Rhodes University, South Africa
This presentation reports on an initiative, located in a doctoral programme in higher education studies in South Africa, which involved recruiting six candidates to design studies using a common theoretical framework to address a common research question focused on social inclusion in higher education. Candidates, who were all funded by the South African National Research Foundation, were asked to design research that located the common question in studies that drew on a range of institutional contexts. The initiative was premised on the assumption that the requirement of a common question and common theoretical framework would make supervision more efficient and would hasten candidates' progress because they would not need to search for theory but rather simply engage with 'given' theory. It also assumed that membership of a 'research group' would contribute to progress. In many respects, the initiative was drawing on practices common in the natural sciences for work in the social sciences.
The presentation draws on in-depth interviews with supervisors and with candidates along with analyses of their progress towards the degree to explore these assumptions.
In practice, assumptions about the efficiency of the initiative were unfounded. Progress in proposal development was not hastened and, in spite of the fact that candidates could draw on a community of scholars addressing a common question using a common framework, supervision proved to be as intense and time consuming as ever. In addition, the requirement for the use of a common methodological framework in many cases challenged candidates' understandings of themselves as well as their assumptions about what study for a doctoral degree entailed. The presentation explores candidates' responses to the initiative by drawing on understandings of the socio-cultural conditioning of disciplines provided by theorists such as Biglan (1973a,b) and Bernstein (1990; 2000).