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Paper 82: Power and the PhD: Towards a Critical View of Postgraduate Education

Steven Stanley

This paper presents a qualitative analysis of some of the power dynamics of doing a PhD in the social sciences in the United Kingdom. Researchers of postgraduate education have tended to neglect issues of power, presenting descriptive and policy-oriented accounts of doctoral research, rather than theoretical or analytical studies. The present study is taken from a research project developing a critical approach to postgraduate research and training, based in the perspective of discursive psychology. It draws upon semi-structured interviews with doctoral candidates in the social sciences, paying particular attention to the ways in which power is invoked and attended to in their talk about their experiences. It is argued that when liberal power is working successfully, it is often hidden and buried within particular conversational practices in complex and subtle ways. In order to reveal the patterns of power at play in postgraduate life, then, researchers need to look in detail at discourse. However, through this process of revealing, they may also be concealing the workings of academic power.

Keywords: postgraduate education; discursive psychology; power.

Paper 82: Power and the PhD: Towards a Critical View of Postgraduate Education, Series Working Paper Series, (2005), ISBN 1-904815-48-0