Sunday, May 06, 2012

She should know that ALL PhD Dissertations are basically "Irrelevant" and will be only read by a few people and that's how it works!

I'm not a reader of the Chronicle of Higher Ed [after all, one has to pay the subscription to read most content], I only read when colleagues or blogger friends provide links in their blogs or on facebook (I'm not on twitter anymore), so I'm not really familiar with Naomi Schaefer Riley's columns and/or her qualifications.

Two days ago, Laura linked to this piece by Riley's, provocatively titled "The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations" and, ironically in Riley's response she wrote, shooting herself in the foot: "It's Not My Job to Read Entire Dissertations." (the title of Laura's quick post)

I really like the comments in the response, which disparage Riley's argumentation, particularly this by Aron Bady and this one by Ed Lessard, among others.

Now, I don't really know much about the field of  "Black Studies," but in the end Riley is right about a couple of things -- that new fields are created all the time in academia, studying more and more obscure things. Is that a bad thing? If one thinks of "real contributions" for the "real world" -- whatever that means!! -- sure, one can argue that these obscure fields are irrelevant, but MOST academic fields in the humanities and most phd dissertations that are written are equally "obscure and irrelevant" in a sense! and that's the whole point of academia... we want the freedom to study anything, authors that are known only in their country or area, people who were significant historically only in a certain part of the country, etc.

I personally think that my dissertation would be relevant for anyone interested in Brazilian literature (I don't want to get more specific because of my "semi-anonymity"), but the truth is, probably less than 20 people will ever read my dissertation. So what?!!! I'm OK with that! That's what happens to most dissertations, it doesn't mean that they were not as meticulously researched as possible and bring into light unique aspects of a culture, a historic period, a person, etc.

OK, so these are my thoughts on this subject. And, contrary to Ms Riley's work as an opinionated journalist, as someone who truly enjoys being a scholar, it is my job to read entire dissertations and I love doing it!

1 comment:

nicoleandmaggie said...

In my social science field, nobody reads dissertations. People read the working papers that come from dissertations.

One of the things we were told whenever we were feeling down about our own dissertations was to go to the library and get out completed dissertations, even ones from famous people, and read how crappy they are. And they were! Totally unpolished, nothing compared to the published papers coming from them. And that did make me, at least, feel better.

Rumor has it that there are $20 bills hidden in random peoples' dissertations, put there by the authors, untouched for decades...