A traditional dissertation acts as the capstone on several years of work in a particular field. Its major requirement is that it is original research and brings forward some kind of new thinking and contribution in a particular field. In many fields it is often presented as a long paper, comprised of about five chapters, of around 40 or 50 typed pages each. There is an introduction, a chapter on methodology, two chapters that discuss data and findings, and then it concludes with an “outcomes” or “implications” chapter. It is most often printed and bound, and, once the author defends it, sits on a shelf or in a drawer or is scanned and exists somewhere in the digitized universe. Of course many authors turn their dissertation into scholarly articles or books, but these artifacts seem to rarely reach wide audiences. They are most often read and cited by other academics, who then write and speak to yet more academics on the topics that interest them.
This is not that dissertation.
This is the capstone on my five years of work at Indiana University and almost two years of work with a research collective that worked together to understand and confront racism through a class organized by a nonprofit organization, Spanish Speakers Serving (SSS) at the students’ high school in rural Idaho. But the work that we did was not traditional, linear research; it was recursive, we circled back on ourselves, we changed our approaches and thought of new questions, and, even though our group has disbanded because of geographical and temporal limitations, our project will never be complete.
Because of the way in which we conducted our research, I believe that this dissertation, in order to be both ethically responsible and rigorously valid, could and should not even attempt to be like a traditional dissertation. If I wanted to claim that the dissertation was participatory, then it had to somehow be participatory from start to finish. I could not claim democratic research and then turn around and write a dissertation, by myself, for the very few others who would be interested in it.
When I was trying to figure out how to write this dissertation, I struggled with this idea of constructing an artifact that represented or presented what our research collective achieved on 8 ½ x 11 paper, in chapters, with introductions and conclusions and an easy-to-follow narrative flow. No, just like the project itself, this dissertation had to be a bit messy, sometimes confusing, often circling back on itself.
It had to reflect the incompleteness we as a collective felt throughout the process, but the finality of change that we yearned for.
For those who are interested in more details about the reasoning behind creating an artifact that represented the work of this research collective in a way that would be inclusive and open, please refer to this Proposal for a Digital Dissertation, which I wrote to Dr. Decision Maker at Indiana University, to gain official approval to create a digital dissertation, something not done very often.