Thanks for investigating the meaning of ‘alternative’. Moving the discussion about assumptions onto the actual format of the end product is fascinating, isn’t it? I wonder if I can defend my thesis during the viva voce with modern dance! Seriously though, it does make the idea of questioning the key properties of a thesis, or dissertation for those on the other side of the pond, an interesting addition to the broad sweep of ontological, epistemological and methodological issues already in play.
And this question has a direct relevance to this week’s discussion. For many, the idea of a thesis contains not only the propositional knowledge but also the recognition that the writer is able to produce an extended (and by extension, deep) argument. Arguably, the actual contents of a thesis are not as important as showing the ability that one can write a thesis. Entering the academy is a privilege of those who have that badge of honour. Taking away the opportunity to demonstrate that ability may be detrimental to the doctoral candidate who can earn a Ph.D. through the publication of three papers or some other collection of shorter work. Of course, this raises questions about the needs of the academy and the utility of that thesis-writing skill for research and teaching. However, our future research is likely to be influenced by colleagues whose sense of legitimacy only includes the traditional thesis.
My own opinion seems to run at odds with the general trend that a ‘full’ thesis is a long piece of work. If the background issues (e.g. ontology, epistemology, methodology, literature engagement, presentation of the gap, presentation of one’s argument, and so on to the conclusion) are all set out systematically, the result will be long. If academia wants to maintain standards, it needs to teach these skills to candidates, and candidates need to show that they have the ability to deal with these issues at least once in their careers. Conversely, compressing all of that into a 5000-word article is far more difficult. But it doesn’t help that a lot of lower level studies keep their word count down by failing to engage with their topic at an appropriately deep level.