An interesting article by Robyn Barnacle and Inger Mewburn on how completing a PhD comprises a transformation of identity. Thesis writing is only one aspect of performing a scholarly identity, so to speak. To be a succesful PhD candidate you do not merely need specific cognitive abilities, but also the capacity to work in a mess of dynamically emerging situations and perspectives in which you develop a specific sensibility not only to the influence of people, such as colleagues and supervisors, but also to inanimate objects and `knowledge enabling artefacts’ that surround you.
Consider e.g. the scholarly book you are currently studying. You will probably not be reading it 24/7 untill you’re done. It may catch you eye as it lies around on the dinner table when you’re doing the dishes, and suddenly an idea strikes you: that is what you want to say about it in chapter 3 of your thesis! You have just formed a new bit of knowledge, but not in a way you might conventionally consider the one and only proper scholar would. Conventionally, knowledge tends to be treated as the provenance of mind (following Descartes), and as possessed and deployed by and between individuals. In this case, however, we see how an inanimate object can take part in the process of knowledge generation.
The authors give a further example of how multifarious the research landscape is in which PhD candidates learn to take on a scholarly identity, how complex the relation between knowers, knowledge, and knowledge enabling artefacts. This leads to the question in what respect a thesis may be understood as a record of a candidate’s learning. In turn, one may next ask about the final test that gives you membership to the academic guild, the defense of that piece of writing called your thesis. What exactly does this evaluate? Might it not become much more significant to `test not the knowledge that has been obtained and held in mental store, by the candidate, but how they have learned to position themselves within, mobilise, and be mobilised by, research and its related networks’?
Universities provide infrastructure and support for candidates, but rarely consider the ontological and epistemological implications. `They rarely realize how significant the research context is in influencing what counts as knowledge, and the ways that being a researcher can be performed.’
Research in action has many faces. Recognizing them often depends on your definition of knowledge and knowledge generation.