Style, Discipline, and Literatures

Now that my proposal is done, I’m looking forward to the actual dissertation. (I really enjoyed writing my Master’s thesis.) However, that doesn’t mean I look upon the project without concern. One concern is with the form of the dissertation (as a genre) and interdisciplinary work. In the proposal, beyond the actual research questions and methods, the text was not as focused as it might’ve been as I was not reporting findings, proposing a theory, telling a story, or making an argument – beyond that the concepts covered were important to me. (I was thinking that I have conveyed my findings, written stories, and made arguments in existing work and will do so more completely in the dissertation.) Fortunately, the proposal is done, but I want to make sure the dissertation doesn’t feel the same way. This raises a number of questions from the secondary literature.

First, I have not yet chosen a “discipline.” Beyond a focus on collaboration and technology I feel I could be writing to new media, organizational studies, communication, or STS scholars. I’m happy to pull from a diverse set of disciplines – look at my committee – but it can also create some challenges.

Second, my two inspirations don’t make much use of secondary literature. Sheeran simply dropped the theoretical argument he made in his dissertation from his book – with no loss in my humble opinion. Morton was writing a history and employed primary sources in order to tell his story and make his argument. I will be doing much the same, but I want to be informed and employ (diverse) social science and theory where appropriate. Popular press social science books do this sort of thing (e.g., Jared Diamond, Robert Wright, Malcolm Gladwell etc.) but these are not historical works either.

So, I am not confident in the style in which I will be writing. I haven’t yet been struck with a great example in this disciplinary style/literature; Siva‘s work is close and perhaps my issue is related to those he raises in his recent piece on “Critical Information Studies.” (Though my concern with “critical” studies is present even there: I believe it is important to go beyond pejorative critique and recognize – and even contribute to – things we might find to be good. Though, of course, we need to be open to the phenomenon, and as scholars, like to find surprises and novelty.)

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