I have written three previous posts on ‘getting creative with your thesis or dissertation’. Today I am featuring a doctoral dissertation from the US focusing on hip-hop which is presented in rap, a European geography doctoral thesis on how to live ethically in cities, and a Canadian education masters’ thesis presented as a comic.
A.D.Carson is a rap artist and a scholar of hip-hop who did his PhD at Clemson University in South Carolina, US. Clemson has an innovative cross-cultural, transdisciplinary PhD program in rhetorics, communication and information design. Carson joined the program to investigate whether certain voices are treated differently, such as whether an identifiably black voice might be regarded as authentic, or ignored, or accepted as scholarly. It didn’t make sense to Carson to write about this when he could present an actual voice. So he created his PhD dissertation as 34 rap songs and called it Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions. Carson is respectful of hip-hop scholars who listen to and write about hip-hop, rather than creating music. He also thinks there should be a place for scholars who want to rap their scholarship, to present their work through the medium of hip-hop. This is, if you will excuse the pun, music to my ears. Carson has put a short introduction to his doctoral work on YouTube and it is well worth viewing if you are interested – or you can listen to his entire thesis. He is now Assistant Professor of Hip-Hop at the University of Virginia.
Elona Hoover did her PhD at the University of Brighton in the UK. Brighton has a Centre for Research in Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics, which offers interdisciplinary research for environmentally and socially just societies. She investigated ways of living ethically in hard concrete urban environments. Hoover produced a written and audio thesis with a variety of creative elements. She makes use of several different fonts, such as a hand-writing style font for text taken directly from her field notes, and a typewriter font to distinguish notes for the reader. The written thesis has a companion soundtrack composed from her 143 field recordings. Some tracks are to be listened to with full attention, others are to accompany the reading of parts of the written thesis. She uses poetic writing, improvisation, and music-making as both practices and themes in her thesis, and also uses photographs to illustrate her work. Overall, Hoover aims to ‘take seriously the different kinds of knowledges that might be generated through diverse creative practices and sensory engagements’ (p.114).
I think it is interesting that Carson and Hoover both did their PhDs in transdisciplinary spaces. The boundaries and overlaps between disciplines often promote creativity. There is also, though, considerable scope for creativity within disciplines, as our third example shows. And at different levels, too – for the first time in this series of blog posts, I am including a masters’ thesis (as they are called in the US and Canada).
Meghan Parker studied art at masters’ level at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. As she is a high school art teacher, it made sense for her to focus on the teaching of art in her masters’ thesis. An accomplished visual artist herself, Parker chose to draw some of her assignments, and ended up producing a 236-page graphic novel called Art Teacher in Process: An Illustrated Exploration of Art, Education and What Matters. She told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that it is ‘about why visual literacy is important, why art education is important, why the arts are important’, and it also has a strong ethnographic element. Like Carson, she questioned why a thesis has to be written in words on paper. Evidently, it doesn’t!
All three of these scholars have produced research outputs which are enjoyable and accessible to people outside their academic fields. Meghan Parker has now turned her masters’ thesis into a book, Teaching Artfully, which was published this month and which I would recommend. There is much to learn from these examples, not only for people who might want to take similarly big strides, but also for others who may want to take lower-level, but just as creative, approaches in their work.
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