[iDC] Praxis-based Ph.D.s

Margaret Morse memorse at comcast.net
Thu Jan 11 02:56:51 EST 2007

Dear IDCs,
I introduced myself briefly last week.  I teach at the University of 
California at Santa Cruz in the department of Film and Digital Media. 
I am also the Chair of the Digital Arts/New Media MFA Program, but 
that isn't on the table here.  Trebor suggested that thinking about 
media education might proceed from specific examples to larger 
questions.  I want to describe the  Ph.D that has been proposed by 
Film and Digital Media--it hasn't been sent to the highest levels of 
the university for for acceptance yet-- as one of possibilities ways 
of thinking about such a Ph.D.

There are many reasons to create a practice-based Ph.D. for example, 
the practical need for (media) artists in academia to have full 
access to doctoral status in order to forge a successful career in 
the academic hierarchy,  the positive belief in (media) art as a mode 
for creating knowledge that should have access to a broader or deeper 
foundation of studies, the acceptance of a wider range of learning 
styles and modes of expression in a multi-media/digital culture, the 
fading significance of the specificity of media within digital and 
multi-media production that integrates writing and imagery and so on. 
What I am going to describe in the next couple of posts is a strictly 
academic rather than professional Ph.D. that might be based on 
distance learning and aside from summer doesn't consist of courses 
taken in full-time residency.  I hope others will articulate a range 
of practice-based  Ph.D..models.

Our program is not actually an exclusively practice-based Ph.D., 
rather it is a combination of theory and practice.  The process of 
designing this Ph.D. took several years and included two retreats for 
the whole faculty.  It grew out of a practical need in the department 
to overcome a split between criticism and production in our faculty 
and our courses.  We functioned as two parallel worlds also split 
with an exception or two, by gender.  The critical studies faculty 
financially supported the department with large courses, but had less 
power, the production faculty had smaller courses and was dominant. 
Such class divisions can go either way in a media department--often 
production faculty are the underclass.  We began to work against this 
hierarchy by hiring what we called "hybrids"--scholars who were 
artists/artists who were scholars and who teach critical studies and 
production.  These colleagues were thought of and indeed are models 
of the kind of student we want our Ph.D. program to produce. Problems 
have arisen in the workload of "hybrids" and in evaluating their 
creative and scholarly production fairly that we are working to 
resolve.  The whole idea of "hybrids" does, of course, still depend 
on the difference between critical studies and production that is 
questionable.  Furthermore, thought is going into revising our 
undergraduate curriculum in order to integrate from what we have 
learned through designing the "hybrid" Ph.D.  In reflecting on this 
history, I decided the impetus for our  Ph.D. was not abstract 
reasoning, but rather a matter of establishing social justice within 
our own domain as well as realism about the waning sense that 
departmentalizing ourselves based on medium made in a digital 
culture.  In other words, digital media studies played a role in this 

I am going to close with that for now.  In my next post, I'll say 
something about the Ph.D.'s structure and provide a url. Since this 
strand is part of a discourse on media education, I will also say 
something about our undergraduates courses and how the division into 
separate media has become questionable.  I am not sure any of you 
will find this interesting--I await your thoughts. I haven't decided 
exactly where this is going--but seeing the way threads morph on IDC, 
that would not be my decision.

Best wishes,
Margaret Morse

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