Integrating academic and professional knowledge: Writing the thesis
Completing doctoral research involves writing. Whilst evidence of working at doctoral level in practices such as music or art or media or creative writing may involve presenting original contributions to the genre, such as composition, artworks, film or creative writing, it is also the case that these forms are accompanied by a written exegesis or analytical commentary. For practitioners in professional fields such as education, social work and health, completing doctoral work means submitting a significant thesis that sets out the case for an original contribution to knowledge. Successfully defending a written thesis, or for practitioners in the creative arts defending an exegesis, in an oral examination is the usual way that the candidate convinces the examiners that the work is deserving of the doctoral degree. Doctoral researchers all face a huge challenge in putting together a credible thesis, for it is through the thesis that their research stands or falls. This challenge has particular significance for researchers investigating the inside of professional settings. As has been discussed throughout this book so far, insiders are conducting their projects adroitly managing tensions between their workplace, the awarding university and their own transformative project in achieving a doctorate. There are two immediate dimensions to this challenge. First, the thesis is a text, an object, indeed a measurable output, that stands for all the work that has gone into it. In Chapter 4 we discussed text as representation and how the validity of the project is discerned through the extent to which the text is recognised by others in the field. We have suggested throughout that the apparent simplicity of practitioner research activity is actually very complex and requires fluidity on the part of the researcher. This fluidity now extends to the performance of text-making, of representation of the work in relation to researcher position, because it is through the text that the new knowledge is presented. As we have argued, this new knowledge arises from integrating professional learning with personal transformation as the candidate succeeds in the practices of higher education. Second, and related to
the above, there is a challenge in so far as the author must use language developed within conventional forms of knowledge-making to take a position and to present knowledge that may at first sight appear at odds with conventional forms. However, notions of distinctly different doctoral awards underpinned by a different language, different forms of knowledge and so on, as we have argued, no longer really convince. We have suggested throughout this book that whilst practitioner research may appear deceptively simple, it is actually very complex because of the difficulty of establishing a position with respect to insider/outsiderness that is consistent with expectations of critical purchase on the process of research. This fluidity of position means that the way the work is represented in print, i.e. the thesis or in other published material, must include some exploration on the part of the author as to how the text comes into being. This challenge first arose in postmodern discourse and plays out in practical and real ways for doctoral practitioner researchers. The challenge of postmodernism (discussed with respect to knowledge construction in Chapter 4) continues to be manifest in the construction of the object that conveys this new knowledge. This chapter is not a ‘how to write a thesis’ chapter, for there are plenty of these published already. Kamler and Thompson show how by not addressing the complexity of doctoral writing as being work on text/identity, this self-help genre of ‘how to’ feeds on the anxiety of doctoral researchers through assertive ‘transmission pedagogies that normalize the power-saturated relations of protégé and master’ (2008: 504). Kamler and Thompson point to the desirability of ‘alternate pedagogical approaches that position doctoral researchers as colleagues engaged in a shared, unequal, and changing practice’ (2008: 504). We argue also that originality cannot be attained though generalised instructional self-help. This is because new understandings of the relationship between practical and theoretical knowledge have moved away from the dual model developed by Gibbons et al. (1994) of Mode One propositional and Mode Two experiential knowledge. We have also moved away from the more complex suggestions of an additional two modes of knowledge, Mode Three (encompassing deliberation and action) and Mode Four (concerned with the development of the individual through critical reflection) from Scott (1995), discussed previously in Chapter 7. The study, which may be ongoing in practice beyond the completion of the doctorate, and the resulting written thesis exemplify an endeavour of professional reflexion-in-action. In grappling with inherent challenges of research methodology arising out of overt personal involvement, the study also becomes a project in representation, in
authenticity, in authorial and researcher voice. Acknowledging these dimensions requires the author of the thesis to think carefully about the genre of their writing, of the extent to which they place themselves in the text, their authorial responsibilities as storyteller of other informants. The thesis becomes a representation of their own thoughts, even though these may be explicitly informed by the stated perspectives of others.