‘Hostile’, ‘unworkable’ and contested: Reconsidering doctoral learning spaces

Year: 2018

Author: Promsaka Na Sakonnakron, Sarunwit, Burford, James

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper we argue that space matters in the constitution of doctoral subjects. We draw together an analysis of literature across both higher education studies (Dowling & Mantai, 2017; Hopwood & Paulson, 2012) and architecture studies on doctoral space; its design and inhabitation. We extend existing studies by focusing on students’ voices with regard to their experiences of campus learning spaces. This paper emerges from a qualitative study with ten doctoral researchers in Aotearoa New Zealand. Drawing on data from diary-interviews and visual artefacts created by students, the paper positions research spaces as affectively important, politically contested, and as zones for doctoral identity development. Across the empirical study doctoral students emphasised that space is an important factor in their productivity, the quality of their experience and their becoming as doctoral researchers. However, a number of students expressed significant disappointment in their institutional working spaces. While university administrators may seek to accommodate the needs of a growing population of doctoral students, research participants described their institutional spaces as largely ‘unworkable’. Accounts emerged of ‘hostile’ spaces – often airless, dark lacking temperature control, and seemingly not designed with doctoral work in mind. Students perceived that the spaces they were assigned were often leftover rooms that other university stakeholders did not wish to occupy. This paper presents two cases of students’ responses to undesirable working spaces. One student describes the measures they took to relocate and work at home in order to create a space more conducive to learning. A second student describes a campaign led by doctoral researchers to negotiate a more appropriate working space, which resulted in a space that was designed by students for students. This paper contributes to doctoral education scholarship by extending available accounts about doctoral space, and offers a more politically nuanced reading of it. While neoliberal discourses rooted in notions of economic efficiency might structure institutional responses to the provision of space, doctoral students emphasised that space is an important dimension of doctoral learning, becoming and community. The paper also discerns doctoral students’ agency to negotiate and renegotiate their doctoral learning spaces.
Dowling, R. & Mantai, L. (2017). Placing researcher identifications: Labs, offices and homes in the PhD. Area, 49(2), 200-207.
Hopwood, N. & Paulson, J. (2012). Bodies in narratives of doctoral students’ learning and experience. Studies in Higher Education, 27(6), 667-681.