An analytic approach for examining the precarious spaces of professional doctorates.

Conference paper

Shukla, N., Inceoglu, I. and Harman, K. 2011. An analytic approach for examining the precarious spaces of professional doctorates. 2nd International Conference on Professional Doctorates. Edinburgh, UK 20 - 21 Apr 2011
TypeConference paper
TitleAn analytic approach for examining the precarious spaces of professional doctorates.
AuthorsShukla, N., Inceoglu, I. and Harman, K.

The domain of work and the domain of HE are no longer as distinct as they once might have seemed and professional doctorates can be understood as one manifestation of the contemporary intersection between HE and workplaces. While an unproblematic alignment between the institution of work and higher education institutions is often assumed in government policy documents, which call for the formation of HE-industry partnerships and the co-production of knowledge, we suggest this overlooks the power-inflected nature of knowledge production and what gets to count as knowledge in both these locations. This paper proposes a poststructuralist analytic framework for examining power-knowledge formations using professional doctorates as a research site and outlines preliminary research in this area.
A poststucturalist perspective, which draws attention to relationships between language, power, social institutions and subjectivity (Weedon, 1987), enables the exploration of multiple and mobile force relations in play in HE-workplace intersections. This opens up a number of potentially rich areas for ongoing research in professional doctorates. It enables an analysis of the embodiment and ongoing activation of discourses by individual actors through their identifications and articulated standpoints, thereby illuminating the complex mechanisms whereby the social becomes interiorised and understood as coming from within. For instance Kemmis (2005) refers to practitioners as the carriers of discourse.
This is an important conceptual move as it enables both academics and professional doctorate candidates to be understood as ‘practitioners’. This is a view that is often not available in the often taken for granted theory/practice split that has prevailed since Enlightenment times. We are interested in exploring the interrelationships between theory and practice both in the domain of work and the domain of HE. So how might this be done? An analysis of discourses in circulation in both these domains and the embodiment and activation of discourse by individual actors enables alignments between work and educational institutions to be examined but also negotiations, compromises and disjuncture in what counts as knowledge. This approach enables a view of professional doctorates as precarious spaces in which their ethos and purpose undergo constant articulation and location by individual actors but always in relation to wider structural and policy contexts.
The above ideas underpin an exploration of professional doctorates currently being undertaken by researchers from the Institute of Work Based Learning at Middlesex University. The overall study will include the collection and analysis of various texts including: electronic copies of research projects undertaken as a major component of a Professional Doctorate Award; the Module Handbook provided to candidates which provides a guide to candidates completing the research component of their award; interviews with Module tutors and advisers working on the Professional Doctorate programme; and examiners reports of the doctoral level research.
The present focus is on academic advisers and their discursive construction of the professional doctorate. Interviews exploring: what makes a ‘good’ professional doctorate? have been undertaken with advisers working on the Professional Doctorate programme. The interviews were conducted with the aim of establishing a model of ‘best practice’ for the induction of new advisers working on the DProf programme. However, rather than reading the interview texts in order to develop normative themes as to how the DProf ‘should’ be, the interviews have been analysed with a focus on language, identity/ies, academic practices and values. We are interested in how the DProf is constituted by academic advisers and the implications in terms of how it might be assessed.
While a more detailed analysis of the texts is yet to be undertaken, a preliminary analysis points to tensions and contradictions in the interview texts and the ongoing identity work performed by academic advisers as they attempt to negotiate the domain of work and the domain of HE. The ‘in between’ spaces of professional doctorates may potentially be an uncomfortable space for academics. For example, academic advisors may no longer be aligned with more traditional notions of knowledge production in circulation in the academy. Arguably a privileging of knowledges other than those produced in the academy works to disrupt existing knowledge hierarchies and the power associated with the academy. Nor might academic advisers be ‘at home’ in workplaces as academics are situated in the academy and as such are required to operate within its rules, regulations and institutional practices. We are interested in exploring the notion of professional doctorates as precarious spaces where a constant agonistic negation takes place between the academy and the workplace.
The emergent and precarious nature of articulations of professional doctorates can be understood as a function of the wider economic, social and policy contexts that effect the terms of engagement of HE and workplaces and the values and purposes that are assigned to these fields. The subject positions taken up by academic advisers within this dynamic and politicised context, and their constructions of what constitutes knowledge within professional doctorates may reflect these ongoing tensions. Academic constructions of professional doctorates may therefore subvert and refract dominant discourses of knowledge production and in so doing, open up space for new practices and alignments, while at the same time constraining other possibilities. It is because cultural process of discourse and identity formation at the level of the individual have material effects that these processes are so important to interrogate and make visible.

Research GroupWork and Learning Research Centre
Conference2nd International Conference on Professional Doctorates
Publication process dates
Deposited26 Apr 2011
Completed20 Apr 2011
Output statusPublished
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