Power discourse in PhD examination reports: A cross-disciplinary analysis

Year: 2004

Author: Monfries, Melissa, Lovat, Terence

Type of paper: Refereed paper

The conceptual convergence of the Habermasian paradigm for "ways of knowing" and social cognitive approaches to power relations was used to analyse PhD examination reports. Previous analyses revealed that even when PhDs were given the highest evaluations, they were frequently accompanied by negative remarks. It is argued that examiners' epistemological beliefs obstruct the emancipation of knowledge and are representative of a conservative academic culture which protects its extant structures. Research in social psychology has demonstrated that people in positions of power are motivated to maintain their high power base. The combination of these philosophical and psychological tenets guided the analysis of the discourse used in examination reports of PhDs. The study examined 23 reports and showed that while there was evidence of the three hierarchies of power (examiner as expert, examiner as partner and examiner as learner/listener) in the discourse, it was dominated by negative comments and largely indicative of the examiner perceiving his role as that of expert. This was interpreted in light of the literature suggesting those in power are reluctant to relinquish their high power base.