It happened on 22 August, 2019. I write this as it is still raw and fresh, and while I still feel joy and pride and relief, after so many years of intense intensity and recent personal events that still conspire to take all the joy away.
I did it. I passed my viva. I am a Doctor of Philosophy.
And I had the best viva I could have imagined. Having heard and read and angonised over how it could go, who my examiners were and what they would think, whether my supervisors just made one huge, stupid error of judgment in taking me on, and having been so saturated by 6 part-time years of getting here, I could not be happier.
‘Now the work begins’, as someone I can’t remember once said.
This does not feel like the end of a journey, but the start of one. My energy and excitement were rekindled in the last pages of my thesis, where I began to reflect on where my research goes next. The image below, which is the visual preface to my PhD, introduces the concept of affordance, of the tension and harmony between structure and agency.
This is also where my thesis concluded and where I now need to start it, all over again …
Professor Pat Thomson and Professor Andrew Fisher, at Nottingham University’s School of Education and Department of Philosophy, respectively, have been my critical interdisciplinary mentors. They didn’t always agree in their judgments about my ideas and my writing, but I think they fundamentally respected each other’s judgments. I get the sense they shared similar values about education, philosophy, social justice, and what/who universities are for. But I can’t be sure: this never came up in supervision. I think they just let me run with my ideas and then reined in or re-directed or countered my excesses, waiting to see where I was heading with it all. They have played an equal role in getting me here. I am very happy to have met them and I really hope I can do more with them.
[I think there is a research project in waiting on the sociology, politics and psychology of supervisors and their relationship to each other (mentors/rivals? main/secondary? senior/junior? content/form? long-term collaborators/temporary co-travellers?), and their supervisees …].
Professor Gina Wisker and Dr Ian Kidd, University of Brighton/Cambridge and Nottingham, respectively, dedicated scrupulous attention to reading my thesis. They viva-ed me for at least 2 hours and then sent me a list of further references with prompts on how I can take my work forward (they also sent me list of typos I knew would catch up with me, sooner or later).
This was not a summative assessment. This was a formative and feedforward educational event on the implications that my research raises. My examiners framed my conclusions as new puzzles and opportunities relating to epistemic (in)justices (Miranda Fricker; Ian Kidd) and threshold concepts (Wisker, Land and Meyer).
Literally, as ‘thoughts arising’.
They did not frame these as shortcomings or corrections. They easily could have.
For example, the work of Chrissie Boughey, a Critical Realist working in South African educational contexts and in EAP, was missing in my thesis. Yet, my examiner did not hold this against me. Rather, she said I now had an opportunity to become acquainted with Boughie’s work and that it would ‘extend what I already had in the thesis’. My other examiner picked up on some of my non-sequiturs (such as the fact that although ‘we are born into structures’ this does not mean we are ‘determined by these structures’). This reminded me of all those decisions I had to make when editing and working to a word-count, decisions that end up making you cut sentences as well as cut actual meaning. Luckily, these ‘non-sequiturs’ were not so significant as to undermine my entire thesis. He also reminded me that it is perfectly ‘reasonable’ to want to follow rules and conventions and that Derrida does not need to be described as a scare-quoted ‘philosopher’: philosopher will do just fine 😉
Grateful to …
In the weeks after submitting my thesis, I read everything by @DrRyder of http://viva-survivors.com/, who really manages to capture the subtleties and complexities of different viva experiences. In hindsight, Dr Ryder was bang on. My examiners were fair, thorough, critical and dedicated. But, so was I. We each did our bit. We each did our best, with limitations and with integrity.