Monday, January 30, 2012

How to end a thesis

With a full stop, you get to your 85000 words says Bruno Latour and you put a full stop at it.
A good thesis is a finished one.

mmmm dont think the academy is quite ready for that, but there is a surprizing lack of detail of how to end a thesis. At least there is in regard to completed ones. Lots of advice I have on how to walk away from one, which i am thankful is not my need.
(But of these my favourite is in the movie The Big Chill, Where William Hurt says as Nick: "I could have. I chose not to. I'm not hung up on this completion thing."

And there is a beautiful cartoon by leunig on letting go

And instead of finishing it and then letting go, i have , perhaps, procrastinated in looking at famous last lines:
Frankly my dear I dont give a damn.
( Not quite the last line, Rhett's last words to Tara in Gone with the Wind. )
(But I do give a damn so this one's not realy for me)

‘I leave this manuscript, I do not know for whom; I no longer know what it is about: stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.’ From Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose
(now this is another reason i want to end the thesis, this has been on my reading list for a while).

Oscar Wilde's life ended with
"My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”
(and i include this because so much house maintenance has been neglected)

And from tips on writing dissertations and thesis I get;
La B├ęgueule (1772); The perfect is the enemy of the good
(the primary goal being to get a Ph.D. , not apparently to change the world, or get a booker prize for writing)

And then I turned to my favourite authors in the research i have undertaken, predominantly those of Actor-network theory to look for their closing words.
(particularly because telling the story is a performance in its own right)

Annmarie Mol in The Logic of care:
So let us care instead. The world - or so the logic of care reminds us - is not something we may look at and judge from the outside. Instead, we are caught up and participate in it, body and all. Chronically, until the day we die.

Bruno Latour in Pandora's hope:
To retrieve the Hope that is lodged there, at the bottom, we need a new and rather convoluted contrivance. I have had a go at it. maybe we will succeed with next attempt.
(truly ascerbic wit. But no, I'm not planning on writing another one of these)

John Law in After method. Mess in social science research
We need quite other metaphors for imagining our worlds and our responsibilities to those worlds...Forms of crafting. Processes of weaving...Metaphors for the stutter and the stop. Metaphors for quiet and more generous versions of method.

Bruno Latour in Reassembling the social
Is it absurd to want to retool our disciplines to become sensitive again to the noise they make and to try to find a place them?

Bruno Latour in Aramis
The last words from the Professor, rather than the last words of the book)
...Listen to him, he's learnt nothing. But in five years i'll come along and study it for you, your Prometheus...they'll be asking me for another postmortem study..."

Annemarie Mol in The body multiple
This study does not try to chase away doubt but seeks instead to raise it. Without a final conclusion one may still be partial: open endings do not imply immobilization.

Sherry Turkle in Evocative objects
Our theories tell us stories about our lives. As we begin to live with objects that challenge the boundaries between the born and created and between humans and everything else, we will need to tell ourselves different stories.

And from other thesis I have read:
From Ingrid Mewburn (of thesiswhisperer blog fame)
However this ANT turn does ask us to be more responsive and attentive to what is going on as we act: if we are ‘doing reals’ we are also ‘doing goods’ – or ‘doing bads’. But I think it’s worthwhile to pursue understanding design studios this way because it means there’s enormous potential here for those who want to make change because, as John Law puts it, ‘reality is not destiny'

From Ray Meldrum, who finishes his citing Dreyfuss on design for people saying:
His final words are telling:
Perhaps A.A. Milne was really addressing us rather than children when he wrote: ‘Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of this head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way to come down stairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.’ (p.230)
Stopping the bumping and exploring another way to come down (or go up) neatly describes the becoming of this thesis.

From Patricia Thomson (of patter blog fame)
"Doing justice' is about everyday acts that add up, in the end, to making some difference. That is what this story says.
What this story cannot say is...
It cannot say how it is that ....
It cannot say what it is that schools and social policy might need to to do in order to 'do justice'.
That story requires more in the telling than a literary turn. What is needed to tell that story is a sociology of education that is unafraid of the economic, unafraid to put not only policy and difference but also the class back in the classroom.
it is to that project that I perhaps can claim to have made some contribution.

So what I have learned? (About finishing, that is)
1. first you have to not want to be attached to the thesis any more. It took me ages to get to this, but tired of having my summers in the company of my laptop. And I tired of a front door that needs painting, and a garden that resorts to the judicial use of poison rather than gardening...and so it goes on .... there are after all many other things to do with a life.
2. it really helps if you stay on topic, even if the path taken meandered, it really does look better to come from there to here with a trajectory explained.
3. eloquence, clarity, and conviction, matter to a reader

AND dont ask. No its not finished yet!

But if you want to add your fav finishing lines, please feel free :)


  1. My thesis is a reflexive ethnography of people doing a PhD. I'm finishing with a short note about what has happened to all the participants since data collection finished, and the last one will read "In case readers have not guessed, [my participant nickname] is the writer of this thesis. The status of her candidature is unknown; it is now in the hands of the examiners."

    Bit of a risk? Maybe, but it feels right.

  2. I think its a risk congruent with what you are attempting, I like the twist, thesis plots dont often get to surprize. Best wishes :)

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  6. Diana Knipe6:15 PM

    I totally agree with you that it would be a good idea to not be attached to the thesis. It would be a good to have a break every once in a while. That way, you can get away from the stress that thesis writing can give you. Anyway, how’s the thesis? I wish I can read your complete work.

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