14:09:44Categories: Writing

Authoring a PhD continued

In Authoring a PhD: How to plan, draft, write and finish a doctoral thesis or dissertation by Patrick Dunleavy, I’ve found numerous advice on how to structure my work more efficiently. I’ll try to sum some of them up here and give a brief account of how I’m making use of them.

In the previous post, I quoted Dunleavy’s (citation) of what constitutes an intellectual question: You have a starting situation and certain means to change it [or say something substantial about it]. The thesis should focus on your own “value added” which

means keeping a critical eye on the extent to which you have transformed or enhanced or differentiated the starting materials of your analysis (Dunleavy 2003: 31).

My starting material was the environment of East Paris, the slam poetry scene and public debates on what constitutes France and French history, (in addition to a huge amount of literature more or less present in my mind). My starting material is in fact a lot more, but I’ve narrowed it down as I think it’s in these areas I find most of my “value added”.

In Dunleavy’s opinion, a thesis should constitute 75% original material (that means material that is more than just review of literature, I suppose), ant that it’s better to concentrate this “value add” in the core 5/8ths of the thesis. The lead-in and lead-out shouldn’t be more than two chapters each (p. 50-51).

Your thesis title, abstract chapter headings, contents page, preface, introductory chapters and organisers need to highlight, set up and frame the core material… As of your lead-in chapter(s): ‘What do readers need to know in order to appreciate the value-added elements to come in the core chapters?’ (Dunleavy 2003: 52).

The thesis title (p. 200-202)
Dunleavy suggests to write down all the key terms you can think of in various combinations, before and after a colon (p. 202).

Your title should introduce the central analytic concepts used or the major argument themes developed. Normally thesis titles have a colon in the middle… to separate out thematic, analytic or theoretical ambitions on the one hand, and empirical references or limiting features on the other (Dunlavy 2003: 200).

The title of my master thesis was Beyond ethnic boundaries? British Asian cosmopolitans. “British Asians” are of course the empirical as well as limiting feature, while “beyond ethnic boundaries” was meant to situate me in discussion with the classical Ethnic groups and boundaries by Fredrik Barth from 1969. Cosmopolitans signals partly a theoretical ambition (which I’m not quite sure I managed to follow up), but it’s also designating and limiting the empirical field: my thesis are not about all “second generation British Asians”, but a certain cosmopolitan stratum.

In the title Society in the making: The Parisian slam poetry scene and Postcolonial Paris, the first part is again meant to situate my work in relation to a theoretical perspective by Fredrik Barth, this time from his book Cosmologies in the making from 1989. The second part emphasises the empirical field as well as pointing to a certain theoretical take on – to see Paris as postcolonial – as well as what empirical aspect of Paris I’m focusing on.

Dunleavy provides a list of questions by the help of which one can scrutinise the perspective of the thesis:

Does the current title really capture what you have done in your draft chapters?
Does it define exactly the central research question which you have answered? Does it avoid drawing attention to any gaps or deficiencies in your research?
Does your title’s vocabulary include the main theoretical concepts or innovations or themes that run through your research, which are used in the chapter texts and do an important job of work there? Does it signal your line of argument in a reasonably substantive way? Are the words used ones, that you will want to talk about and explain at length, in your oral exam?
Does the title make clear the empirical referents of your research, and the necessary limitations you have set for its scope and approach? (Dunleavy 2003: 201-2).

The first chapter (p. 205-6)
“should set out a small number of intellectual themes stemming from the central question of the thesis” (p. 205). Dunleavy suggests 2- 4 themes, with subthemes. The themes should

run all the way through the thesis, synthetisizing your arguments, setting up and framing your research conclusions, and putting the thesis value-added into sharp focus (Dunleavy 2003: 200).

My main themes, I envision for the moment to be aspects of landscape, architecture and environment, various aspects of identity, colonial connections and cosmopolitanism, and the theoretical issue of the process of creating a society (on whatever level).

The conclusion section of the middle chapters (p. 206-7)
Each of the substantive chapters … should be flexibly linked via their conclusions ot the themes from the opening chapters. … The theme that each conclusion links to should be wholly relevant to the specific materials in the chapter and also adapted to the role which the chapter plays in the thesis as a whole. The job of the conclusions section is to pull the focus away from the research detail, to bring out the chapter’s key findings in a stand-back mode. … Each of your chapters should do a discrete and distinctive job, well signalled from its start, and effectively building the thesis. … Check carefully that the ‘need to know§ criterion is being met in terms of the order of the chapters so that contextual information arrives in the right sequence for readers to follow the analysis at all points! (Dunleavy 2003: 2006-7).

The final chapter (p. 207)

First part:
reprise each of the same themes or theory ideas used to structure the first chapter

the discussion of each theme should be grounded securely in the experience of the middle chapters

focus… on establishing clearly what has been shown by your research, and how it is relevant to your central thesis question and the themes set out at the start

What has been achieved by your research? How much has your thesis moved professional discussion along?

not go … into detailed accounts from the middle chapters. Instead is should compare across those chapters, pulling together their themes and connecting up their key messages

Second part:
group its themes together under broader labels or higher-order issues. …. Open out into a discussion of relevant wider professional debates … considering some viable directions in which future research might go from where your work leaves off (Dunleavy 2003: 207).

My outline-in-progress looks like this per now:
In “Introduction: A night in Paris and the suburbs or how I discovered French slam poetry”, I give a chronological account of a trip from Paris to a suburb and back again, in order to introduce a number of central issues.

In “Chapter 1: Socio-political geography of East Paris” the aim will be to describe the areas of East Paris which have a dual importance in terms of its numerous waves of immigration and the slam poetry scene. Here, I will also introduce the theoretical perspective of inhabitation from Tim Ingold.

In Chapter 2-4 I will look at the slam scene from various perspectives: at one generic soirée, the participants with their texts and finally with an analytical angle on the space created during the session.

The rest of the chapters will provide various forms of contest: In Chapter 5, I will try to discuss what is French about the French slam poetry and what can we learn about French society from studying this milieu. This chapter can perhaps be a bridge between the findings in chapter 4 and the methods discussion in chapter 6.

In “Chapter 7: Postcolonial re-appropriation of French history seen in the light of Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People without history” I look at the recent struggle over French history. In Ch. 1, I looked at an appropriation of space (in East Paris by immigrants, street artists…), while here the issue at hand is a parallel appropriation of time.

The comparison I initially intended to do between France and Great Britain is limited to Chapter 8, and here I for the most part intend to highlight the political specificities of the French context, I think…


Comment from: Aleksandra [Visitor]  

Thank you for sharing. I guess I needed it right now. Especially things about the conclusions and the titles etc. Helped me today:) one year and 6 months sounds like eternity! Lucky you&#59;)

16.03.08 @ 00:22
Comment from: [Member]

Hi Alexandra,
Thanks for your comment, and thanks for still reading my blog after such a long break. It’s a pity you don’t have time to keep up antropyton - but I can understand how busy you must be. Good luck with writing up!

17.03.08 @ 14:11

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