ERG SES C 13, Identity and Education
The aim of this paper is to present preliminary results from my PhD research project about the doctoral thesis, and how it is conceptualized by doctoral students, doctoral supervisors and graduate schools in contemporary times where doctoral writing practices are changing. In Denmark and internationally there is a growing pressure to publish during the doctorate, and for broader dissemination of research results, and there is a focus on degree completion times from both government and institutions (Boud & Lee, 2009; Aitchison et al., 2010; Aitchison et al. 2012). Alongside with these developments it has become commonly, in Denmark and internationally, to undertake a PhD by publication. This means that instead of writing a monograph, the doctoral student writes 3-5 journal articles brought together with an exegesis. All in all, there is a growing expectation for doctoral students to write more, write more often and write more differently, hence an expectation for supervisors to support students in these writing tasks. Adopting the notion that writing is a social, discursive practice, changes in writing demands have implications for the formation of reseacher identities, as well as for the process of constructing knowledge (Lillis, 2001; Kamler & Thomsen, 2014). In this research project I am investigating what these implications are. Not compared to how it was at a previous time, but how individuals and institutions respond to present writing demands. More specifically I am investigating discourses about the doctoral thesis that PhD students, PhD supervisors and graduate schools are constructing in interpreting and handling contemporary writing demands. My research question is:
What discourses about the doctoral thesis are PhD students, PhD supervisors and graduate schools constructing? How are these discourses related, and related to broader social and cultural changes? What are the implications of these discourses for the contemporary formation of researcher identities and research process'?
The project is framed within a discourse analytical perspective. I am examining how thesis writing is conceptualized as an activity within doctoral education. Drawing on discourse analysis (Fairclough, 2010, 2005, 1992), New Literacy Studies (Ivanic, 1998; Lillis 2001) and on research within new rhetorical genre theory (Pare, 2011; Starke-Meyerring, 2011) discourses can be seen as larger social and cultural “inherited and normalized patterns of social practice” (Starke-Meyerring et al., 2014, p. 13) with significant consequences for individuals and for institutions (Kamler & Thomsen, 2014). An important goal in my discourse analysis is to investigate the discursive processes that lead to certain understandings of the thesis and thesis writing. With in my discourse analytical framework I am leaning on Norman Fairclough and his version of critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 2010, 2005, 1992). According to Fairclough discourses are related to other elements of the social. This means that changes in dicursive practices are interrelated with changes in social practices. Individuals have the possibility to actively transform and renew discourses, but they are influenced and limited by existing structures (Fairclough, 2010, 2005). By using Fairclough it is possible for me to take into consideration how the making and changing of social realities on a micro level is connected with broader social and cultural changes. By adopting a critical discourse analysis approach I am taking on a critical perspective. Discourses have constituent effects on identities and relations, and this is connected with power: What is valued as a legitimate outcome of doctoral education? What counts as real research genres and why? How is beeing a researcher conceptualized within different discourses about doctoral writing? Who benefits from such understandings? All in all: How are discourses about the doctoral thesis negotiated, and at what cost?
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