Archive for breaking conventions

They Can Take Our Lives, But They’ll Never Take Our FREEDOM!

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , , on March 31, 2013 by chateaucone

Whether Columbia will, indeed, take my freedom to format as I please, (no–not as I please, but as integrity demands!) time will tell.

Perhaps not a battle for Scottish Independence, but it’s a slippery slope, folks.

Instead of blogging, I’ve writing my own Declaration of Arbroath. Maybe not so much “declaration” as “plea.” (As long as they have my diploma,  judiciousness is prudent.)

It should be noted that I have, thoughtfully and I hope persuasively, removed all references to “petty bureaucrats” and “small-minded power mongers” and “I cannot believe I have to write this even after a committee of scholars and experts in my field passed my dissertation.”


Dear Teachers College, Columbia University Ed.D. Board:

I am writing to petition the members of this board that I may be permitted to submit my final dissertation without a Table of Contents, and without numbered chapters. To explain my reasons for making such a request, knowing it is not consistent with the conventions presented in the Teachers College, Columbia University Office of Doctoral Studies General Instructions for Preparing Doctor of Education Dissertations: A Manual of Style, let me begin by quoting to you a section of the abstract of my dissertation, in order that you can, without reading the entire document, know the subject matter the dissertation engages.

According to my abstract, “The overarching goal of this work is to gesture toward a use of autobiographical writing in the classroom that encourages students to begin to see how these and all stories are discursive, ideological and political, and then to analyze and perhaps contest normative practices and discourses that work to construct their own subject positions. The researcher’s self-reflexive inquiries address blind spots, gaps, contradictions and complexities involved in challenging dominant discourses that have framed not only her “adoption stories” but also her pedagogies and practices as a teacher of composition. She constantly interrogates her own research and writing assumptions in order to provide incentive for writing teachers and their students to look at the stories they are telling about their own lives, to stop seeing those stories as transparent and natural, and to begin interrogating if and when they might wish and be able to tell new stories, to write new narratives toward change.”

Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, in Reading Autobiographically: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives, tell us that certain kinds of narratives inscribe certain kinds of subjects. And these narratives, these dominant discourses, reflect the cultures in which they are written. Certain cultures, social classes, nations, religions, ethnic communities, and so on, privilege certain kinds of identities, certain ideological identity formations, and these are reified by, and reify, the biographies and autobiographies written within those, or to represent those, collectivities. Thus, no narrative or discourse is transparent, natural and uncontestable, as much as any discourse may appear so.

My dissertation challenges dominant discourses; it implicitly and necessarily contests and disrupts the discourses and practices surrounding the traditional academic dissertation even as it explicitly contests and disrupts autobiographical narrative. As just one way that the dissertation attempts to disrupt traditional narrative form, it is written as a collection of archived documents that can be read in any order. Indeed, readers are encouraged, within the text, to jump around in time and place. To number the chapters of this dissertation and then to add a Table of Contents giving further authority to those numbers would fix, indeed prescribe, in the mind of the reader the order in which the dissertation is to be read. It would suggest to the reader that there is only one way to read the dissertation, when in fact that intention of the author is the opposite.

Further, this dissertation argues, through a post-structural lens, that to fix autobiographical or biographical narrative in any way is to render it fictional. While I have made necessary, common-sense concessions such as numbering the pages of the document consecutively for the purposes of publishing it in print form, further concessions would just erode the integrity of a narrative that is constantly attempting to unfix, to disrupt, to contest the practices that are always and already constructing it. To number the chapters and to list those numbers in a Table of Contents would suggest that this autobiographical dissertation presents a complete, fixed life, that nothing exists between the chronological numbers of each chapter–and yet nothing could be further from a representation of any life; such an action would give readers a false sense of the coherence and dominance of narrative, indeed of any discourse, even as my dissertation is arguing against this very idea.

To force such a dissertation to be burdened with a Table of Contents and numbered chapters, two narrative structures that will unnecessarily undermine the integrity of the subject matter and design of the dissertation, is to deny the very liberatory arguments the dissertation is making.

To argue that I must include a Table of Contents in order to conform to the conventions of a particular style manual is to argue that the style manual is transparent, natural, and uncontestable. Surely this is not so. In fact, I would argue that any style manual is discursive, ideological and political, and serves an agenda that in fact attempts to sabotage the very ideas my dissertation explores.

The conventions of the style manual from which I am requesting to be released construct me, as a writer, my readers, and my dissertation in ways that I do not intend—indeed in ways that I am specifically contesting, and it would be ironic if the university itself from which I am graduating demands that my dissertation meet two stylistic conventions that not only do not add to the content or intellectual rigor of the dissertation, but in fact subtract from it.

To simply submit to the Office of Doctoral Studies’ request that I include a Table of Contents and number my chapters, without petitioning this committee, would be to abandon all that my dissertation argues for at the first sign of conflict.

Thank you for taking the time to read this petition. I hope you will consider my requests.