Establishing Exigency for Further Research

Establishing Exigency for Further Research

Laura: The topic of collaborative research in the humanities has gained momentum

since 1999 when MLA incoming President Linda Hutcheon named the theme of the 2000

MLA Presidential Forum “Creative Collaboration: Alternatives to the Adversarial

Academy,” a forum she said was about collaboration, not “the romantic model of solo

scholars” (as cited in Cornwell, 2000, para.11). From this forum, Hutcheon launched the

website Collaborate! with Corinne Arraez, Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede. Lunsford notes,

“The kind of research that needs to be done in the humanities can’t be done by some solitary

person sitting in the library trying to write the last great work on ‘x’” (as sited in Cornwell,

2000, para.12). Unfortunately, according to Arraez, the website has not been updated in ten

years and she is no longer a part of the project (C. Arraez, personal communication, July 20,

2011). We contend this type of collaborative work does little to promote scholars

professionally, so projects such as Collaborate! often fall by the wayside. It seems that coauthors

and those interested in studying co-authoring may start off with great momentum but

this often wanes in the face of resistance. Even the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) is in

need of newer research about the current nature of collaboration in dissertations. When we

asked Belle Woods, the Government Relations and External Affairs associate at the CGS,

what the most current views were of the CGS regarding co-authored dissertations, she

responded with the same information previously cited by the CGS, adding:

When I discussed this with our team, we agreed that this may not reflect recent

practices that accommodate more innovative collaborations and intellectual

partnerships on the dissertation or thesis. We are always trying to ensure that our

publications are accurate and reflect up to date good practices and principles. We

would appreciate your sharing with us any examples you find during your research

that we could draw on to help us to update these and related CGS publications

related to dissertations and theses. (B. Woods, personal communication, 22 July


Sabatino: Ede and Lunsford (2001) have been urging scholars for decades “to enact

contemporary critiques of the author and of the autonomous individual through a greater

interest in and adoption of collaborative writing practices—and to do so not only in

classrooms but in scholarly and professional work as well” (pp. 355 – 356, emphasis in

original). It was 1990 when this duo published Singular Texts / Plural Authors, and they have

continued to study and write about what happens when people write together. We view our

cooperative dissertations as meaningful artifacts that will hopefully inform a larger

cooperative movement toward future multi-authored composition dissertations.

Research Questions

Collaborative: When we first set out to draft our proposal for this dissertation, our

primary research question was: “Why are there no collaborative dissertations in the field of

composition?” This leads us into general questions pertaining to resistance, but an individual

could follow this path of inquiry alone. With this in mind, we chose to refocus our inquiry

into collaborative dissertations and constructed this primary research question: “How does a

collaborative dissertation challenge the status quo in the field of composition?” Although we

are using “cooperative” to name our dissertation texts, we believe our research primary

question about collaboration continues to inform our research. In turn, we hope our research

data responds in meaningful ways to the larger conversation about composition’s resistance

toward collaborative dissertations. In this way, we focus on our own experiences as

collaborative researchers and writers, exploring the process and rigors of collaborative

dissertation writing, while constructing first-hand data about the resistances we encounter.

We can then explore the lived experience of what happens when two students collaborate on

aspects of their dissertation project. We have chosen to ground our research within the

framework of our own collaborative writing practices because we value Ede and Lunsford’s

reasoning for their choices in studying collaborative writing. In Collaboration and Concepts

of Authorship, Ede and Lunsford (2001) posit they hope to “trouble conventional

understandings of authorship in contemporary theory” by:

looking at these understandings through the lens of actual collaborative (or

noncollaborative) practices inside and outside the academy…looking at concepts of

authorship through this materially grounded lens allows us to see, and then

critique, assumptions and practices that otherwise appear natural or

commonsensical. Doing so also reveals the powerful ideological, cultural, social, and

political forces that work to resist, co-opt, or contain change—including those forces

that work most intimately (and thus powerfully) in our personal and professional

lives. (p. 356)

Ede and Lunsford inspire us to problematize conventional understandings of authorship

(solo, co-authored, collaborative, cooperative), particularly in terms of a dissertation’s

processes and products. We have experienced the ways in which the dissertation genre is a

continuous negotiation between stakeholders who bring to bear on our project a multitude of

varied backgrounds, disciplines, and hierarchical statuses. We not only invite this

negotiation, we strive to be participants who are actively constructing and critiquing this

negotiation as we work toward answering our primary research question. From this basis, our

primary research question produced several secondary questions:

• Why is the academy resistant to collaborative dissertations?

• What are the rationales for or against collaboration in composition and at our

graduate institution?

• What are the professional implications/risks of writing a collaborative dissertation?

We understand that administrators who shape doctoral programs and who hire job candidates

possess more experience than us in terms of dissertation research. These administrators

occupy a higher status within the dissertating hierarchy and, in many instances, view

dissertation research through different lenses than we do. Most of these administrators have

experienced the dissertating process as students pursuing their doctoral degrees, and now

they are in the position to make high-stakes’ decisions about the dissertating work of their

students and job candidates. With our dissertation research, we want to learn more about how

an administrator views the purposes of a dissertation. While we are open to other data that

may or may not emerge from our conversations with administrators, we want to focus our

inquiry on the rationales and processes administrators use to approve a dissertation study or

to hire a job candidate. Returning to Ede and Lunsford’s (2001) work in Collaboration and

Concepts of Authorship, we hope a nontraditional dissertation such as ours challenges the

varied “ideological, cultural, social, and political forces” that, we contend, shape the rigor

and scope of what are permitted and not permitted to pursue within their qualitative doctoral


From this basis, tertiary questions can also be asked:

• Why/how do researchers negotiate the shared responsibilities of researching and

writing a collaborative dissertation project?

• How has gender affected your collaborative writing?

• How do other doctoral researchers value a collaborative dissertation?

Laura: It is important to state that we are not attempting to claim that all dissertations

should be collaborative. Elbow (2000) points out that scholars in composition often feel that

to be noticed, they have to be disproving someone (327). As such, this is a non-refutational

argument for the consideration of collaboration at the dissertation level. Our research

questions allow us to qualitatively gain a better understanding of the resistance to

collaborative dissertations and to provide rich data about resistance that is indisputably

lacking in the field of not only composition, but also graduate studies as a whole. We

understand that the nature of qualitative research does not seek to find definitive answers,

more accurately to shed light on a topic, thus contributing to a larger academic conversation.

We can only gain a better understanding of the resistance to collaborative dissertations

through engaging in research with the stakeholders, gatekeepers, and facilitators.

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