Thesis passed!

It is official. My thesis has been passed pending minor revisions, which really are just minor. Now it’s all just the formalities before I get my doctorate. What I’m going to do here is publish my acknowledgements – so many people were involved and I really want to publicly acknowledge and thank them. It may be my work but my work is supported by such a great network of people 🙂

I should also note that my intention is to make the thesis freely available via this website. The only problem with that is that I want to publish parts of the thesis as academic articles in the near future. Most journals stipulate that the material cannot be already published in part (online or in print). So this may mean a delay in hosting the thesis here. However, I will let you all know when I’ve edited the final version and then it will be available via email/message – I can send it directly to you if you are interested in taking a look!

Like others before me, I thought I could finish my PhD thesis in 3 years if I just worked hard enough. Little did I know what lay ahead of me when I began this process in February 2006. The process of completing my PhD has taught me that academic thinking and writing are intertwined and work together in an iterative cycle. Academic writing involves drafting and redrafting, responding to the feedback of peers and mentors, and drafting and redrafting again. Good academic writing takes time! And during much of this time, I isolated myself in various offices and my home study over the years: reading, writing, and working things out. I have never spent so much of my life alone just doing one project. Yet, this document would not exist without the support and encouragement of my family, friends, colleagues, and supervisors. While I take sole responsibility for the content of this thesis, in fact, it is a product of both my own efforts and the multiplicity of influences from all the people who have touched my life.

There are many people to thank. Firstly, I want to extend the deepest gratitude to all of the people who participated in this research. There were over a thousand people who donated a few minutes to an hour of their time to complete the online survey, and then there were hundreds who were interested in being interviewed about their experiences with drugs and online drug discussion. The 27 people who completed online interviews with me were prepared to share many personal stories with a complete stranger for hours. Many more people participated in discussions with me across numerous online forums. Moderators and administrators shared their thoughts on how to manage online drug discussion and offered me insights into the workings of internet forums. This thesis would not exist without these generous contributions. I cannot thank each forum individually due to the need for anonymity. The Bluelight forum, however, deserves a special mention for first sparking my interest in online drug discussion way before this thesis began and for allowing me to serve as a forum moderator since 2008. Unlike the other forums, Bluelight representatives would prefer to be acknowledged for their contribution to research (instead of anonymised). I would especially like to thank hoptis, phase_dancer, TheLoveBandit and Sebastians_ghost for their support of my work.

There is a long list of people who contributed to the success of the online survey. Purple Hazelwood, Anne-Marie Christensen, Johnboy Davidson, Buck Reed, Garth Lategan and Tim Hardaker assisted with the recruitment of survey participants. A group of experts volunteered their time to review the survey prior to its launch. I thank them for all their efforts which helped me to develop a better survey: Alexia Maddox, Beck Jenkinson, Cameron Duff, Carmel Acipella, Chris O’Halloran, Craig Fry, David Moore, Gill Bedi, Janette Mugavin, Jenn Johnston, Jessica George, Kylie Stone (nee McCardle), Matt Dunn, Michael Livingston, Ben Haines, Paul Dietze, Paul McElwee, Pip Wright, Rachael Green, Raimondo Bruno, Richard Midford, Susan Clemens and Wendy Loxley. I also thank the anonymous volunteers that piloted the survey and helped me to make the survey more appealing to the target group. I am also grateful to the people who provided technical assistance: Paul-John Stanners, Rick Noble, Paul Jones and Ian Goldberg.

My colleagues have been instrumental in keeping me sane over this time. I value being able to talk with my colleagues about my research and to hear about theirs, to share issues and solutions, to hear about new ways of framing an issue, to offer and receive new insights. These conversations were incredibly valuable and often helped me to see my thesis dilemmas in fresh ways. I would especially like to acknowledge Rachael Green, Rob Dwyer, Christine Siokou, Nicola Thomson, Amy Pennay, Michael Livingston, Jason Ferris, Claire Wilkinson, Tina Lam, James Fetherston, Sue Carruthers, Paul McElwee, Shelley Cogger, Sharon Matthews, Susan Clemens, Alexia Maddox, Edwin Ng, Vince Cakic, Steve Bright, Cameron Francis, Ray Stephens and Matt Gleeson. I am also indebted to the organisers of the Victorian Substance Use Research Forum (VSURF), Michael LivingstonPaul Dietze and David Moore, and all the VSURF speakers and attendees. Regular attendance at the monthly VSURF seminar series has been another source of critical new ideas and a good way to let off some steam at the pub afterwards!

In order to make my vision for this thesis work, I had to familiarise myself with the academic field of Internet Studies. I would like to acknowledge the international scholarly network of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR). The online discussions and announcements about important issues in this field, especially regarding internet research ethics and online methodologies, were invaluable to my endeavours. Engagement in this field, through the 2006 AoIR conference and the 2011 Communities and Technologies conference, was also very helpful as it facilitated my understandings of how my work intersects with what people are thinking about in digital and network technologies research. Thank you!

I have also been blessed with great practical support from the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University, which included a stipend, conference support and administrative assistance. Paul Jones, Fran Davis, Jo Hawkins and Vic Rechichi have provided superb support over this time. Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre also supported me through granting study leave and hosting the online survey on their server. The National Drug Research Institute has continued their support by employing me to conduct new research around the intersection between illicit drugs and internet technologies. I am deeply grateful for NDRI’s support of my work. I especially thank Steve Allsop for his role in facilitating this opportunity.

My primary supervisor, Simon Lenton, has been there for me as a mentor since I first worked as his research assistant in 2002. The impact of Simon’s cannabis law reform research on policy in Western Australia originally inspired me to work in this field, because I could see that it was possible for research to effect drug policy reform. Simon trusted me when I came up with this thesis idea, even though it seemed somewhat far-fetched in 2006. I thank Simon for the tireless effort he has taken reviewing my work, thinking through each issue with me, challenging my assumptions, forcing me to articulate my ideas more clearly, and above all, reminding me that I am capable of making this thesis happen, especially in those moments when I had lost sight of the way through. I am also thankful that Simon has always made it clear that the decisions contained within this thesis are my responsibility guided by his advice. Simon, I am deeply grateful for all your efforts.

My co-supervisor, Matthew Allen, has exceptional academic ability. Although we only met around twice a year, without fail, I left those meetings with new, important ideas and increased confidence. Often I found my academic breakthroughs occurred after our meetings. Matt, I wish I had read your book ‘Smart Thinking’ earlier rather than later, but all the same, reading it had the same effect as our meetings: light bulbs went off and suddenly I knew how to approach the core argument of this thesis. I am eternally grateful for your contribution to this thesis.

Rob Dwyer deserves special mention. Rob kindly agreed to read and mark my thesis. I am indebted to her for the time she spent helping me firm up my ideas and tighten up my argument. Thanks, Rob, for going out of your way to help me.

Reaching further back in time now, I want to acknowledge my early mentors. Ali Marsh taught me Addiction Studies in 2000: her lectures opened my mind to the area of study that continues to fascinate me today. Ali suggested me as a candidate to work for Wendy Loxley where I was first employed as a research assistant. Wendy is an inspirational woman for whom I have great respect. I thank both Ali and Wendy for opening up avenues into the world of drugs research and providing me with those very first opportunities.

Finally, I would like to thank my family. I feel blessed to love and be loved by such generous and beautiful people. To my in-laws, Lin and John, thank you for treating me as your daughter and for becoming my ‘Melbourne family’. Thanks for being the best landlords ever: the fact that I have been able to live in the same place for the duration of this thesis has helped me immeasurably. To my parents, Jan and Bob. You have believed in me for as long as I can remember. You have always told me that I could do anything that I put my mind to. Thank you, for without this unconditional love, I know I would not be where I am today and this thesis would never have been written. Thank you also for taking me in to live with you in Perth when I visited to work on my thesis: it has been such a joy to be looked after and to share that time with you both. To the love of my life, my ‘partner in crime’, Stu. Thank you for providing me with unconditional support as I pursued my dream, especially through the uncertainty of the last two years (‘When will it be finished?’ ‘I just don’t know…’). Thank you for your thoughtful comments on the draft. Thank you for listening to me talking about my thesis and for all your valuable input and guidance. Thank you for keeping me fed and looking after everything while I locked myself in the apartment writing. This thesis is as much yours as it is mine. And yes, now we can get on with the rest of our lives 🙂