Drama PHDs challenge conventional model

06 June 2011

Doctoral theses are relatively rare things in the creative disciplines but UCT's Department of Drama is among those hoping to swell its scholarly output at that level. So recently, 14 of its staff members and students attended a workshop hosted by the Research Office to look into the penning of PhD proposals and ways to integrate performance and practice into a doctoral thesis.

One outside senior academic described the gathering as "truly groundbreaking".

The aim was to explore "ways of doing things in the creative disciplines", explained Professor Mark Fleishman, head of the drama department.

Among the issues currently being faced by drama studies is the accommodation of over 10 PhDs being pursued simultaneously in a single department, imposing demands for supervision, reports the Research Office's Lyn Holness, who co-ordinated the workshop. A further challenge, says Holness, is to determine what is appropriate for PhD research, which can't simply be a replica of what was done at master's level.

There's also the problem that PhDs in South Africa do not involve a coursework component, requiring that alternative ways be found to support and develop research skills in those working on their doctoral degrees.

The particular focus of the weekend was the PhD proposal itself, and 10 participants presented their work to their peers. The aim was to help hone the proposals for submission to the Doctoral Degrees Board, and to address the underlying consideration of appropriate supervision.

Two participants nearing completion of their PhDs also shared perspectives of the process. One of these theses is the first in the drama department to incorporate a creative component.

"What struck me, as one looking at the creative disciplines from the outside, was that while the 'way of doing things' here in many cases differs radically from that of other disciplines, there is no less research rigour - which challenges the notion of the conventional model being the only acceptable one," says Holness.

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