cyber communities had provided me a clear picture of IDWs’ daily lives and their writing activities. I followed up this networking by making personal contacts with some IDWs. They were eager to discuss their works and activities, and had asked for my involvement in their activities. Ani Ema Susanti, an IDW-cum-film director, asked me to translate her latest film subtitle into English for Indonesian Film Festival 2012. Her documentary film, Donor ASI (breastmilk donor) later won the category of the best documentary film. Nessa Kartika and Jaladara, two IDWs who spoke in Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2011 sent me their latest works to add to my resources.

November 2011

I developed my introductory chapter outline and started writing. At this stage, I focused on female subjectivity and negotiation of space in Indonesian Domestic Workers’ literature. The draft already developed a literature review of transnational labour migration,   domestic work in Indonesian popular culture, and positioning IDWs’ writings in Indonesian literature. As my theoretical framework, I considered using Foucauldian concept of power and Erving Goffman’s front/back stage.

In the meantime, I attempted to attend as many Upskills programs offered by the university as possible since my first month of study, in order to upgrade my knowledge in researches and academic life, as well as to gain a good understanding of academic and administrative requirements for a PhD study.

December 2011-January 2012

I went back to Indonesia in mid-December 2011, and spent my time at home till January 2012 to find and read published works by IDWs. I started my text-based preliminary analysis on the representation of space in IDWs’ works. I also approached some prospective informants and talked whenever possible about IDWs’ creative writing, in order to get their perspective of the phenomenon.

February 2012

I accepted my co-supervisor’s suggestions to consider other related themes. To do this, I decided to write descriptive and analytical pieces on various activities that involve IDWs, ranging from literary festivals, writing competitions, suitcase libraries to writing groups and mentoring. I attempted to incorporate those activities into a brief analysis of circuit of culture. These raw analytical attempts seemed to be unrelated to one another, as I was unable to find a solid theoretical framework for the analysis.  Thus, I began considering a shift in the major theme, from female subjectivity to literacy. I had mentioned the term ‘literacy’ in my scratches previously, yet was not aware of its importance and the overwhelming literature in literacy and identity.

March 2012

With very limited knowledge of the theory of literacy, I began reading any scholarly literature on literacy by using a snowball technique. This way helped me gain a better picture of the developing social theory of literacy that has been cited continuously in the previous studies in literacy. I was actually surprised to find out that this theme of literacy covered practically everything I intended to discuss in my thesis, from creative writing, writing group, reading community, mentoring, cyber community, to power, identity, and community empowerment.

April 2012

Meanwhile, I also began reading scholarly literature on research methodology in media studies, including audience research and media text analysis, which would be implemented in the analysis of the circuit of culture of IDWs’ writings. Now with some knowledge of literacy and methodology, I revisited my previous analysis of IDWs’ creative writing activities and attempted to do a brief analysis of IDWs’ literacy practices, to see the possibility of using this theme in my thesis.  These raw pieces of analysis were not included in my introductory chapter, and would surely be developed in other chapters. I was personally satisfied to realise that I already had some parts that could eventually be used as starting points of each chapter I had planned.

May 2012

Gaining a better understanding of literacy, I considered this theme a better and stronger framework to discuss IDWs’ creative writing. By focusing on the social theory of literacy, I would still be able to cover my previous themes in IDWs’ subjectivity and negotiation of identity, and even expand the discussion to community empowerment. With a shift in themes, I began writing/editing the outline of my introductory chapter.

Meanwhile, I maintained my networking with prospective informants through emails and social media network. I received resources in the form of IDWs’ works, media coverage of IDWs’ creative writing, personal videos of writing workshops, as well as new links to IDWs’ blogs and citizen journalism posts. Acknowledging blogging as an equally important creative writing practice, I expanded my discussion to digital literacy practices. I also wrote articles on IDWs’ literacy practices in Indonesian and sent them to some mailing lists and IDWs’ cyber community as well in order to gain useful feedback. My article on IDWs’ digital literacy practices was eventually published in Majalah Peduli, a monthly magazine freely distributed to IDWs’ community in Hong Kong.

June 2012

With a clearer and more organised outline of the introductory chapter and a new theme in literacy, I saw that major changes had to be made to my previous draft, and began editing it. I incorporated the theoretical framework and the research method to provide a better grasp and connection of the ideas, and polished the section on the background context to match the new shift in theme. Meanwhile, I also submitted my abstract for a presentation at the upcoming Work-in-Progress Day Seminar scheduled in mid-July 2012.

Approaching the end of the month, I started working on the paperwork for Ethics Approval, but then left it unfinished and postponed it till August to prioritise on oral presentation and confirmation instead. However, I mentioned the need for informants’ consent in my email correspondence with my prospective informants.

July 2012

With my confirmation already scheduled in mid-August 2012, I spent the last month of my first-year study editing and polishing my introductory chapter in order to meet the requirement of confirmation.

As part of my plan to present a paper at the 2012 Indonesia International Conference on Communication to be held in December 2012, I submitted my abstract and intend to talk about Indonesian Domestic Workers’ digital literacy practices as a media for community building.  The abstract was already accepted for a presentation in a parallel session. This topic itself will be a section of Chapter 3 on the moment of production of IDWs’ literacy practices.

To meet the hurdle requirement of confirmation, I also presented my thesis ideas in the Work-in-Progress Day Seminar on 18 July 2012. My presentation aimed at providing a general introduction of several literacy practices among Indonesian Domestic Workers in Hong Kong.

August 2012

While waiting for the scheduled confirmation meeting, I plan to use the first two weeks of this month to finalise the paperwork for Ethics Approval.

By the end of my first year study, I consider that I have sufficient preliminary data to be used for text-based analysis. This includes some published works by IDWs, IDWs’ blogs and citizen journalism, and media text that covered IDWs’ creative writing activities. I am certain that it will develop during the course of data collection through field work, and therefore anticipate possible minor changes.

In terms of informants, I have already built quite a good networking with IDWs’ community, senior writers as mentors, maid agents in Indonesia, and members of reading communities in Indonesia. The latter two groups will be involved as part of data collection and analysis of the reception of IDWs’ writings.