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Our guest post this week is by an international group of scholars working at three different institutions: Cecile Badenhorst is an Associate Professor in the Adult Education/Post-Secondary program in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University, Newfoundland, Canada; Brittany Amell is a PhD student at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada; and on the other side of the world, James Burford is a Lecturer in the Research Education and Development unit in the Graduate Research School, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. Here they tell us about their new project on “Re-Imagining Doctoral Writing” and invite readers to contribute to their forthcoming book on the topic. All three have published extensively on the topic of doctoral writing.

By Cecile Badenhorst, Brittany Amell & James Burford

Over recent years, doctoral writing has become an increasingly important practice to institutions, policymakers, and doctoral education programs worldwide. Frequently positioned as a site of  “risk” and “trouble”, doctoral writing is commonly seen as a key location for institutional regulation and surveillance, supervisory anxiety, and student concern. It is now clear that to describe doctoral writing as a domain that is “under-considered” or “under-discussed” would be to miss the shelves of books in most university libraries about how doctoral students might write, and how supervisors (and others involved in doctoral teaching) might teach writing.

To make such a statement would also be to miss the rich collection of public fora where the discussion of doctoral writing identities, practices, policies and pedagogies takes place (e.g. DoctoralWriting, Thesis Whisperer and Patter), and the rise of initiatives like #AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month) which bring academic writers together.

Despite this wide array of exciting developments in the field of doctoral writing, as scholars who research in this area we continue to have some fundamental concerns that we are pondering and puzzling over. In our reading of the research field we see that much work is produced which seeks to answer the question of “what works?” when it comes to doctoral writing practices and pedagogies.

This is not unusual, many discussions in higher education research take up a similar orientation, as Adisorn Juntrasook has demonstrated in the field of leadership in higher education. Researchers tend to ask instrumental questions about what effective doctoral writing is, and how we can develop effective doctoral writers. These kinds of questions about effective practice often rely on assumptions that knowledge can be generalised and replicated across contexts, and they tend to be focused on developing remedies to the “problem” of writing. Our approach to these kinds of studies is to acknowledge that they are good at answering some questions and less able to answer some other kinds of questions that we are also interested in.

This is where our collection Re-Imagining Doctoral Writing comes in. We start with the understanding that conceptualisations of “doctoral writing” are complex and contested. As editors, we are interested to see what might happen if new conceptual resources were applied to the scene of doctoral writing. How might this shape the ways in which we imagine it? How might it make us more uncomfortable about some familiar imaginings that we commonly think with? We are curious about the degree to which ideas of doctoral writing have shifted over time. And we hope to scope out where imaginings of the future of doctoral writing might take us.

Given that we have these curiosities, we have come together to assemble an edited collection which calls for chapters that engage the following questions:

  1. How is doctoral writing articulated in contemporary academic discourse?
  2. What imaginings do doctoral students, supervisors, institutions and other stakeholders bring to the practice of doctoral writing?
  3. How is doctoral writing configured in broader cultural and social domains?
  4. What are the dominant imaginings of doctoral writing? How, and why, might these be contested?
  5. How might we be more imaginative in our approach to doctoral writing pedagogy, process, practice and policy?

A central aim of our edited volume is to bring together a range of scholars from different world regions and disciplines, who bring various approaches to bear on the question of how doctoral writing is imagined. Of particular interest are the ways in which various imaginings of doctoral writing sometimes sit uncomfortably in relation to each other, with different stakeholders portraying doctoral writing in somewhat contradictory terms.

We are encouraging potential authors to submit chapter proposals in one or more of the following areas:

  • How is doctoral writing defined, represented and spoken about? Is it solely focused on the production of a thesis or dissertation or does it include a wider array of written artifacts?
  • How has doctoral writing been imagined over history? How have imaginings of what doctoral writing is and what doctoral writers are doing changed over time?
  • What new doctoral writing imaginings have arisen in the twenty-first century? Why have these arisen, and what are their impacts?
  • How do various stakeholders imagine how doctoral writing is spatialized, embodied and felt?
  • What ideas shape imaginings of who the doctoral writer is (and is not)?
  • How might feminist, queer, critical race, critical disability studies and decolonial approaches be used interrogate doctoral writing imaginings? What new edges and margins could be homed in on?
  • How are the desires, pleasures, pains and possibilities of doctoral writing imagined?
  • How is doctoral writing imagined in national and institutional policy, media, the stories various stakeholders tell, and in the research literature?
  • How might we draw on various kinds of thinking to re-imagine doctoral writing pedagogy, practice and policies?
  • How might cultural studies, post-qualitative and arts-based approaches aid researchers to re-imagine doctoral writing?

Do these questions prompt any curiosity for you? If so, we’d love to receive a proposal. Proposal submissions due July 31, 2019. For further information please see our call for submissions online.