To respond to what you say and because you mention me specifically:
That's great news, Jack - many congratulations to Jocelyn. By the way
information please - how many examiners are there for Living Educational
I do not use this kind of language. When speaking about examining PhD
work, I would not use the form of words ‘examiners for living
educational theories’. I would not do this for the following reasons:
1 I think examiners examine reports, or dissertations, or theses – they
do not examine theories;
2 I do not use capitals for the idea of a living educational theory.
This has been a consistent practice over the years, and many people
will vouch for what I am saying. To capitalize something is to turn it
into a proper noun, which has a tendency to reify it. I do not see a
person’s living educational theory as a proper noun or something to be
reified. Similarly, I avoid capitals for the form of words ‘action
research’, and many other terms.
I know that you examine in Ireland and Jean
examines elsewhere - how many others specialise in LETs?
I would not speak about ‘LETs’, as noted above. I avoid using acronyms
wherever possible. I would resist the idea of turning a person’s living
educational theory into a brand of some kind.
You are right in saying I examine doctoral studies internationally, and
so can speak out of this experience. In response to your question about
the number of examiners involved in examining a PhD thesis, I think a
point needs to be made that there seems to be broad agreement
internationally that a thesis needs to be examined by at least two
examiners to maintain quality, and these usually take the form of an
internal and an external examiner. In the case of a member of faculty,
three examiners are often appointed. I have returned recently from
South Africa, where accepted practice requires the supervisor
(‘promoter’ in South African terminology) to be the first examiner. I
therefore do not think there is a specific number of people who
specialize in examining a thesis that takes the form of a living
educational theory. I know many colleagues working in higher education
who have the right qualifications for examining doctoral theses and
they have examined the theses of people I have supervised as well as
others, of course. Some of these people would have acknowledged
strengths in methodological issues while some would have strengths in
subject or content issues. Some have had little knowledge of the idea
of a living educational theory, but have definitely been open to new
ideas about methodologies and epistemologies. Some of the viva voce
examinations I have attended have turned out to be engaging and
thought-provoking conversations. I do not think anyone expects anyone
else to conform to a party line of any kind; the whole point of
examining a PhD thesis is to test a candidate’s capacity for fulfilling
nominated assessment criteria, such as the capacity to make an original
contribution to knowledge of the field or demonstrate critical
I also want to make the point that, as an examiner, I do not specialize
in any one form of methodology. I have examined PhD theses from a range
of methodological stances. During my recent visit to South Africa I was
asked to act as critical reader to a thesis written from a critical
theoretic perspective. I was asked to do this specifically because my
opinion and experience were respected by the accrediting institution,
on a broad range of fronts.
The reason I ask is that I am critiquing the living educational theory
approach to action research and I want to understand for how
is as an educational process,
Finally, a word on the idea of ‘the living educational theory
approach’. I wonder if there is such a thing. I am reminded of a
colleague recently who spoke of ‘applying action research’. We talked
about how action research is something you do, not something you apply,
in the same way as one could say, ‘I do the housework’ but one would
not say, ‘I apply the housework.’ In my view, theory is something we
do – I am not alone in this view; many writers speak about theory
generation as a process. Also a word on the idea of ‘generative’: I
began developing the idea of generative transformational processes in
educational research in the early 1980s, borrowing the term (with his
permission) from Noam Chomsky. Chomsky speaks about generating language
in the sense that a finite number of linguistic elements can generate
an infinite number of original utterances. This is the way in which I
use the term ‘generative’, that a living entity, especially a person,
has the capacity to generate an infinitude of new actions or ways of
being in the world. You may have your own understanding and use of the
word, however, Sarah, in which case perhaps you need to explain how you
understand and use it.
I wonder if this response addresses some of the questions you have
I wonder also if it may generate some useful conversations about what
it takes both to produce and to examine a PhD with integrity?
All good wishes,
On 22 Oct 2008, at 19:12, Jack Whitehead wrote:
> On 22 Oct 2008, at 10:24, Sarah Fletcher wrote:
> That's great news, Jack - many congratulations to Jocelyn. By the way
> information please - how many examiners are there for Living
> Theories internationally? I know that you examine in Ireland and Jean
> examines elsewhere - how many others specialise in LETs?
> Sarah - I'm trying to keep the space on explanations of educational
> influence for that
> particular focus hence my response to the above points here.
> I don't think that is is possible to give a number to your question
> about 'how many
> examiners are there for Living Educational Theories internationally'.
> I've examined some
> 6 doctoral theses from Australian Universities, 4 of these were living
> theory theses, and
> I'm sure the supervisors of these doctorates are competent to judge
> living theory theses.
> I know many examiners who are competent to judge living theory theses
> and have used
> over 40 internal and external examiners for Ph.D. vivas over the last
> 12 years.
> I don't know any examiners who specialise in Living Theory Theses.
> Examiners of
> doctorates tend to develop national and international reputations and
> their publications
> usually show a range of competences. I've examined critical theory
> theses and theses
> that focus on narrative enquiry as well as ethnography and
> I'd be careful about your assertions. By saying 'I know that you
> examine in Ireland', when
> I have never examined in Ireland, this might easily lead to a lack of
> trust in your
> Love Jack.