And so it begins (analysis, that is)

Although I’ve been fretting about the analysis portion of my research for some time now, this worrying has proved unfounded.  Not only that, but I think I may like analysis more than the actual data collection portion of research.  Now that I have data, I get to discover the ideas hidden within it, then engage with these ideas and explore them further.  It’s all rather exciting.

The first few weeks back at school it was challenging, to be sure.  But thanks to weekly meetings with my Thesis Director, the bare threads of themes and thoughts that I was developing were woven into increasingly more interesting questions, and even some possible answers.  This exploit in intellectual production begins each week as I pursue some goal in analysis, and usually become led astray, but to something even more interesting.  For example, at first I simply went over the main themes of every interview, which led me to realize the strong racial undercurrents that pervaded Bethlehemites’  understandings of their city: namely, the racial distinction between the diverse South side and more homogenous North side.

Similarly, after reviewing the free-association portions of the interviews (where I would state a word or term, such as “West side,” “parks,” or “Commercial District” and the interviewee would respond with their first, ideally unfettered, thought.) I discovered strong themes of rebirth and the nebulous purpose of zoning.  For the former, it seems Bethlehem has reinvented itself multiple times (perhaps it’s something about living up to its namesake…) and this plays into the collective conscious of city citizens.  The town was founded in the 1700s by Moravians seeking a haven in the New World, in the 1970s it experienced a much needed economic revitalization by forming the first Historic District in Pennsylvania, and now after the collapse of Bethlehem Steel it is trying to create Steel Stacks: a multifaceted Brownfield redevelopment project on the Steel land, which includes the Sands Casino, local PBS Station, conference center and hotel, and National Museum of Industrial History.

For the latter, there seems to be a proliferation of paradoxical and foggy comprehensions of zoning’s purpose.  For instance, many people cited zoning as a means to separate people from industry.  This makes sense: noise, aesthetics, and atmospheric toxins could all pollute the familial home.  Yet many people added an epilogue onto this explanation, rhetorically asking whether any industry existed in Bethlehem any more.  If there exists less of a need to separate different uses in Bethlehem any longer (or possibly even in many American cities post-1970s urban restructuring), then what does zoning do?  Some people called it a way of life, while some voiced support for the ordinance as a way of enforcing conformity and community standards.

Overall, the overarching theme of my thesis has not yet emerged.  Yet I have begun to write, nevertheless, in an attempt to “think on paper” (a phrase which I have stolen from a book by V.A. Howard and J.H. Barton, lent to me by my Thesis Director).  I enjoy this process, as I do the whole of analysis and now have gained confidence in my ability to develop ideas I care about, that I believe in, and that will ultimately provide for a full and worthwhile thesis.