02 June 2010

Final seminar details

The final ESRC seminar, in the form of a conference at the British Library, took place on May 18th 2010. Abstracts are below. The project team is now working toward the final report, and is editing the Sage Handbook of Digital Dissertations and Theses to be published in late 2011 or early 2012.

18 May Keynotes

Gunther Kress, Professor of Semiotics and Education and Director, Centre for Multimodal Research, IOE

‘Social fragmentation and epistemological multiplicity: the doctoral thesis in an era of provisionality’

The linked forces of postmodern theory, neo-liberal economics and its associated ideologies (not to mention globalization, diversity and related phenomena) have worked with enormous effect to change the world: to undo certainties in all domains, not least among these that of ‘knowledge’. In the Humanities and Social Sciences there are signs of this everywhere, and multiplying. Among many others there is the pluralization of formerly singular terms – so much so that the singular form of the noun is in danger of becoming extinct in English and no doubt in other ‘western’ languages. There is the unsettling and negation of canonical forms – of genres, for instance but also of the means of representation: image is displacing word. Process(es) and practic(es) are the focus of attention; ethnography – a methodology with or without a theory? - informs, shapes most doctoral work. And, maybe particularly pertinently, over the last (half)decade or so, there has been a decided shift from theory to methodology /-ies. All this has left the PhD in the same state of uncertainty and provisionality as other social and semiotic phenomena and entities. In this radically provisional environment, I pose, bewildered, the question: what now of the PhD? what can/could/might it be? And, uttered with utmost trepidation, is it still serious to ask: what ought it to be?

Steve Benford, University of Nottingham

‘Interdisciplinary research in mixed reality performance - implications for the doctorate’

For over ten years I have been working with artists to create, tour and study mixed reality performances that combine real and virtual stages and also interaction with computers with live performance by humans. This session will reflect on how this experience has driven the evolution of an interdisciplinary approach to research that draws on Computer Science, Ethnography and increasingly the Humanities in an attempt to bridge between both practice- and theory-based approaches. I will consider the challenges that this raises for PhD students working in the field and explain some of the ways in which we are trying to address these in the Horizon Doctoral Training Centre (www.horizon.ac.uk).

Parallel sessions A (morning)

Andrew Brown, Dean of the Doctoral School, IOE

‘Professional doctorates, electronic theses and other challenges and opportunities in the evaluation of 'a contribution to knowledge in the field'’

The key criterion that has to be met for a candidate's work to warrant the award of doctorate is that it makes an original contribution to knowledge in the field of research. Over the past decade there has been a marked diversification in both the form taken by doctoral programmes and the means available for the (re)presentation of research. Professional doctorates have brought together academic research and professional practice in new ways. Performance and practice based doctorates have placed non-textual elements as the heart of the thesis. Electronic theses bring the potential of hypertext and multi-modality to the presentation of the process and outcomes of research. Digital technologies create new opportunities for the creation of communities of researchers and for more flexible modes of doctoral study. Along with these developments comes diversification in the community of postgraduate researchers, and changing expectations about what is gained from studying for a doctorate. In this workshop we will explore the implications of these changes for how we support doctoral candidates and the academic and institutional opportunities and challenges they create for how we recognise a contribution to knowledge.

Joanna Newman, Head of Higher Education, The British Library
‘Ethos: opening up research’

Since the beta launch of Ethos in January 2009, demand for theses has grown exponentially. The ethos website has received over 100,000 thesis requests and we now have 25,000 theses for download. There still remain a sizeable number of theses to digitise and as yet no sector wide agreement on mandating the production of theses in digital format. This session explores some of the challenges and successes of the project for the British Library and its higher education partners, and now as a service, its potential for opening up UK Phd research, and the issues and challenges facing researchers and their institutions.

David Durling, Birmingham Institute for Art and Design
‘Designing the doctorate’

Over the past two years of presentations around the theme ‘New forms of doctorate’, a number of new ideas, interesting opportunities and profound challenges have been raised by several presenters. This session will reflect upon some highlights from those previous events and - starting with a blank screen - explore how a research doctorate (a PhD) might be designed to maintain the requirements of a research degree at doctoral level whilst having sufficient flexibility for multimodal outcomes that may be examined rigorously and provide an enduring record.

Parallel sessions B (afternoon)

Jude England, Head of Social Science, The British Library

‘Preserving the present for the future’

‘E’ and digital publication has had a profound effect on the way we create and use information. More of it is available, it is easier to find and use, and we assume that it, and its links to supporting content, will always be ‘there’. At the British Library we are, conversely, all too well aware of the pitfalls of such assumptions and the myriad opportunities there are for material to disappear. This presentation discusses some of the challenges we face in securing the digital legacy for use by researchers in the future.

Myrrh Domingo, Doctoral candidate, New York University

‘Research into interactive multimodal texts’

While the global world in which we live is increasingly saturated with digital technologies, it can be argued that interactive multimodal texts have often been relegated to a role on the margins instead of being the main research text. In this talk, I will discuss my two-year ethnography of a group of adolescents to demonstrate the ways in which they extended the everyday functions of writing and speech by participating in digital communities. I will highlight features of their unique relationship with language as a pliable art form, and explain how they generated new ways of making meaning by designing ‘noisy and moving’ texts.

Lesley Gourlay, Learning Innovation Applied Research Group, Coventry University
'Virtual worlds, textual limits? Doctoral research into the multimodal, hybrid and posthuman’

This presentation will discuss the activities of the Leverhulme-funded 'CURLIEW' research project investigating the practices surrounding Immersive Virtual Worlds (such as Second Life) in UK higher education, involving three PhD students. Drawing on 'posthuman' theory it will explore the distributed, multilayered nature of these environments, and their enormously complex affordances for self-representations and forms of meaning-making. The session will go on to discuss the resultant tensions inherent in conducting research into a field of social practice which is fundamentally multimodal and highly complex in terms of semiotic resources, and the limitations of 'traditional' text-based doctoral theses to adequately capture these practices.

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