Writing collaboration

a ‘work in progress’

3a. a ‘right to reply’…

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A 'right to reply' in the footnotes.



My PhD research had been a ‘follow the thing’ ethnography of papaya grown in Jamaica and sold in Tesco, Sainsbury’s and other UK supermarket chains. But despite the research going well, other things went so wrong (from the devaluation of £, to ethical dilemmas about representing ‘the other’, to disagreements over supervision) I couldn’t write a proper PhD and get it in on time. Should I hand in something ropey, give up, or write something that wasn’t based on the research? I chose the latter, submitting a thesis that was 1/3rd critical ethnography of my department’s academic culture, 1/3 autobiographical ‘decolonisation’ of the self through reflection on a Devon childhood, and 1/3 pedagogical alternative based on a transatlantic geographies module I’d run at Lampeter.

The readers I was most worried about weren’t my examiners or supervisors, but my mum and dad. After reading an evaluation (sort of) of their parenting, would they disown me? I sent the chapters for comments. Over the next few weeks they read it together, scribbled in the margins and set it back (offering alternative recollections, saying it made them want to write their stories). I didn’t have time to change what I had written in these lights, so quickly typed in their comments as footnotes. At the viva, the examiners thought that this was the most innovative aspect of the thesis. Here was co-authorship in the form of dialogue, questioning the authority of the sole-authored account. There was a twist, though. The examiners thought I should give the same right of reply to my supervisors in the resubmission. I refused, and justified that refusal in the thesis. Yet, when the final decision came through, the ‘department’ insisted that a PhD would only be awarded if key passages were deleted from my ethnographic account. I did this very obviously and got my PhD. This took 7 years.


Written by Ian Cook et al

September 2, 2008 at 9:53 am

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