Progress Report: Qualifying Examination

[TL;DR: it’s been a whole lot of reading. Skip down to Qualifying Exam Areas for a description of exactly what it is that I’m reading about.]

In just under three weeks, I write my qualifying examination. Preparing for this ritual hoop-jumping has occupied most of my time over the past few months. It’s been an arduous and eye-opening process of discovering exactly how much I don’t know (or, at least, didn’t know when I started), and of teasing out the boundaries and relationships that define my research specializations and situate my dissertation project.

At iMAP, we’re following the exams schema set out by the School of Cinematic Arts’ Critical Studies program (with the addition of a “portfolio review” of creative work, which will take place in January). According to this schema, doctoral students need to identify three distinct areas of inquiry or specialization. Reading lists and descriptive statements outlining these research areas are submitted to the student’s committee in advance (I submitted the first draft of mine back in March of 2010), and the scope of the questions on the exams is limited to the material covered in the reading lists.

The exams themselves consist of five days of non-stop writing in response to three questions the student chooses from a pool created by their committee members. The answers to these questions take the form of imaginary dissertation chapters — which, hopefully, can become early drafts of actual dissertation chapters.

The official rule with this process is that the student should submit a reading list, then stick to it. While this rule undoubtedly has many good and practical reasons for existing, it’s a constraint I’ve had a bit of trouble observing. As I’ve read through the texts on my original list, I’ve learned more about exactly what it is that I’m investigating. References to other writers, projects, movements, and theories demand to be followed up on, and some of these tangents have ultimately become foundational to my research.

The big questions underwriting my work — questions around the poetic, social, and cultural implications of pervasive computing and social media — have functioned as a kind of razor here, shaving off truly irrelevant material and preventing the process from turning into a random walk. But my reading list now — and the ways in which I frame it — has evolved rather massively since last March. I expect it to continue to do so right up until I start writing on lucky December 13th.

With all this in mind, I present the following descriptions of my research areas, along with bibliographies for each.

Qualifying Exam Areas

I’ve also written a brief post on the ongoing role that this website is playing in my research:

Finally, you can download the latest version of my exam area descriptions and bibliographies in .pdf form here.

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